Culture, Opinion

The Impact Of Fathers On Children’s Well-being

Ogunbiyi Kayode


May 12, 2024


Anyone can conceive a child, but truly being a father is a lifelong commitment. Fathers occupy a unique and irreplaceable role in a child’s life. This role significantly influences a child’s development and plays a crucial part in shaping who they become. Therefore, this week’s newsletter will delve into the influence of fathers on children’s wellbeing.

Fathers, alongside mothers, are fundamental to the emotional development of a child. Children rely on their fathers to establish and enforce guidelines. Also, they seek from their fathers a sense of security, encompassing both physical and emotional aspects. Children aspire to earn their fathers’ pride, and an engaged father drives personal growth and resilience. Research indicates that affectionate and supportive fathers significantly enhance a child’s cognitive and social development, while also promoting a general sense of well-being and self-confidence.

Fathers shape not only our inner selves but also our relationships with others throughout our lives. The manner in which a father interacts with his child influences the child’s expectations and behaviors in future relationships. The relationships a child forms with friends, romantic partners, and spouses are often reflective of their interpretation of the relationship with their father. The relational patterns established by a father with his children set a precedent for how those children will interact with others.

“Young girls look up to their dads for safety and emotional support. A dad teaches his daughter what a good relationship with a man looks like. If a dad is kind and gentle, his daughter will likely seek those qualities in men when she starts dating. If he is brave and strong, she’ll be drawn to men who are the same. Boys, on the other hand, often try to be like their dads. They want their dad’s approval from a young age. We all learn by copying the behavior of those around us—that’s how we figure out how to act in the world. If a dad is caring and respectful to others, his son will probably grow up to be like that too. When a dad isn’t around, young boys might look to other men as role models to understand how to act and get by in life.” Says Etona George

Mothers naturally produce hormones that facilitate a bond with their children from conception through birth, promoting an immediate and deep connection. This bonding is further supported by the inherent empathy and nurturing qualities traditionally associated with femininity. However, it is equally important to acknowledge that fathers can also establish profound connections with their offspring starting from infancy.

Fathers can develop attachments to their infant children that are as strong as those formed by mothers. Scientific research supports that active paternal involvement is associated with positive health outcomes in infants, including enhanced weight gain in preterm infants and higher rates of successful breastfeeding. Consequently, when both parents engage actively with the child, infants form attachments to both parents from the very start of their lives.

According to Temi Onabanjo, a gynecologist,

“Just like moms, dads’ hormone levels change too. Around the time a baby is born, dads experience a rise in a hormone called prolactin, which encourages parenting behaviors in both moms and dads. Spending time bonding with your baby can make you feel like you’re falling in love, because it activates similar parts of your brain. When a dad has skin-to-skin contact with his baby, both he and the baby release oxytocin, often called the love hormone. This happens with moms and their babies, too.”

Scientific research indicates that babies develop the ability to hear during the second trimester of pregnancy and begin recognizing voices, including their father’s, in the third trimester.

The rough-and-tumble play often initiated by fathers with young children plays a crucial role in regulating their emotions and behavior. It provides lessons on managing aggressive impulses and navigating physical interactions in socially appropriate ways. While mothers typically foster secure attachments by comforting their children in times of distress, fathers often contribute to a sense of security through the controlled excitement of play or through disciplinary measures. This dynamic teaches children to discern the boundaries between safety and risk, an essential skill that fosters self-regulation and can mitigate issues related to aggression and violence in later life.

Fathers often encourage children to step beyond their comfort zones in beneficial ways. Typically more so than mothers, fathers promote the idea of taking calculated risks—such as venturing into the deep end of the pool, initiating conversations with new people, or devising strategies to surmount challenges.

Fathers play a pivotal role in child development. Active involvement from fathers is associated with a reduction in behavioral issues among boys, as well as lower rates of delinquency and economic disadvantage in low-income families, while it also diminishes psychological problems and instances of depression in young women. Conversely, the absence of a father can impede development from early infancy through childhood and into adulthood. The psychological impact of experiencing father absence during childhood can persist throughout an individual’s life. The influence that fathers and father figures exert is indeed significant.

High levels of father involvement are positively associated with enhanced sociability, confidence, and self-control in children. Children who have engaged fathers are less likely to exhibit disruptive behavior in school or partake in risky behaviors during adolescence. Importantly, the quality of the father-child relationship has a greater impact than the quantity of time spent together. Fathers who do not reside with their children can still positively influence their children’s social and emotional well-being and behavioral adjustment. In essence, father involvement characterized by authoritative parenting—marked by affection, clear boundaries, and defined expectations—leads to improved social, and behavioral outcomes for children.

Akpan Raymond believes that children raised without fathers are more likely to encounter issues related to sexual health and face challenges in their future relationships. In his words:

“Kids who grow up without a dad are more likely to face some tough challenges. They might start having sex at a young age, not use protection the first time, become teenage parents, or catch sexually transmitted infections. Girls especially might feel a strong need for male attention and, feeling rejected by their absent fathers, might end up being taken advantage of by adult men. These kids often struggle with relationships later in life. They might start serious relationships earlier, have a higher chance of getting divorced or breaking up, and are more likely to have kids without being married or in a stable relationship.”

Furthermore, children from fatherless homes often face academic challenges, manifesting in lower scores on tests of reading, mathematics, and cognitive skills. These children are more prone to truancy, are at a higher risk of school exclusion, and are more likely to drop out of school, ultimately affecting their ability to achieve academic and professional qualifications in adulthood. Conversely, fathers who actively care for, nurture, and engage in play with their infants tend to raise children with higher IQs and enhanced language and cognitive abilities. The more time fathers spend in enriching, stimulating activities with their children—such as playing pretend or reading stories together—the better the children perform in mathematics and reading.

While father involvement has many benefits, the absence of a father can also have profound negative impacts. A father’s absence can have a devastating effect on a child’s life. Anecdotally, many individuals report that the enduring presence of a father is undeniable, with some acknowledging their struggles with feelings of abandonment and low self-esteem due to the absence of paternal affection. Consequently, some individuals may turn to drugs, alcohol, risky sexual behaviors, unhealthy relationships, or other destructive behaviors as coping mechanisms for the pain of fatherlessness. Though not the sole risk factor, the absence of a father clearly has a significant impact on a child’s development.

Children often feel abandoned when their fathers are absent, grappling with emotional distress and periodic episodes of self-loathing. Those without paternal involvement tend to face greater challenges in social adjustment, frequently reporting difficulties with friendships and exhibiting behavioral issues. Many adopt a swaggering, intimidating demeanor as a coping mechanism to mask their fears, resentments, anxieties, and general unhappiness. Additionally, children from fatherless backgrounds are more likely to engage in smoking, drinking alcohol, and abusing drugs both in their youth and as adults.

Children who grow up in households without a father or father figure are significantly more likely to experience physical, including sexual abuse, and neglect compared to those raised in two-parent households. The absence of a father places an increased psychological burden on children, who must survive with the reasons for their father’s absence. This burden also affects other caregivers, such as the child’s mother, intensifying the challenges they face. Although a mother may be loving, committed, and caring, meeting all the needs of a child single-handedly can be daunting. When children are supported by multiple caring adults, they are more likely to thrive and feel secure. Conversely, if the mother is the sole caregiver, the overwhelming responsibilities of parenthood can heighten the risk of harm to both the child and herself.

The absence of a father or father figure in a child’s life often correlates with an increased likelihood of gang involvement. A significant proportion of gang members originate from homes without a father, likely driven by a desire for a sense of belonging. This sense of belonging is a crucial element for all individuals. Through gang membership, youths often find a community and acceptance that they may lack at home. Frequently, the gang leader assumes a paternal role, influencing members to emulate their behaviors and values.

Absent fatherhood is a detrimental phenomenon that should be actively avoided. It is imperative for fathers to make every effort to be actively involved in their children’s lives, regardless of whether they reside in the same home.

As a father, it is crucial to foster a positive relationship with the mother of your children. Communicate positively with, and about, their mother. It is essential for fathers to align with their children’s mother regarding their parental roles and expectations. This alignment becomes even more critical in cases of divorce or separation. Fathers should communicate clearly and respectfully, underlining their commitment to being involved parents. Despite any personal differences, it is important for fathers to maintain a positive discourse about the children’s mother in their presence. While disagreements may occur, it is vital for the child to see that their father respects their mother. Speaking negatively about her can harm your relationship with your children.

Banire Rufus, a relationship and marital coach, offers guidance designed to assist fathers in excelling in their parental roles. According to him:

“From the moment you know you’re going to be a dad, it’s good to think about what kind of father you want to be. Several years from now, what do you hope your kids will say about you? What do you hope they won’t say? Thinking about these questions can help you figure out your goals as a dad and make important choices for your kids. How do you plan to achieve this? It’s also helpful to think about your relationship with your dad. What good things from your relationship with your dad do you want to pass on to your kids? What not-so-good things do you want to make sure you don’t repeat?”

One effective method for fathers to consistently engage in positive interactions with their children is to establish a dedicated “Dad time” ritual. This practice should complement, rather than replace, more frequent activities such as taking children to school or reading to them at bedtime. It is advisable to set aside time for these father-child sessions at least once a month, ideally for one to two hours, and to focus on individual children during these times. Fathers and children should mutually agree on an activity; alternatively, they can take turns choosing what to do. Distractions are not always necessary. Maintaining consistency is crucial; while the specific day each month may vary, the occurrence of this dedicated time should be reliable, allowing children to look forward to and rely on this special interaction.

It is crucial for fathers to recognize that every child deeply desires the interest, attention, and presence of their father. Children need their fathers to understand them as unique individuals, not merely as extensions of their own aspirations or unfulfilled dreams. By becoming intimately familiar with your children’s lives—understanding the significance of their expressions, knowing the most effective ways to soothe them to sleep, being aware of their friendships, staying informed about their school activities, and recognizing their stressors—you convey a clear and impactful message that they are deserving of your time, interest, and attention.

Adejare Mistura offers advice on how to be actively present in your children’s lives from infancy. In her words:

“Intentional new dads can handle just about everything new moms can if they pay attention and desire to play that role in their infant children’s life. Sharing these tasks from the start helps you bond with your baby and builds a strong relationship. Over time, you’ll notice your baby has unique ways of showing you what they need, whether it’s a certain type of cry or a specific gesture. Before you know it, you’ll get better at picking up on these cues.”

Fathers are encouraged to share their personal stories and experiences with their children, using both actions and storytelling as tools. This approach is an excellent means to strengthen familial bonds. Consider sharing what you were like at your child’s age, the mistakes you made, how you dealt with embarrassing situations, and what your friends’ parents were like. Not only do these stories humanize fathers and provide children with a sense of their heritage, but they also serve as an effective way to foster meaningful dialogue with your child.

Fatherhood is a transformative experience, both for fathers and their children. Although the role of a father can be exhausting at times, these moments collectively contribute to a lifelong bond of love and connection. Therefore, it is important to regularly express your love to your children. Today, and every day, commit to being the best influence in their lives.

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