Fathers Are Not Inferior Parents
With more and more children in the U.S. being raised by single moms, it’s crucial that we validate those mothers in their ability to do it well. They can and do. But in our efforts to be supportive of single moms, it’s important that we not become convinced that fathers are expendable. They’re not. Children who are lucky enough to have involved fathers are children who get added benefits that a father can provide.
It’s been said many times: The best gift a father can give his children is a positive relationship with their mother. Those who treat their partners with love and respect teach their boys how to treat women well. They teach their girls that they are deserving of love and respect by the men who love them. They teach both their sons and daughters how to be in a loving, mutually supportive relationship with the other sex.
Fathers tend to be more physical during play and to encourage more risk-taking than mothers. When done safely, a father’s tendency to get on the floor and roughhouse teaches children to manage excitement and unpredictability and to be more confident about their physical abilities. By learning to handle their bodies as well as their emotions, kids become more physically competent and self-confident.
Children with involved fathers also tend to develop better verbal skills and do better academically. This may sound counterintuitive. After all, aren’t women generally more verbal than men? But studies have shown that fathers are more likely to emphasize the importance of achievement and exploration while moms are more focused on nurturing and safety. As a result, kids with involved fathers are more likely to push themselves to meet academic as well as physical challenges.
Girls who have a positive relationship with their fathers are less likely to get pregnant as teens. The statistics are startling. Girls without such a relationship are more than twice as likely to get pregnant. Girls who have a good to excellent relationship with their fathers are less likely to be so needy of male love and support that they become prematurely sexually active.
Boys, too, benefit from having a dad around. Studies have shown that boys whose fathers value having a high-quality relationship with them are about half as likely to be in trouble with the law. One possible reason is that fathers are more likely than mothers to deal with misbehavior immediately and certainly. Mothers generally try to be understanding and to reason with their kids. Fathers generally assert some authority. When they do so with fairness and firmness, the boys are appropriately impressed and are less likely to get in trouble in school or the community.
Finally, kids with involved fathers are less likely to be poor. In 2011, 12 percent of children in married-couple families were living in poverty compared to 44 percent of children in mother-only families. No, money isn’t everything. But it can make life less stressful and opens up more positive opportunities.
If there has been a history of abuse by a father, the mother must of course keep her children safe. Depending on the situation, it is sometimes best for a father to have no contact or only supervised contact with the kids. But short of such concerns, a dad doesn’t have to be perfect to be a good enough-to-excellent dad. Even if he doesn’t live with or love the kids’ mother, his role in his children’s lives, as illustrated by the benefits listed above, is important.