If you visit any playground, children’s sports game or peer competition, you will undoubtedly see that one parent pushing their child to climb just a little higher, run just a little faster and try just a little harder. While mothers hold the critical role of challenging their children with a gentle and nurturing hand, fathers teach kids to push boundaries, take risks and embrace challenge head on.
According to Dr. John Gottman’s research from Bringing Baby Home, dads offer something special and unique to their children’s lives from the moment they are born. Through their vast differences in infant play, parenting styles and teaching of life skills, research shows that fathers should be just as involved as mothers right from the beginning. Likewise, as fathers take equal ownership with parenting, the quality of the couple’s relationship is more satisfying and fulfilling during the transition to parenthood.
Involved Dads Strengthen the Couple’s Relationship
Bringing Baby Home research concludes that fathers who were satisfied with their marriages at the time of the baby’s birth were more inclined to be engaged parents to their children and invested partners to their spouse. Dads tend to withdraw in marriages that are strained or stressful. Men who are happy and fulfilled with their partners are more involved, warm and emotionally available to their kids. In turn, active fathers benefit moms too. Women who have present and available spouses with co-parenting report feeling happier and more satisfied. They also become more comfortable and confident with their own parenting style and lessen the likelihood for postpartum mood disorders.
Fathers Play Differently
Studies show that dads are just as competent in knowing how to interact with their children as moms are. Dads are more lively, visual and tactile in how they interact with infants. They use rough and tumble play (“I’m a bear. Here me roar!” while chasing the child around the house) which helps infants learn crucial self-regulation skills. As dads can quickly and unpredictably elevate a child’s emotional state (such as wrestling or lifting a baby up and down), they can just as abruptly stop the activity, teaching infants early on that they must adapt to these alternating shifts in attention, thus preparing them to better regulate their own feelings later on in life. Research shows that when given the choice of play partners, two-thirds of two year-olds will choose dads as play partners over moms.
Fathers Have a Unique Parenting Style
Fathers tend to give infants more freedom to explore and encourage independence. More challenging by nature, they prepare kids to cope with the real world and focus less on making sure their child’s feelings are sheltered, but more on overcoming obstacles and seeking adventure. Men have high expectations of their children and expect them to meet the demands set forth by them. A little nudge from dad teaches kids to be brave and stand up for themselves in unfamiliar situations. By two to three weeks of age, an infant will look at dads entirely differently than they look at moms. When dad walks in the room, they become wide-eyed, playful and bright-faced, ready to tackle the world through dad’s deliberate instruction.
Dads Raise Smarter Kids
When fathers are highly involved and engaged, babies reap the benefits. They are more playful, curious about the world around them and learn to develop secure attachments with others. They have higher cognitive functioning at age six, are better problem solvers during their toddler years, have higher IQ’s by the age of three and grow up to be more empathetic. Fathers raise resilient kids who have fewer negative emotions like fear, guilt or aggression. They gain superior problem solving skills, are more resourceful and are better able to manage their emotions and impulses in an adaptive manner. They are less likely to be depressed later in life and see themselves as dependable, trusting, practical and confident adults.
Dad’s Benefit Too
Men who are hands on in parenting report more secure attachment relationships with their children. They not only report greater marital satisfaction and feel more connected to family life, but also find parenting more satisfying and feel a deep sense of meaning and significance to their child. Fathers develop self-confidence and find other roles such as work, community activities and leadership positions more gratifying overall.
Single Parents and Same-Sex Couples Can Also Raise Great Kids
A father possesses something special to a child that is undeniable, but single parents and same-sex couples can emulate the father’s critical role for their kids without negative repercussions. The key here is on the style of play. Caregivers who adopt high energy and lively interactions can replicate all of the essential benefits to raising sound, intelligent and emotionally stable children. Most importantly, children need for nothing else than a loving, caring and supportive role model.
Men and Women each have a unique role to play when they become parents. Just as a mother’s vital role in caretaking should not be understated, it does not stand-alone. Men offer something remarkably important from birth onward. Not only do fathers have a great impact on a child’s emotional and social development, they also have a positive and lasting impact on their relationship.