My kids' dad travels a lot for work. For seven years I heartily resisted his heavy travel schedule. Even though I knew that he didn't want to be away from us, I still longed for him to be more involved with the kids and household. But then I noticed the only return I was getting for all my complaining and negotiating was resentment. In January I stopped resisting; by February he'd signed up to attend an executive program at Harvard that is three weeks a year. He was gone for most of May.
The girls and I kept busy. They are older now and not so much work (they are in better happiness habits than they were in January), and so we had a good time doing our "GIRLS ROCK!" cheer and trying not to think about daddy being gone.
But his near-daily presence was missed. Mike is an involved dad when he's in town, home for dinner by 5:30 many nights and 100% on duty in the morning getting the kids off to school.
Mothers tend to get all the credit—and shoulder all the blame—for the happiness and health of their kids, but at least in my family, Fiona and Molly's happiness is heavily influenced by their dad, too. I assumed this was unique to our family, as father involvement varies so much more widely than mother's tends to. But then I wondered: are dads as essential as moms? I took a look at the research, and the short answer is YES, emphatically.
- Research shows that the love and care of fathers is equally important for the health and well-being of children as mother-love. Really.
- Children are WAY better off when their relationship with their father is sensitive, secure, and supportive as well as close, nurturing, and warm.
- One of the biggest problems with divorce is that when a father moves out, the father-child relationship frequently falters. If he stays in the game, his kids will cope far better with the divorce.
In general, kids who have dads that actively participate in their care and that interact with them a lot are more likely to:
1. Be smarter and more successful in school and work.
- Kids with involved dads are better problem-solvers as toddlers, and have higher IQs by age 3. One theory about why this is: fathers tend to talk to their children differently than mothers do, and as a result children to talk in longer sentences and use more diverse vocabulary when talking with their fathers.
- School-aged children with positively involved fathers are more likely to:
- Get As and have higher grade point averages
- Have better math, reading, and language skills
- Enjoy and have positive attitudes towards school
- Have higher levels of educational attainment and success overall
- Have a greater ability to take initiative, use self-direction and control
- Have better problem solving skills.
- Later in life, children of positively involved fathers are more likely to have greater success in their careers, and to earn more money.
2. Be happier. Children with positively involved fathers are more likely to be happier and more satisfied with their lives over-all. They experience less depression, distress, anxiety, and negative emotions like fear and guilt.
3. Have more friends and better relationships. Children whose fathers are positively involved have better social skills; they tend to be more popular and better liked. They have fewer conflicts with their peers. They are also more likely to:
- Grow up to be tolerant and understanding
- Have positive interactions with their siblings
- Have supportive social networks made up of long-term close friendships
- Adjust well to college both personally and socially
- Have long-term, successful marriages, be satisfied with their romanticpartners in midlife, and to have more successful intimate relationships.
4. Have happier, healthier mothers. When fathers are emotionally supportive of their children's mother (whether or not they are married), moms are more likely to enjoy a greater sense of well-being. In addition, supported moms are more likely maintain healthy pregnancy behaviors, an indicator that father support increases the odds that both mother and baby will be physically healthy.
5. And they are LESS likely to get into trouble, or otherwise engage in risky behavior.
- Positive father involvement protects kids from substance abuse in adolescence.
- It is also associated with a lower frequency of acting out, delinquency, disruptive and violent behavior, lying, and stealing.
- Kids with positively involved fathers are less likely to be bullied, and they are less likely to be bullies themselves.
Do fathers really deserve credit for ALL THAT??
Yes, they do. But research results like these don't necessarily show that father involvement causes all those great benefits for kids – we just know that kids who have involved fathers are more likely to have those qualities. Although many studies show the unique benefits of having an involved dad by controlling for other factors, the relationship between father-involvement and positive child-outcomes is complex.
For example, it could be in part about money: maybe having an involved dad also means that family income is higher, and the positive effects come from being able to live in a safer neighborhood and go to better schools. Or maybe having an involved dad means that your mom has to work less, and so some of the positives for kids come from the increased time that their mothers are able to spend with them. Reverse causality may also be at work once kids get older: happy and successful kids could be inspiring their fathers to be more positively involved. There are a lot of studies that take these factors into account in one way or another and, not surprisingly, the results still show that when fathers are positively engaged, their children benefit in a multitude of ways.
So this Father's Day, pat the involved dad in your life on the back—or better yet shower him with scientific evidence of his importance by forwarding him this posting. And if YOU are the engaged dad in the picture, sit back and relish your profound importance. There may be no greater way that you can contribute to the greater good than by being positively engaged in the lives of your kiddos.
This video about the strongest dad in the world makes me WEEP every time I see it. Dick Hoyt—couch potato with a heart condition turned world-class athlete—is evidence of what fathers will do for the health and happiness of their children, and of how children inspire us to be profoundly better people. See this link for the Hoyt story, which is background to the video below.
Next up: What makes a father likely to be "positively engaged"?
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This is a subject very close to my heart. When I was at College I saw so many friends making really destructive choices for themselves. I couldnt help wondering about their home-life and asked them all sorts of questions. It turned out in every single case that although they had very differing home-lives (all from various backgrounds and socio-economic groups) they had one thing in common. They each held the belief that only one of their parents loved them. It was not always the father that they perceived the lack of love…but it was without fail a strong perception held that one of the parents didnt care about them. Then in my 20s and 30s I asked anyone and everyone if they believed that both of their parents loved them, really loved them. I found without fail, that those who had run into the most difficulties in their lives held the belief that one or both of their parents didnt love them.
This was so disturbing in so many ways. Its not about whether they were loved or not…but about whether they perceived themselves to be loved. I think it begs the question what would be your child’s perception of whether he/she is loved by you or by both of you.
I think its too bad I didnt formalize my study on this subject. It did however inform the way I parented my children. If anyone has any stories about themselves and whether they felt the love of both of their parents or not…please feel free to email me at email@example.com. I think it is one of the most important subjects.
Vicki Jardine | 3:47 pm, June 13, 2008 | Link
Thank for writing this post about fathers @ thanks for sharing with us the video as well. The father and his son, made me cry and think about my nephew that struggles too. Also his father got inspired by him and does many things with him all the time even thought it is thought with his fiscal condition.
Ofira Roll | 11:43 am, June 14, 2008 | Link
Looks like you need a new video of the Hoyts, I got a “Sorry, this video no longer available” message.
Don Berg | 2:34 pm, November 23, 2008 | Link
Interesting post overall, for me as a two-mum family. It would be interesting to compare involved dads with involved second-parents. Is it about the gender of the second parent? Some things may be – for instance, that men talk differently to kids.
Vicki’s comment also made me think. My sister and i are ‘successful’ and confident women; my brother struggles with multiple addictions and mental illness. He has always believed that my mother did not love him, while my sister and I have no doubts about the love of both parents. The correlation with Vicki’s observation really struck me.
Mikhela | 3:16 pm, November 26, 2008 | Link
Thanks for addressing the importance of fathers. My husband is a stay at home dad and gets very frustrated that all of the parenting resources assume that fathers have to be ‘talked in’ to engaging with their children. I think that if parenting books assumed that fathers would be equal participants in raising kids it would go a long way towards making that a reality.
Julie | 8:45 am, December 11, 2008 | Link
Could you provide sources for the research you mention? I’m actually looking into this topic for a paper I’m writing and it would be very much appreciated http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/half_full/wp-includes/images/smilies/icon_smile.gif
Stefanie | 6:36 pm, February 22, 2009 | Link
References can be accessed by clicking the “reference” button at the bottom of the posting. A good place to start is:
Allen, S., and Daly, K. (2007) “The Effects of Father Involvement: An Updated Research Summary of the Evidence.” Report by Centre for Families, Work & Well-Being, University of Guelph, 1-53.
This summarizes most of the studies that I referenced in this posting.
Christine Carter | 12:00 pm, February 23, 2009 | Link
I was raised by an involved ad. It was what I always wanted for my child/children. Reading this post and the one that followed it on Dad’s being involved left me feeling quite unsettled. It isn’t that don’t agree with what was stated, it is that I do… but my daughter’s father doesn’t.
Studies like this leave me wondering how I can, as a single mother, support my daughter so that she doesn’t suffer the impact of not having a loving and supportive father?
He is a LLM holding lawyer, I have an advanced college degree, we both live in the DC metro area. I have shared your research with him and with our 10 year old daughter’s counselor (who has stated exactly what you have without reading your research)… and yet her dad prioritizes his marriage and his other kids with full understanding and acceptance that our daughter risks paying the price for that choice.
I accept that. My daughter will work through it. My question is – how do parents counter balance the choices of the other parent? How do we give our children the best possible foundation and emotional intelligence so that they are able to have the quality of life more possible for children with involved dads?
My daughter is secure, self assured, athletic, intelligent, well rounded and successful as a student of ballet, academics, and life. I think about how wonderful she is and then, after reading something like this, I wonder how much more she could be? She is high risk because of her dad’s choices and having a disabled mom – but to know her, you would never guess.
So what do we do – the parents that are raising these kids and working hard to give them solid foundations and secure homes without the support or involvement of the other parent?
Mia | 11:11 am, March 19, 2010 | Link