- Christian Family Services
The Importance of Fatherhood
Historically, fathers have been the “breadwinners” and mothers have been the “caretakers.” In the media, we see these stereotypes perpetuated as the clueless dad is put in charge of the kids and everyone laughs as he bumbles through the caretaking process. Despite these running gags, society is quick to praise fathers for “babysitting” the kids and doing care tasks around the house while simultaneously ignoring mother’s daily efforts or shaming those who choose (or are forced out of necessity) to work. Are these “sitcom dads” and accompanying comments harmful to families?
Fatherhood is important. Despite how the media and society try to diminish the role of a father, research shows that the way you choose to interact with your family carries a great deal of weight. Even your mere presence counts. In 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1 out of 4 children have absent fathers (source). Children with absent fathers are 47% more likely to live in poverty and boys who grow up with absent fathers are much more likely to become absent fathers themselves. Children with absent fathers also have increased risks to their physical, mental, and social health. On the contrary, children with involved fathers generally do better in school and have better emotional and physical health. Moms also benefit from an involved partner as it reduces her parenting stress (source). Engaged fathers, therefore, are clearly a vital part of a healthy family.
So what does it mean to be an involved father? Marsiglio et al., defines involved fatherhood as men’s “positive, wide-ranging, and active participation in their children's lives" (2000). Since every family is made up of unique people in unique circumstances, being an involved father means different things for every family. However, there are some universal truths about being an involved father.
1) Be a partner, not a helper
Dads can’t “babysit” their own kids any more than moms can. Dads and moms are meant to be partners as co-caretakers of their children. Teams do best when all players are on the field, rather than half of them sitting on the bench. Be an active participant in your children’s growth and development. Don’t be ashamed if you don’t know exactly what to do all the time (neither does mom!) and be willing to ask for help. While society pushes women to learn how to be a caretaker, men often aren’t taught how to do care tasks like diaper changing, cooking, or braiding hair. Be patient with yourself and ask your partner to be patient with you too as you are learning new skills.
2) Get to know your kids
You can’t have a good relationship with someone you don’t know. Even bringing home an infant from the hospital can feel like bringing home a stranger. While kids can share similar traits to their parents and siblings, your kids have unique life experiences, perspectives, and personalities. Take some time to learn about your child as a person, learning about their likes, dislikes, and preferences. Spend time with them doing something they enjoy and letting them lead you through their world.
3) Determine your goals and stick to them
Often, the fear of not being good enough can cause us to not try at all. Our goal should never be to “be good enough” but to instead be focused on doing our best in our relationships. Being willing to try means having the courage to mess up. Cut yourself some slack and give yourself and your family grace. Trying to change family culture, even for the better, can be a bumpy ride. Remember, your goal is to build relationships within your family, not to check a box. Focus on the quality of your time together. All relationships transition over time, especially your relationships with your kids. As kids grow, they develop into new versions of themselves, which affects their relationships with their family, their friends, and themselves. Allow your kids to grow and let them know you love them, you’re proud of them, and you will always be there for them.
It doesn’t matter if your child is an infant, toddler, teenager, or adult. If your goal is to become more involved, you still have the opportunity to practice these skills. Know that even if you feel inadequate, you have been empowered by the ultimate Father to love, cherish, and support your family. God will give you the guidance and courage you need to build up your family and have lasting, nourishing relationships with your children.
“Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well… For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” 1 Thessalonians 2:8b, 11-12, NIV
Sources include U.S. Census data, this study, and this source.