Importance of a Father’s Role
Dedicated fathers are not only a crucial part of child development but essential for the foundation of our society. This notion was recognized prior to the early 19th century.
During this time, fathers embodied the role of primary caregiver, as well as, head of the family unit. It was an expectation and the norm. They had an active role in their child’s life, including their development, schooling, and overall wellbeing. Children acquired life lessons and skills through their father, who actively facilitated their children’s independence once they were old enough to leave the home. They had superior authority and ultimately decided what was in the best interest of their child. If a divorce was filed in court, fathers were regarded as the primary parent and would often be awarded full custody of the children.
History of Parental Role Biases
It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution when family roles and responsibilities shifted drastically, both in and outside of the home. Fathers were expected to financially support the family through work outside of the home, which required woman to acquire primary responsibility of their children at home. As time passed within this new family structure, society began to label the home at the mother’s domain and associated them with high capabilities of nurturing children, skills unmatched by the busy breadwinner father. It became common belief that mothers were gifted with superior parenting skills, so much that it influenced the Family Courts to enact the Tender Years doctrine. This common law doctrine considered children age 7 and under to be in their “tender years”, a sensitive time that required sole maternal custody. This doctrine was often used in divorce proceedings, awarding mothers sole custody of their children unless the father could prove she was unfit.
In the late 20th century, the doctrine was deemed unconstitutional and abolished, acknowledging that it was founded on outdated social norms and stereotypes. Unfortunately, the biases against fathers in Family Court continue to linger in custody and divorce hearings into the 21st Century.
A Shift Towards Unbiased Parental Roles
A greater shift is upon us, one that challenges the norms of parental roles and capabilities. The digital age and the rise of entrepreneurialism has led to more opportunities to earn a living alternatively. More parents are telecommuting, starting their own family business or working out of home offices. The social norms of parental roles have become blurred. We’re seeing a rise in stay-at-home-dads and mothers who primarily support the family financially from work outside of the home.
If the majority of mothers are no longer conveniently “at-home”, it’s not as simple to award them with sole custody of the children. Aside from that, fathers are presenting their custody cases with sincere dedication, challenging the biased norms and calling for a reform. Today, we are seeing less division among responsibilities and capabilities of fathers and mothers.
“Knowing that kids feel loved by their father is a better predictor of young adults’ sense of well-being, of happiness, of life satisfaction than knowing about the extent to which they feel loved by their mothers,” Rohner said. He and his colleagues detailed their findings in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review.
A good father is one of the most unsung, unpraised, unnoticed, and yet one of the most valuable assets in our society. ~Billy Graham
A Father’s Influence
For many decades, psychologists and researches have been fixated on the mother-child bond, deeming it the most significant influence on a child’s life. Much focus was on this particular relationship and the outcome of the child.
In the recent decade, there has been greater recognition of just how much dads influence a child’s wellbeing and outcome. A large-scale analysis of research has been gathered to understand the power of parental rejection and the acceptance in shaping personalities as children and into our adult lives.
Researcher Professor Ronald Rohner, director of the Center for the Study of Interpersonal Acceptance and Rejection at the University of Connecticut and co-author of the new study in Personality and Social Psychology Review, said that fatherly love is crucial to a child’s development and hopes that his findings will motivate more men to become more involved their children’s lives.
In the US, Great Britain and Europe, we have assumed for the past 300 years that all children need for normal healthy development is a loving relationship with their mother. And that dads are there as support for the mother and to support the family financially but are not required for the healthy development of the children. But that belief is fundamentally wrong. We have to start getting away from that idea and realize the dad’s influence is as great, and sometimes greater, than the mother’s. ~Ronald Rohner
In general, parental rejection has been linked to low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacies and exhibiting negative worldviews. Rohner suggests that dad’s rejection has a greater influence and is linked to a child’s level of delinquency, depression, behavioral issues, substance abuse and psychological adjustment.
Knowing that kids feel loved by their father is a better predictor of young adults’ sense of well-being, of happiness, of life satisfaction than knowing about the extent to which they feel loved by their mothers. ~Ronald Rohner
Consequences of an Absent Father
The following lifestyle outcomes are correlated to a father’s level of involvement/dedication in a child’s life. Click each item to read a related research finding.
Source: Patock-Peckham, J. A., & Morgan-Lopez, A. A. (2007). College drinking behaviors: Mediational links between parenting styles, parental bonds, depression, and alcohol problems. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 21, 297–306
Source: McBride, Brent A., Sarah K. Schoppe-Sullivan, and Moon-Ho Ho. “The mediating role of fathers’ school involvement on student achievement.” Applied Developmental Psychology 26 (2005): 201-216.
Source: East, L., Jackson, D., & O’Brien, L. (2007). ‘I don’t want to hate him forever’: Understanding daughter’s experiences of father absence. Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing, 24, 14-18.
Source: Knoester, C., & Hayne, D. A. (2005). Community context, social integration into family, and youth violence. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 767-780.
Source: Osborne, C., & McLanahan, S. (2007). Partnership instability and child well-being. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 1065-1083
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Children’s Living Arrangements and Characteristics: March 2011, Table C8. Washington D.C.: 2011.