While the role of mothers on the development of children is well established, research is also clear on the essential contributions an involved father makes in the lives of his children. There is a upsurge of interest in this issue, and a new science of “fatherhood” was born as psychologists, geneticists, neuroscientists, anthropologists, and sociologists all began to investigate the role of fathers in their children’s and families’ lives.
In many ways fathers have been minimized as little more than sources of authority and economic stability in the lives of children. However, research shows that fathers play many roles in the family, including those of companions, care providers, spouses, protectors, role models, moral guides, teachers and breadwinners.
Many of the findings of this new science of fatherhood have appeared in scholarly journals and not available to the public. Psychologist, award winning journalist, and father of five, Paul Raeburn has authored Do Fathers Matter? What Science Is Telling Us About the Parent We’ve Overlooked, to be published for Father’s Day, 2014. Dr. Raeburn has spent the past eight years investigating fatherhood and his book pulls together the research and explains what it means for fathers, families, and children.
Dr. Raeburn overturns many myths and stereotypes of fatherhood as he examines the latest scientific findings. Drawing on research from neuroscientists, animal behaviorists, geneticists, and developmental psychologists, Raeburn examines the stages of fatherhood, revealing the profound emotional and physiological connections between children and fathers, from conception through adolescence and into adulthood.
Some of the findings about paternal influence over the life span Dr. Raeburn shares are:
1. At Conception. Biologist David Haig has detected that some paternal genes push a fetus to extract as much nourishment and energy from the mother as possible while some maternal genes seek to deliver the fetus only as much as it needs.
2. In Pregnancy. A recent University of South Florida study shows that infants whose fathers were absent during pregnancy were more likely to be born prematurely or with lower birth weights than those whose fathers were present.
3. At Birth. From the 1930’s to the late 1960’s, fathers were most often not a part of the birthing process. As men routinely were welcome into the delivery room, women reported feeling less pain, and requests for pain medication declined. Additionally, men present for their children’s birth report being more attached to their infants and more involved in their care.
4. Toddlerhood. Swedish researchers found that kids whose fathers helped care for them, played with them, and took them on outings had fewer behavioral problems in early childhood and a lower likelihood of delinquency as adolescents.
5. Early Childhood. Researchers have shown that fathers have more impact on language development than mothers. It is hypothesized that since mothers spend more time with children, they’re more likely to use words with which kids are most familiar, while fathers, less attuned to the child’s “linguistic comfort zone”, introduce a wider vocabulary.
6. The Teen Years. It has been widely known that girls with absent fathers tend to reach puberty earlier and have higher rates of teen pregnancy. Psychologist Sarah Hill of Texas Christian University states that she believes a father’s absence delivers girls a subconscious cue about “the mating system they are born into: Men will not stick around, so they need to find mates quickly.” Their genes then effectively push the girls into early puberty.
Dr. Raeburn’s book identifies how the role of the father is distinctly different from that of the mother, and that embracing a fathers’ significance in the lives of children is a benefit to all.
“Do Father’s Matter?”….the answer is a clear YES!