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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Extraordinary Importance of Fathers

During this season we celebrate holidays to honor mothers and fathers. While no one should dispute or diminish the importance and contributions of mothers, I want to focus on the often times neglected recognition of the influence of fathers on the lives of children and family.

A child’s relationship with a father impacts the development of specific skills and there is clear evidence showing that emotionally present and supportive fathers contribute meaningfully. The quality of contact with a father is a more significant predictor of a child’s later success or failure with school and friends than the mother-child interactions. Research shows that children with involved fathers are more confident and less anxious in unfamiliar settings, are better able to deal with frustration, better able to respond with flexibility to change and have a better sense of independence. Daughters with involved and emotionally available fathers are less likely to engage in sexually promiscuous behavior and are more likely to have healthy relationships as adults. Additionally children raised by involved fathers, are more likely to mature into compassionate adults and are more likely to have a positive self-esteem.

The role and importance of the dad begins during pregnancy. Husbands who participate in the preparation and birth experience are more likely to hold and comfort an infant. Dad’s who are involved in caring for a baby are also likely to continue involvement into childhood and teen years. It is important that new moms step back and let dad and baby have their time together. This growing relationship is important to the child’s later development.

Families need to create opportunities for fathers to engage meaningfully in their children’s lives. However, it can be a difficult challenge for men to maintain their involvement in the daily life and experiences of their children. Men are often the primary family breadwinners and may work extended hours that leave little time or energy left for family life. Psychologist Ronald Levent writes that a fathers’ impact on family life is “not only about providing for their families’ material needs. It’s about being there on a daily basis providing for the never-ending, ever-changing, day-to-day physical and emotional needs as well.” It is vital to the families’ emotional well-being that father find a healthy balance between work life and home life.

When there is a divorce between parents, it is essential for a father to stay involved in his child’s life. Children of divorce benefit when mothers and fathers continue to view parenting as a shared and collaborative venture. Unfortunately, divorced dads most often have progressively decreased contact with their children. Many factors contribute to this and some are outside the control of the father. No matter the reason, as a father’s contact with his children declines, so does his influence. This “dad” influence is critically important to children. Research supports what we all know - - children benefit from having supportive and loving relationships with both parents. Much of the negative impact of divorce on children can be avoided when parents are cooperative and work together in the raising of their children.

Participatory fatherhood is good for children, families and fathers themselves. There can be enormous joy in parenting and having a deep and intimate connection with children is a wonderful experience. Fathers who commit to this level of relationship with their children are greatly rewarded.

As we celebrate mothers and fathers on their special days, it is important to reflect on the extraordinary and unique contributions of both in the lives of children. When commenting on fathers, David Blankenhorn wrote: “Many people today believe that fathers are unnecessary. I believe the opposite. I pledge to live my life according the principal that every child deserves a father; that part of being a good man means being a good father; and that America needs more good men.”

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