UPDATED: The importance of fathers is frequently overlooked and undervalued. They’re often shown in movies, TV, and commercials as goofy buffoons who only take care of the kids when mom has other obligations. And they usually do it poorly.
This portrays many fathers as part-time parents. Or reinforces the stereotype that mothers are all the primary parent while the dad is just the hapless sidekick or only involved in a cursory capacity. It denigrates the many fathers who are active, involved, constant presences in their child’s life. As gender roles have evolved over the years, it’s more common than ever to find stay-at-home dads, fathers as nurturing caregivers, and the like.
Parents, both parents, are hugely influential on children. How much weight and influence one carries obviously varies from one case to the next. No two families or parent-child bonds are ever the same. But a recent study looks into the impact a father has on a child’s development and the role dads play in cultivating the well-being of their kids.
Related Reading: The Biology of Fatherhood
Published in the Journal of Family Psychology, this study delves into the emotional importance fathers have in the lives of their kids. Specifically, this examines the father-daughter relationship. People often take for granted that fathers and sons have closer relationships than fathers and daughters. That, however, is not necessarily the case.
The study found a correlation between the quality of a father-daughter relationship and the daughter’s emotional stability. Daughters were found to be better at coping with stress when they had a healthy relationship with their fathers. They were also less prone to depression, anxiety, and other similar disorders as they grow up.
A positive father-daughter bond also set the table for healthier relationships outside of the family. When a father and daughter share a connection “characterized by emotional support and consistency,” this lead to stronger, more wholesome friendships. In the same vein, it also leads to more satisfying romantic relationships down the road. These subjects were more prone to expressing their feelings, communicating openly, and conveying their needs.
Not the First
This is not the first study to look at the importance of the father-child relationship. Far from it, in fact. A few years ago, researchers at the University of Connecticut examined how this ties to psychological development and contributes to forming a child’s entire personality.
The report collected over 36 separate studies from around the world and poured over the collected data. They looked at how rejection and acceptance from parents shape a child’s temperament and personality in more than 10,000 participants.
Analyzing more than a decade’s worth of psychological and neuroscience research, they uncovered the importance of a father’s love. They found it as impactful as a mother’s, sometimes even more so.
The results of that investigation revealed rejection can cause a reaction in the brain that is similar to experiencing physical pain. UConn’s Robert P. Rohner, the co-author of the paper, explained:
“[U]nlike physical pain, people can psychologically re-live the emotional pain of rejection over and over for years.”
Rohner’s research scrutinized results from more than 500 independent studies. This extensive meta-analysis revealed the frequency of rejection from mothers versus fathers is essentially the same. However, the effect wields a greater impact when the rejection is from the father. Researchers expressed the possible explanation for this difference:
“[C]hildren and young adults are likely to pay more attention to whichever parent they perceive to have higher interpersonal power or prestige. So if a child perceives her father as having higher prestige, he may be more influential in her life than the child’s mother.”
The study calls attention to how vital a positive relationship between father and child is. Rohner summarized his findings by saying:
“[F]atherly love is critical to a person’s development. The importance of a father’s love should help motivate many men to become more involved in nurturing child care.”
Related Reading: Fathers’ Rights and Child Custody: What You Need to Know
What This All Means
What these and similar studies confirm is the importance of a healthy parent-child relationship. They also shine a light on the vital, all-too-often undervalued role fathers play in childhood development. A strong bond is essential to help kids properly develop emotionally and flourish and become well-adjusted adults.
What’s critical is for both parents to stay involved following a divorce. That presence is important in all stages of life. Countless factors go into a developing a strong parent-child relationship, but being present is a huge part of that. It’s hard to bond with and nurture your kids if you’re not around. Being there benefits your kids in many ways.
It may be difficult in the wake of a split, but these studies illustrate why it’s important to make the effort. Use what visitation you have and lend emotional and physical support where it’s needed. It not only helps your kids in the here-and-now, but it also leaves an impression that lasts for years to come.
Related Reading: Unmarried Fathers’ Rights