“I knew when I started this research that dads were important, but I had no idea how important,” said Dr. Farrell. “We are 100 percent certain that children do better in 26 different areas when they grow up in intact families. Children clearly pay a price when their fathers walk away or mothers keep dads away.”
The impact of a father starts at birth. For example, boys who have contact with their father display a greater level of trust at only five or six months. A study of black infants found the more interaction the boy had with the father, the higher his mental competence and psychomotor function by the age of six months.
As children grow, fathers teach children to have empathy. Dads are usually more firm about enforcing boundaries. Teaching children to take boundaries seriously teaches them to respect the needs and rights of others.
“Fathers also play a huge role in teaching delayed gratification, the single most important highway to maturity,” said Dr. Farrell. “When children are allowed to do something without having to do anything to get there it undermines this process.”
Children with fathers present in the home do better academically, especially in math and science, even if they come from weaker schools. A study by two Harvard researchers found that even when race, education, poverty, and similar socioeconomic factors are equal, living without a dad doubled a child’s chance of dropping out of school. Another study of boys with similar backgrounds found that by the third grade, boys with present fathers scored higher on every achievement test and received higher grades. The more years children spend with single mothers, the fewer years of school they complete.
“When fathers are present children have better mental health,” said Dr. Farrell. “They are more likely to get along well with other children, sleep well at night, be trusting of others, and are less likely to be aggressive or participate in risky behavior.”
The National Center for Health Statistics reports that a child living with his/her divorced mother, compared to a child living with both parents, is 375 percent more likely to need professional treatment for emotional or behavioral problems. Ninety percent of homeless or runaway children are from fatherless homes. Most gang members come from mother-only households.
“Growing up in an intact family gives children a jump-start in life,” said Dr. Farrell. “If a divorce is unavoidable, there are three absolute essentials to give children:
- Equal amounts of time spent with both parents;
- The mother and father live close enough (no more than 15 minutes) that the child doesn’t have to give up friends or activities to see the other parent; and,
- The child is not able to overhear or detect badmouthing of the other parent.
Men and women need to understand that what Dads do or don’t do, and the way mothers handle it, impacts the life of their child forever.
President & CEO
As a Certified Family Life Educator Julie writes and speaks on issues related to strengthening marriages and families.