Father love and its impact on healthy child development

Over the past few decades, the involvement of fathers in parenting is dramatically increasing. Since 1965, fathers have nearly tripled the time they spend with their children [Parker, K. 2013].

Thanks to social progress into gender equality spurred by research, education, and the feminist movement, Fathers are now increasingly detaching from stereotypical gender norms to play a special role in their family and development of their children. Now, Fathers do not just have to play the role of distant breadwinners and disciplinarians while mothers do all the child rearing and domestic labor.

Fathers increasingly play a more holistic role and are regarded as a co-partner or co-parent. Research such as ‘Father Love and Child Development: History and Current Evidence‘ shows that the love of a father plays an essential role in the growth and development of children. Social scientists and psychologists are increasingly studying this effect and the role fathers love plays in the lives of their children. This article will explore the importance of fatherly love, and how it builds a strong character in children.

“The modern father is involved in nearly every aspect of parenting, from spending leisure time with his child, to nurturing and care-giving, to providing moral guidance, discipline, and support”

Michael Lamb, 2000
father love

Why are fathers important?

Family love and especially the father’s presence and love is essential for children. Within the construct of our societies gender norms, Fathers traditionally find themselves in positions of authority and power. This places them in a unique position to firstly acknowledge this outdated and frankly sexist cultural mechanic, and secondly to understand their privilege and how they can responsibly use it to become a better parent and more supportive to their partners.

“We shouldn’t underestimate the vast importance of fathers in children’s lives, not only because children ‘need and love their dads’ , but also because of the significant impact that fathers have on the social, cognitive, emotional and physical well being of children from infancy to adolescence and with lasting influences into their adult life.”

Dr Lisa Wood, University of Western Australia 2013.
  • Fathers who show involvement in their child’s life have a positive impact on the future of their kids.
  • Research from the USA shows that children raised in father-absent homes are almost four times more likely to be in poverty. [U.S. Census Bureau]
  • Fathers can be powerful role models for both sons and daughters; teaching their sons what it really means to be masculine and become a ‘good man’, but also displaying these virtues to their daughters and not letting them be defined by gender stereotypes.
  • Fathers can set great examples on how to respect people and deal with various situations.
  • Father involvement in schools is associated with the higher likelihood of their children getting mostly A’s. [U.S. Department of Education]
  • Fathers can be incredibly powerful support mechanisms for their partners, strengthening family units.
  • Fatherly love helps in the development of the appropriate discipline, emotional well-being, effective communication, and stress management.
  • Children of single mothers show higher levels of aggressive behavior than children born to married mothers [Journal of Marriage and Family]
  • Fathers help children understand their importance, self confidence and esteem, teaching kids to understand how they want others to treat them. This is directly related to how children deal with bullying and other such personal attacks.
  • Teens without fathers are twice as likely to be involved in early sexual activity and seven times more likely to get pregnant as an adolescent. [Child Development Journal
  • A Father is often the first best friend of their children. Ironically, against the popular opinion of fathers as disciplinarians, Mothers are often forced to set stronger boundaries in families, and children often go to their dad for help and emotional support.
  • Dads are the perfect playmate for young kids. Children love playing different games with their father which shows the importance of family love.

“Paternal warmth or closeness was found to be beneficial whilst conventional paternal masculinity appeared irrelevant”

Professor Michael Lamb, former Head of the then Department of Social and Developmental Psychology at the University of Cambridge

What role does a male parent play in raising children?

Although not unheard of, we don’t often see a single dad raising his children alone. Globally, child rearing is culturally lumped into the domain of a woman’s responsibility, alongside a host of other domestic duties. This strong ‘gender role’ bias makes women typically assume the role of the dominant care giver, especially during relationship breakdowns where shared parenting often becomes very one sided.

However, this stereotype needs to be challenged. Male parents can play important shared roles in raising children which can lead to better outcomes for the family. It should also not be the sole responsibility of a mother to raise her children, regardless of extant societal and cultural norms. Fathers and Mothers should shoulder equal responsibility for the raising of children.

“Involved fatherhood has been linked to better outcomes on nearly every measure of child well-being, from cognitive development and educational achievement to self-esteem and pro-social behavior.”

Jeffrey Rosenberg, United States Department of Health and Human Services

Provide financial support

Fathers don’t need to be the sole breadwinners of the house. Families that explore equal parenting often find that mothers are able to return to work, or work more part time hours – increasing household income. This is explored in ‘Modern Parenthood: Roles of Moms and Dads Converge as They Balance Work and Family.’ [Parker, K.,Wang, W, 2013].

Part of this issue is tied to the the high cost of child care, which often makes it more economical for one parent to stay home (as the cost of child care can often exceeds one parents wage).

This means that actively involved fathers are able to help increase their families household income – whether that is by working themselves, taking on domestic duties at home allowing their partners to work, or a combination of the two. Financial security within a family is directly tied to greater parenting outcomes.

Help set and enforce household rules and regulations

There are special rules and regulations in every house which are set by the parents. Depending on your chosen parenting style (which might range from permissive to authoritative to authoritarian in terms of discipline), you will need to set and enforce these rules consistently.

Fathers are essential in helping Mothers to set and consistently enforce these household rules and regulations. Providing ‘backup’ (not crumbling or giving in and making exceptions), and demonstrating respect for your children’s Mother will help ensure they respect her and the household rules.

A protector and teacher

Fathers often feel they are the protectors or ‘keepers’ of their family. This is often reinforced through societal norms of masculinity and what a man should do. Whilst some of these outdated philosophies needs to be challenged (and fathers most certainly do not ‘own’ their families), Fathers can indeed provide much needed security and protection for their family.

Children always look up to their fathers for security. Fathers need to use this special relationship to protect, guide and mentor their children through to adulthood. This doesn’t just mean providing physical support or practical lessons, but also being there emotionally and providing unconditional love and support.

Emotional development

Children need love and support from both parents. Fathers can be a strong source of emotional support, and help their children’s emotional development.

Children gain a package of social and emotional learning in their interactions with their fathers that they can apply to a variety of situations.”

Ross Parke, 2018

Fathers can provide a positive male role model, and through play with their children they can help promote and reinforce good behaviors. Children that have more involved, warm fathers have lowered behavioral and impulse control problems, as well as longer attention spans and better self discipline. They also develop more compassion and generosity, with an increased emotional intelligence of the needs and rights of others.

Boosts confidence

The emotional support that a fathers love provides his children helps them to understand their value and just how much they are loved. This means children of loving fathers tend to have higher self-esteem, levels of self confidence and overall happiness. Supportive fathers better equip their children to deal with problem solving, stress and frustration, managing anxiety and fears, and promoting leadership and independence.

Fathers as a the role model 

Whilst both parents need to be strong role models and set the standard for their children, fathers particularly need to set a good role model for men in their children’s lives. This means involved fathers can be a very positive male influence, and promote and reinforce good male behaviors in their children (both daughters and sons).

It is therefore important for Fathers to not buy into toxic stereotypes or harmful gender roles, and instead focus on being wholesome, well rounded individuals and well educated parents. This means it is a great idea for fathers to look into gender studies and sexism, even if it does only mean reading a few books on the topic (Delusions of Gender by Prof Cordelia Fine would make a great start)

Without unpacking the psychology of generalizations too much, it is often thought that girls often base their romantic relationships on the characters of their father, and boys typically follow in similar footsteps of their dad in order to seek their approval from their dads.

A Fathers unique perspective

Fathers have unique life experiences and perspectives, and can often offer insights to their children that come from a different viewpoint than their Mother. This helps to provide children with an understanding of different ways to approach problem solving or answering questions, and can teach them valuable life skills

The special relationships between a Father and his daughter

There is always a very special relationship between a Father and his daughter. A positive father-daughter relationship has a big impact on a girls life and can help her develop into a strong, confident woman. This special relationship shapes her self-esteem, self-image, confidence and opinions of other men.

How Dad approaches life will serve as an example for his daughter to build off of in her own life, even if she chooses a different view of the world”

Michael Austin, associate professor of philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University

Fathers can find it particularly tricky to manage their feelings about their daughters relationships, especially as they get older. However, the fact is that being a warm, caring, supportive and loving father is the best way for Fathers to ensure their daughters form happy, functional and safe long term relationships.

“Children of these [loving] fathers – whose relationships involved mutual regulation – were more successful with peers. They had learned how to recognize and produce the emotional cues for managing relationships well

Park, D. 2018

According to the Institute for Family Sciences, Daughters with great relationships with their fathers tend to be more successful, pripritise themselves and their education more, and wait longer before engaging in romantic relationships.

The role of a father in modern families and changing gender perspectives

In the modern-day fathers, love is unconditional. Fathers are no longer the traditional disciplinarian in the families. They can be strong leaders of the family who are helping to change gender perspectives. Fathers can be married, single, stay at home, employed, straight, gay, step-parent, or adoptive parents.

“We have not begun to prepare boys in schools for the new space that is opening up to them as caring fathers. We need to educate both boys and girls for a world in which boys don’t have to follow a patriarchal script. They can follow a more egalitarian script and still be masculine.”

Park, D. 2018

Conclusion

Fathers today are playing the role they should be. They are providing care and love to their children, helping their children face psychological and physical challenges. Increased family involvement and fathers’ love helps promote emotional and social development in children, and leads to happier families.

Make sure to tell your father ‘I love you Dad’.

Further reading

References

Rohner, Ronald P. “Father Love and Child Development: History and Current Evidence.” Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 7, no. 5, 1998, pp. 157–161. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20182529. Accessed 21 Oct. 2020.

Osborne, Cynthia et al. “Making Good on Fatherhood: A Review of the Fatherhood Research”, The University of Texas at Austin, Available Online January 2016

Doherty, W. J., Kouneski, E. F., & Erickson, M. F. (1998). Responsible fathering: An overview and conceptual framework.Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60.

Lamb, Michael E. et al. “A Biosocial Perspective on Paternal Behavior and Involvement.” Parenting Across the Life Span : Biosocial Dimensions. Ed. Jane B. Lancaster et al. New York: Aldine De Gruyter, 1987

Parker, Kim and Wendy Wang. Modern Parenthood: Roles of Moms and Dads Converge as They Balance Work and Family. Pew Research Center. March 14, 2013.

Marsiglio, W., Amato, P., Day, R. D., & Lamb, M. E. (2000). Scholarship on Fatherhood in the 1990s and beyond. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62 (4)

Rosenberg, Jeffrey, and Wilcox, W. Bradford. United States Department of Health and Human Services. Administration for Children and Families. Child Welfare Information Gateway. The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children. Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Children’s Bureau, 2006. Available online.

Parke RD (1996), Fatherhood, Chapter 6: Socialization and Sociability

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