The positive role played by fathers
In 2002 a study of 17,000 children in Oxford confirmed what is obvious to anyone who observes family life — that children benefit immensely from having involved fathers.
Researchers described an ‘involved’ father as one who reads to his child, takes outings with his child, is interested in his child’s education, and takes an equal role in managing his child.
According to the study, involved fathers were important in the following ways:
Girls were less likely to have mental health problems in later life.
Boys were less likely to get into trouble with the police.
Children enjoy better emotional and behavioural health, and greater academic motivation.
Children were more likely to have satisfactory adult marital relationships.
It protects against psychological problems in adolescence, in families where the parents have separated.
These results applied whether the father lived with the children or not; the key to the child’s happiness seemed to be the father’s level of involvement. These results also applied where the father of the household was not the biological father.
Researchers looking at the effects of bonding between fathers and babies in the first year of life found that those children whose fathers were more involved in their personal care in their first year were less likely to develop behavioural problems as teens.
Adolescent boys who had a close relationship with their fathers expressed more confidence in their ability to form long-term relationships in adulthood.
A number of researchers argue that the quality of men’s relationships with their own fathers is the single greatest predictor of their participation with their own children.
Division of parenting responsibilities
However, despite the popularity of the concept of men getting more involved with their children, research would suggest that things have not changed significantly in the last two decades when it comes to the division of parenting responsibilities between parents.
Many studies have found that despite the popularity of the ‘new man’ as a concept, fathers do far less care taking than mothers, and most men view their parenting involvement as discretionary.
Research has also found that many men depend on their wives/partners to facilitate their relationships with their children. This dependency creates barriers to fathers’ involvement even in married families and is particularly problematic for fathers who live apart from their children.
Fathers rarely take time off work to be with their partner and newborn and if they do, it does not usually exceed two weeks.
It has been established that there is usually a sharp decline in a wife's marital satisfaction after the birth of their children, due at least in part to the finding that most couples revert back to a more traditional division of labour when they have a family.
Fathers' marital satisfaction also takes a dive but more slowly. It may be that they become aware of the restrictions a baby imposes on their lives more gradually than their partner.
In families where both partners have worked outside the home it is the mother who is more likely to give up her job to care for the children.
Researchers suggest that many men will remain reluctant to assume the responsibilities of primary or shared care taking until childcare becomes genuinely valued and socially recognised.
Certainly if you are looking to a situation where dads and mums take equal roles in terms of their parenting tasks, we have not reached that point yet. Indeed most research would suggest that we are far from it. However over the last few decades the belief that what happens to us as children shapes the type of adults we become has been widely accepted. This in turn has led to parents becoming much more aware of how they influence their children.
What is the message for dads?
The first and most important message is that fathers are a very important influence in their children's lives and that when they do take an active role, from an early age, this has very important positive benefits for their children.
However research also indicates that dads are finding it difficult to take on an equal role in parenting. This is due to a number of factors including difficulty of breaking tradition, lack of confidence in their parenting skills, resistance from the mother to 'intrusion' into her traditional role, and public policy which makes it difficult for dads to take leave to help mind their children.
For more information visit www.RollerCoaster.ie, Ireland’s no 1 website for parents.