From Hollywood to the Halls of Academe, we often hear the message that fathers doesn’t matter. Children, we are told, need not enjoy the shelter and security of a fathered home to thrive. After starring in the Switch, a movie about a woman who has a child with a sperm donor, Jennifer Aniston announced... In her book on Maverick Moms, which celebrates women who raising boys without men, Cornell psychologist Peggy Drexler claimed…
This message has not been lost on today’s young adults. In fact, a large minority of millenials believe that marriage is becoming obselete and that a growing variety of family arrangements is a good thing, according to this recent Pew report. It’s all of a piece with the increasingly laissez-faire or libertarian view of family life that many young adults find compelling.
OF COURSE THIS IS TRUE IN THEORY BUT IN REALITY
The bottom line here is that we cannot shy away from the message that fathers are not fungible, even as it becomes increasingly politically incorrect to say this. Our country, our culture, and especially our children depend upon us to man up and tell the truth about dads.
The new conventional wisdom is that fathers don’t matter. Hollywood Star Jennifer Aniston: “Women are realizing it more and more knowing that they don’t have to settle with a man just to have that child.” Cornell Psychologist Peggy Drexler: “[W]omen possess the innate mompower that in itself is more than sufficient to raise fine sons.”
Parke (2013) argues that: “Both parents are capable of providing the basic caregiving that infants and children need for survival such as nurturance/affection, feeding, and stimulation that are necessary to ensure appropriate development and the teaching/guidance need for infants and children to become competent…” (p. 121)
On average, fathers have a distinct approach to parenting that benefits their children (Parke 2013; Popenoe 1996; Wilcox & Kline 2013). “Evidence suggests that these differing styles of maternal and paternal interaction may provide unique opportunities to learn different kids of … skills that are important for children’s intellectual and social competence.” (Parke 2013: 150)
Mothers’ distinctive talents Breastfeeding Understanding children Communicating with children Nurturing children Moms’ talents are linked to Nurture - Cultural factors (e.g., socialization) Nature - Biological factors (e.g., oxytocin)
Providing Discipline Play Challenging children Loving Mom Dads’ talents are linked to Nurture - Cultural factors (e.g., socialization) Nature - Biological factors (e.g., testosterone)
The sociological literature suggests that Marriage Work Family of Origin Education Pop culture ▪ Shape the nature & quality of paternal engagement with children
Nature also appears to play a role in paternal engagement Testosterone falls in wake of residential fatherhood (Wilcox & Kline 2013). But hormonal and other physiological differences persist in mothers and fathers that influence parental styles – High T is probably related to dads’ distinctive style of play & discipline.
“It is clear that hormonal, in combination with social, factors are an important class of factors to recognize” in parenting behavior. (Parke 2013)
Fathers excel in providing Only @120,000 stay-at-home dads out of 27 million married fathers Approximately 9 million stay-at-home mothers After kids arrive, dads work more hours, wives work less @ 2/3rds of family income typically comes from Dad
Fathers excel in disciplining children Strength, size, voice telegraph toughness More assertive, less willing to bend rules than mothers Especially effective with teenage boys (Sources: Popenoe 1996; Powers et al 1994)
Fathers excel in physical play More inclined to engage in rough play More likely to surprise or excite children Children more likely to be stimulated by father & to learn how to deal with aggression from father ▪ Rough housing teaches boys how to control bodies and emotions* ▪ (Sources: Parke 2013; Popenoe 1996)
Fathers excel in pushing their children to embrace challenges, difficulties, outside world Encourage kids to engage in novel activities & be independent More likely to introduce children to work, sports, civil society/politics Boys & girls who have active, engaged dads attain more, more self-confident (Sources: Parke 2013; Popenoe 1996)
One of most important influences Dad can have on kids is indirect Loving Mom* Moms who are happily married are More involved, nurturing, better at monitoring Dads who treat mom with respect & affection More likely to teach boys to deal with girls/women in a respectful manner More likely to teach girls to expect to be treated well by boys/men in their life (Sources: Wilcox et al 2010; Amato and Booth )
Children who grow up with involved and authoritative fathers and warm, nurturing mothers seem to turn out better
“The complementarity of male and female parenting styles is striking and of enormous importance to a child’s overall development… [F]athers express more concern for the child’s long-term development, while mothers focus on the child’s immediate well-being… [T]he disciplinary approach of fathers tends to be “firm” while that of mothers tends to be “responsive.” … Both dimensions are critical for an efficient, balanced, and humane childrearing regime.” (1996)
The research on fatherless households is particularly powerful in this regard.
Boys without fathers are less likely to be disciplined & monitored Boys without fathers are more likely to fall prey to “compensatory masculinity” Boys without fathers are significantly more likely to be delinquent, violent, & end up in prison
Good news: Married fathers more engaged 1965: 2.8 hours per day 1998: 3.8 hours per day Bad news: there is no overall increase in father time with children Because of family structure shifts of last 40 years About half of children will spend time in a fatherless home
Fatherless America (1995: 2-3): “[I]n addition to losing fathers, we are losing something larger: our idea of fatherhood… we now face more than a physical loss affecting some homes. We face a cultural loss affecting every home… the most important absence our society must confront is not the absence of fathers but the absence of our belief in fathers.”
Best psychological, sociological, & biological evidence suggests that dads bring distinctive talents to the parenting enterprise, that marriage anchors men in the home, and the idea of fatherhood matters. We cannot shy away from the message that fathers are not fungible.