Intrigued with why children who have contact with their fathers do so well, Warren Farrell, psychologist and author of Father Child Reunion, spent more than a decade conducting a meta-analysis of worldwide research to better understand this phenomenon.
“I knew when I started this research that dads were important, but I had no idea how important,” says 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 5 or 6 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 6 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,” Farrell says. “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,” Farrell says. “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:
“Growing up in an intact family gives children a jump-start in life,” Farrell says. “If a divorce is unavoidable, there are three absolute essentials to give children:
“If these three things happen, children tend to grow up almost as well as children in intact families.”
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.