It’s time for our moment in the sun: Father’s Day – the day we dads are officially honored before things go back to normal for the other 364 days of the year.
While all that glory may feel undeserved at times, it turns out we might just matter more than many people think. Research shows that good dads have certain traits in common and the paternal influence runs much deeper than once imagined. On this Father’s Day, consider what studies say about all you’ve done for your children and all your dad did for you.
David Sack, M.D., is board certified in psychiatry, addiction psychiatry and addiction medicine, and writes a blog about addiction. He is CEO of Elements Behavioral Health, a network of mental health and addiction treatment centers that includes a teen drug rehab at The Right Step and Promises young adult rehab.
Editor: Saad Shaheed
The Power of Love
We dads sometimes feel a bit like the second banana when it comes to parenting, but studies confirm our love is every bit as crucial as Mom’s. It may even matter more. A large-scale analysis by the University of Connecticut researchers looked at the power of parental rejection and acceptance and concluded that a dad’s love is one of the biggest influences on personality development from childhood into adulthood.
This power for good comes with a flip side. If we withhold our love, we have the power to scar our kids for life. Nothing, it seems, packs more devastation than parental rejection, especially when it’s from a father who is seen as having the most power in the family dynamic, the analysis noted. The result can be a child who is more anxious, insecure and hostile, and who grows into an adult who struggles to form healthy relationships.
Hands-On Pays Off
It’s exhausting at the time, but it’s nice to know that all those hours we spend walking the floor with our kids when they cry, teaching them how to ride their bikes, and helping them with their homework pays off in the end, according to a long-term study that looked at 138 children and their parents. Fathers who actively parent in early and middle childhood end up with kids who are smarter, better behaved, better at social connections, and less prone to sadness and anxiety, the study concluded. The effect is seen even when the dad doesn’t live with the children or when the family is at risk socioeconomically.
A study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry backed up the premise, noting that infants whose dads engage positively with them at three months are less likely to show behavioral problems at one year. That early involvement writes the “script,” another study noted, for our close, loving relationships with them down the road.
The Lessons of Play
All those times we tossed our kids into the air or wrestled with them on the living room floor may have just seemed like fun, but it turns out they were lessons in social involvement, achievement and self-confidence.
Studies show that fathers spend much more of their one-on-one time with young children in stimulating play than moms, whose focus tends to be on nurturing (and on keeping the house from being destroyed). These interactions help teach kids how to regulate emotions and behaviors. Rough-housing, for example, gives the young a safe way to learn how to deal with aggressive feelings without losing control.
It also seems to be in our nature to encourage achievement and independence. A 2010 studyexamined how moms and dads reacted when their toddler was placed in a variety of mildly risky situations and concluded that dads are more likely to give the child leeway to explore their environment.
A mother and father’s style complement each other, the study authors noted, but we dads may have a singular ability to stimulate exploration and controlled risk-taking. When balanced with healthy limits, the result is a boost in the child’s self-confidence and more comfort with the world beyond the home.
There was an era when our primary contribution to our children was thought to be in bringing home a paycheck. But decades of research now make clear that dads have deep and unique contributions to make to the emotional, social and intellectual development of our children.
Fathers who roll up their sleeves and do the hard work of parenting give their children enormous advantages in life. If you’re the child of one of these dads, you shouldn’t feel as though you’re the only one who gained something from these efforts. A University of California study concluded that parents – especially fathers – report greater happiness and more positive emotion and meaning in life than nonparents. I know that for me, being a dad has inspired some gray hairs but it has also paid me back with more joy than I ever could have anticipated. Not a bad Father’s Day gift.