“Boomerang” fathers — dads who cycle in and out of their children’s lives — are better for the mental health of their teen daughters than fathers who are completely absent, according to a new study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.
The findings show that boomerang fathers provide a form of stability in a daughter’s life that helps stave off depressive symptoms compared to fathers who are never around. The researchers found no link between boomerang fathering and depression in adolescent boys.
“Previous research has suggested that stressful experiences, like family instability, father absence, or stepfather presence, contribute to an adolescent experiencing depression,” said Dr. Daphne Hernandez, University of Houston assistant professor and principal investigator.
“This is not what happened in the cases of these youth. Boomerang fathering served as a protective factor for female adolescent depression compared to female adolescents who experienced instability, but not boomerang fathers.”
Hernandez conducted the study with researchers from New York University and Iowa State University. The main goal of the research was to contribute to the growing body of evidence regarding family instability and paternal involvement by focusing on boomerang fathering from birth through the child’s 18th birthday.
“We’re finding a new way that families might support their children. Even though the family has gone through some really bad times, having the dad come back has proven to be positive,” said Dr. Cassandra Dorius, an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State University.
The researchers evaluated data from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and the Young Adult files, which included responses from nearly 4,000 youth and more than 3,300 mothers. A third of the daughters sampled had unstable father residential patterns: They never lived with their biological father or they experienced boomerang fathering (father left the family, then returned to the same partner).
The researchers found no real difference between the adolescent depressive symptoms of girls who lived with their biological father from birth to 18 years of age and those who lived with boomerang fathers.
Furthermore, teen girls with boomerang dads had lower depressive symptoms at 18 years of age than those exposed to unstable, non-boomerang fathers.
Hernandez notes that biological parents who boomerang are more likely to be single at the time of their child’s birth, which she says may be “a gateway for which boomeranging exists” since there is no legal or residential commitment. Additionally, most households with boomeranging fathers did not experience a stepparent or nonbiological father presence.
“Familiarity of a biological father who enters and exits the house may deter nonbiological partners from entering their children’s lives, lowering the activation of the hormone that causes stress and depression,” Hernandez said.
“Although the relationship between the biological father and mother may be complex, there is a commitment to the child by the boomerang father that creates a bond between father and child.”
The researchers say the findings suggest family instability is more fluid and complex than previously thought, indicating greater family support during times of instability may assist in creating positive mental health.
Source: University of Houston