*Originally posted 08/24/15

Mary Beth Meier, Children at Risk’s Summer Parenting Intern, discusses “The Importance of Helping Fathers”

Fathers are essential to healthy child-development and overall family well-being. Dads bring a unique perspective to the family and to the lives of their children. Research shows that fathers who develop positive relationships with their children not only encourage their children to lead successful lives, but also lead successful lives themselves. Dads act as role models for their children and are important partners to mothers in parenting.

Changes in family structure, such as mothers staying in the work force, have led us to adopt certain expectations and beliefs about the roles fathers should have when interacting with their children and families. Fathers are expected to and should be accessible, responsible, and directly engaged with their children, even after a long day at work. These expectations are increasing for fathers, but the community isn’t providing enough guidance or support because many fathers continue to face challenges.

Many of the barriers that fathers face occur at the same time and are interrelated. It is difficult to overcome one barrier without addressing another. Just to name a few, “stay-at-home” dads face gender stereotypes about being direct caregivers because this role has traditionally been held by mothers. Many dads don’t feel comfortable attending parenting education classes that are led and attended mostly by women and mothers. Some fathers experience difficulty identifying as parents, and their interactions with their children reveal their lack of confidence and readiness for this new role. Other fathers may face challenges when they are divorced or separated from their child’s primary care-giver or don’t live in the same household as their children for whatever reason. Outside of parenting, fathers can experience economic insecurity or poverty when they lose their job. Mental health problems and interactions with the criminal justice system also effect fathers’ relationship with their children.

Children with involved fathers do better across almost every measure of child well-being than children without involved fathers. Research shows that the presence of responsible fathers promotes academic success and reduces disciplinary problems among children. Children with involved fathers experience less emotional and behavioral problems. Fathers also positively contribute to maternal and child health. On the other side, children living in father absent homes are more likely to be in poverty than children in married-couple families. Mortality rates are 1.8 times higher for infants of unmarried mothers than for married mothers. Children in father absent households are more likely to engage in risky behaviors that have lasting consequences, such as teenage pregnancy, drug or alcohol abuse, and incarceration.

Fathers need commitment from their communities in order to have success as parents. We need to provide guidance and support for fathers, whether through establishing father-specific programs or by establishing more “family friendly” policies. We have to remember that being a father is only one of the many roles that men hold. Men are not only husbands and fathers, but they are also employees and individuals. Any challenges in these aspects of their lives can prevent them from being able to contribute to the health and success of their children. Additionally, the importance of fathers needs to be recognized by the community, and fathers should be actively included in decision-making directly relate to their children. As a community, we need to help fathers recognize that their role in the family is much more important than just financial support as tradition would say. Fathers should be comfortable in their parenting role and be able to recognize their importance and contribution to their child’s development.