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18 Lessons Financially Savvy Parents Teach Their Kids About Money

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Tuesday, January 31, 2023

18 Lessons Financially Savvy Parents Teach Their Kids About Money

Financial discussions need to start early.

By Matt Berical from Fatherly Updated: Jan. 25, 2023, Originally Published: June 23, 2020



What are the most important lessons to teach children about money? It’s a good question to consider, particularly because, thanks to a distinct lack of a broad financial literacy curriculum in schools, it falls on parents to be the ones who instill the core concepts of spending, saving, and handling money in general. While there are certainly lessons all parents should be teaching kids about money, we wondered, what do financial planners, accountants, and others who work in the financial industry teach their kids about money? What concepts are essential and how do they distill them down so they can be understood by, say, a seven-year-old?

That’s why we asked a broad array of financial professionals, “What lessons do you teach your kids about money?” The varied responses include everything from envelope systems and understanding wants versus needs to the creation fake debit cards and engineering simple lessons about compound interest. All provide inspiration and instruction on how to help kids get a head start on the road to financial success and serve as a reminder that it’s never too early to begin teaching kids about money.

1. Use The Sticker Chart Reward System

“We use a sticker chart reward system with our young ones, who are in Kindergarten and second grade. You get a sticker for doing homework, practicing, household chores, and the like. After earning 20 stickers each child then gets to pick out a toy, experience, goodies, etc. of their choosing (up to a $ value). This is a foundational value in our household; to instill that effort and hard work is required to earn many of the ‘wants’ in life. And that it takes time.” — Ronsey Chawla, Financial Advisor at Per Sterling Capital Management.

2. Incorporate Financial Topics Into Everyday Life

“This can be as simple as taking my kids to the bank to open a checking/savings account, involving my two kids — I have a 14-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter — in household budgeting conversations during a trip to the store, or planning for a family vacation. It’s important to share lessons and what you learned from your experiences with money management, with the depth of that conversation being up to your individual family. It’s also a good idea to start them saving early. Developing smart saving habits is the first step to becoming money-wise. Encouraging children to contribute a realistic amount to savings, even if it’s just $20 a month, is an easy way to put them on the right track for future financial success.” —Daniel Cahill, SVP, North Dallas Bank & Trust Co.

3. Trust The Lemonade Stand

“With my own kids, who were four and six at the time, we opened lemonade stands, as cliché as it may be. It teaches them literally the fruits of their labor. The help made the lemonade, with real lemons, at every step, until they have the product ready for market. They learn the lessons of “location, location, location,” understanding that where they set up can make a big difference in the traffic they can expect. Setting up on the corner brings some traffic, but not nearly as much as by a nearby field on a hot day where a bunch of kids are at soccer practice.

When they’re done, they bring their profits back home and count it up. This helps them identify and understand what different coins and paper currency mean. They also have piggy banks that are broken up into four different chambers – save, invest, spend and donate. This helps them understand the different utilities of money, immediate gratification, delayed gratification and being a contribution to others.” — Chet Schwartz, RICP, registered representative with Strategies for Wealth, a Financial Advisor with Park Avenue Securities, and a Financial Representative of Guardian Life Insurance

4. Teach Them To Save — But Also Enjoy The Rewards

“To clarify, this all starts with being responsible, working hard, and earning some dough. But this particular piece of advice is about what I do with that earned money. When I come into some kind of bonus or non-recurring income, I always, without fail, carve off some small-ish amount of that bonus for me, my wife, and my daughter, and we all go out together and buy something fun for ourselves, something that we would not otherwise have bought because we thought it was frivolous or hard to justify. We save the bulk, but the rule is that we have to spend that smaller allocated amount on something fun, and we have to do it together as a family.

This is important to me because one, if you don’t enjoy some part of your money “now,” you may never get the chance, and two, it gets us out, as a family, doing something that breaks the normal rules of saving and spending. I’m all about saving of course, but I’m also about enjoying the rewards of hard work, and that’s what this is really all about. If you don’t treat yourself well, you sure as heck shouldn’t expect anyone else to.” — Dan Stampf, VP, Personal Capital Cash

5. Use “Skip Counting”

There’s more than one way to count to 100. You can take the long way, starting with the number one. Or you can also count by twos, tens, twenties, even fifties to get there faster. Learning to “skip count” is an important precursor to developing fluency in calculation, number sense, and the basis for multiplication and division — not to mention counting money. Just pour a bunch of coins on the table and put them into piles by coin type (pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters). Work with your child to “skip count” using different coins and values, reinforcing what they’ve learned. For example, ask them if they notice any patterns (e.g. while counting by 2s, 5s, and 10s). If “skip counting” is still too complex for your kids, continue practicing by changing the number of coins they are counting. That will encourage your children to figure out another total value.” —Jeremy Quittner, Resident Money Expert & Editorial Director, Stash

6. Put Pocket Money To Good Use

“It’s important to teach your children about saving, and the potential benefits. I think a fun way to do this is with their pocket money. Say you give your child $10 for the weekend. Once its spent, it is gone. But I like to introduce the offer that if, for every change they bring back at the end of each week, that change is matched from my money, and saved until it reaches $100, and they can buy themselves something special. For example, if they bring me $2 change, I put $4 aside for them, and this pot grows until it hits $100. The opportunity here is for the children to really think about what they are spending their money on, while also seeing that saving can result in a better purchase that is actually wanted at the end.” — Andrew Roderick, CEO of Credit Repair Companies

7. Use The Token Economy With Toddlers

“Make money fun. Toddlers can start to experience a ‘token economy’ by pretending to play in grocery stores or banks: games that can actively involve your child in playing and beginning to understand money. It’s also important to recognize that it may be more constructive to create other activities for older kids, by introducing them to easy-to-read financial books, like this one. Explain to them how your family approaches investing, paying for taxes, and seeking financial advice from an advisor” – Dillon Ferguson, CFP, Head of Product, Zoe Financial

8. Make The Concept Of Prioritization Crucial

“We ask our three kids to do certain activities at home that are outside of their normal chores for which we compensate them with small amounts of money. This way they learn that to make money they need to put extra effort and work hard. They also learn that the money they make at home can be spent on a variety of different things, but we teach them about the concept of prioritization, since money is a scarce resource. Most importantly, we teach them that the best investment they can ever make is their own education, since education leads to better job opportunities and better quality of life.

We opened college savings accounts for all three kids via UNest and our older one is already contributing into her own account. We show her how money grows over time and teach about the concept of investing, compound interest and tax-free growth. In addition, we emphasize that lack of savings can lead to the student debt. Money that is borrowed can be very expensive and the need to pay off student loans would create setbacks in life and delay other important decisions like buying a house or starting a family. Putting a small amount aside each month and investing for education teaches our kids discipline and motivates them to think long-term.” — Ksenia Yudina, CEO and Founder of UNest

9. Teach Them About Coins — And The Four Pillars

“I think that six years old is a good age to start teaching kids about money. A great first objective is teaching them about coins. While that might seem simple, it is not as easy a subject as you might think. Take a step back and think this through: Why is the big nickel worth less than the small dime? I think it’s fun to play games with kids once they understand the value of each coin by having them make different combinations to get to one dollar. 10 dimes. 20 nickels. Four quarters. One-hundred pennies. Fifty pennies and two quarters.

Start with teaching them one of the four pillars of financial literacy: save, spend/budget, invest and charity. For younger children, savings is the easiest as you can simply use a clear jar where they can put loose coins and see them build up. Remember to keep lessons age-appropriate and that developing money-smarts is not an exercise in trying to create the next Warren Buffet. It is about making them feel comfortable talking about money, understanding basic money vocabulary, and eventually starting good habits that will last a lifetime. You want to avoid the firehose method of teaching where you pile on too much information too soon. Rather consider using the drip-drip-drip method that starting them at a young age gives you plenty of time for them to build a great foundation.” — Thomas J. Henske, Partner, Lenox Advisors

10. Be Open About Your Financial Goals

“When my kids were younger, my wife and I agreed on an aggressive goal to pay off our house in a set number of years. When that goal was reached, we agreed to take the family on a trip to Disney World. We bought a Mickey Mouse puzzle, assembled it, and disassembled it in a way that for each $1,000 we reduced principal on the loan, we put so many pieces of the puzzle together. It created a visual representation of our progress. We explained our goal to the kids in terms they could understand so they saw the progress and the reward at the end after several years of work. While the kids now understand the financial side of the goal, it is the visual representation of the puzzle they recall most.” — Phil Kernen, CFA | Portfolio Manager, Mitchell Capital

11. Teach Them About Compound Interest

“As a financial planner and fastidious investor, my kids are being taught about compound interest at a young age. When my five-year-old daughter receives birthday money from our relatives, I show her how putting 25 percent of her money away can give her many more Barbies and dolls in the future. Would you rather buy one Barbie today, or be able to buy five Barbies later, I ask? Even a child can understand that by deferring some instant gratification today, they can enjoy greater luxuries later.” — Thanasi Panagiotakopoulos, Financial Planner, Life Managed

12. Never Say ‘There is No Money’

“Say instead, money is valuable and needs to be used wisely. Or money is not to be wasted. The reason is that children should not grow up with a limitation mindset but an abundance mindset while learning to be careful with money. Saying ‘there’s is no money,’ tells the child that when they get money in their hands, they can throw it away, and that’s not a good thing.” — Kokab Rahman, author of Author of Accounting for Beginners

13. Don’t Forget the Power of Delayed Gratification

“My children are 2 and 4 years old currently, and while it’s definitely too early to teach any significant money lessons to the two-year-old (aside from showing him how to put coins in a piggy bank), the four-year-old is another story. I recently tried this simple method of teaching savings and it worked well. Each night, I gave her a quarter for straightening up her toys before bed. She could choose to use a quarter to get a treat from the candy dish, but if she saved five of her quarters, we could do something special that weekend (go to the zoo, a favorite restaurant, etc.). Delayed gratification is such a valuable skill to learn at a young age, and I plan to use more complex ways to incentivize saving as she gets older.” — Matt Frankel, CFP, The Ascent

14. Turn Financial Mistakes Into Teachable Moments

We don’t pay our kids for daily chores like making their bed, feeding the dogs, or picking up after themselves. But I do pay them for mowing the yard (my 10-year-old) or helping cut firewood (all my children), things that are above and beyond their normal family contributions that they worked hard to attain. It’s also important to let them make mistakes. Recently my 10-year-old wanted to purchase a new movie release for $19.99, so I let him. The next day he wanted to buy a video game. I said sure pay me and he could buy it. He then realized he spent all his money on the movie. That’s the time to have a good conversation around it. Was it worth it? What could you do differently?” — Joel Hodges, CPA, Intuit, Tax Content Group Manager

15. Explain The Difference Between Needs and Wants

One of the most important money lessons I’m already teaching my young children is the difference between needs and wants. If she holds up something at a store — say, something from the candy aisle — I’ll ask ‘Do you need that, or do you want that?’ It took a few tries, but she got the hang of it. It can be helpful to set a firm cap on the ‘wants,’ such as one per week, while showing that we always take care of our needs.”— Matt Frankel, CFP, The Ascent

16. Introduce The idea Of Money Early And Often

“At home, we value speaking openly about our financial lives and the value of saving such that our kids learn by example. A great way we teach our 4-year old about money is to have them understand the value of a purchase. The other day my son wanted us to buy him a new game for his iPad. To ‘convince us,’ we had him walk through the value in relation to the actually cost of the game. It’s never too early for your children to understand the cost of things. “- Andres Garcia-Amaya, Founder, Zoe Financial

17. Enlist The Envelope System

“Kids are never too young to learn how to handle money, one fun way for them to learn about money is to have them separate their allowances on what they want to spend. They can do this by having small envelopes and placing a certain amount from their allowances. This helps them learn about budgeting and the value of money when that certain envelope reaches the goal amount. Children are also allowed to have bank accounts, so it is good for them to have their accounts so that they can start learning to save early. — Leonard Ang, CMO, iProperty Management


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7 Ways to Be a More Patient Parent, According to a Patience Expert

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Tuesday, December 27, 2022

7 Ways to Be a More Patient Parent, According to a Patience Expert

Patience is a skill. And like any other skill, it can be nurtured and grown.
These seven exercises can help.

by Ashley Abramson

Updated: Dec. 20, 2022

Originally Published: March 11, 2022 in Fatherly




Parenthood, in many ways, is a long exercise in patience. From the moment you find out you’re expecting, you’re tasked with waiting patiently — and that task might start to feel more demanding as your baby turns into a kid. Sleep training, potty training, and even just getting your kid ready and out the door for preschool all require the ability to stay calm and collected in frustrating moments. Clearly it’s not easy.

“A lot of people think ‘I’m just not patient, and that’s the way it is,’” says Sarah A. Schnitker, Ph.D, a psychology professor at Baylor University who studies patience. But that’s not exactly the case. Patience is a skill that can be acquired — and one that is extremely useful for parents and everyone else. “You can accomplish your goal faster because you’re able to stay regulated, which allows you to exert more effort,” Schnitker says. “If you’re patient while potty training, you can stay calm when your kid has another accident, and not give up.”

Here are a few simple-but-effective ways to improve your patience in the moment and over time, according to experts.

1. Practice Cognitive Reappraisal

Impatience is often driven by negative or catastrophizing thoughts. You may feel like your toddler is trying to mess up your morning, or that it’s the end of the world when you’re running late or someone cuts you off in traffic. Schnitker says cognitive reappraisal, the practice of realigning your thoughts with reality, can help take the edge off when you’re feeling impatient.

One way to do that: Try to take on a different perspective than your own when you feel that hot emotion. For example, if you’re feeling impatient about your toddler’s constant whining, think about how they might feel when they can’t have what they want (and without the luxury of logical thinking). You can also think about the grand scheme compared to your frustrating moment. Losing five minutes of time right now might be stressful and annoying, but in the big picture, it’s probably not that big of a deal.

2. Regularly Reflect on Hard Moments

It’s not always easy (or even possible) to regain patience in difficult moments, and every parent loses their cool from time to time. To help yourself learn from those mistakes, Schnitker says it’s important to take time to reflect on them. After your kids are in bed, ask yourself how the day went. What was the hardest part of the day, what were you feeling in that moment, and how do you wish you handled it differently? “That way, you get to practice a different way of thinking and decide how to handle things differently in the future,” she says.

3. Use Implementation Intentions

Once you take some time to think about how you want to respond when situations test your patience, it can help to make a plan. Schnitker recommends using “if/when” statements: For example, you could decide, “If my kid has a tantrum when it’s time for bed, I’ll give them this much time to calm down.”

“Planning out ahead what you’ll do in those situations that most frustrate you can help, because you don’t have to figure it out when you’re already frustrated,” she says.

4. Identify Your Triggers

Uncontrollable outside scenarios might play a role in loss of patience, but losing your cool involves internal triggers. Pauline Yeghnazar Peck, PhD, a California-based psychotherapist, suggests making a list of common scenarios that make you more irritable so you can make a plan to cope before the moment you usually lose your patience.

For example, maybe you tend to get more irritable and impatient when you’re hungry. On the days you have to bring the kids to daycare, make sure to eat breakfast or bring a snack in the car. Or maybe you find yourself struggling more with patience when you’re short on sleep. If you can’t sneak in a nap, ask your partner to take over for the morning so you don’t end up snapping at your family.

“Just identifying that something is a triggering situation for you can help you find the coping skills you need to navigate it with a little more ease and grace,” Peck says.

5. Think with Your Purpose

It’s easier to get frustrated when you lose sight of the big picture. When you’re struggling to be patient with your kids especially, Schnitker suggests zooming out and asking yourself some important questions. For example: Who do you hope your kids become? What values do you want to instill in them? What kind of memories do you want them to have of you later on in life? “Connecting with the bigger purpose of parenting, something you’re working toward besides getting your kids teeth brushed and pajamas on at night, can make it easier to deal with daily frustrations,” she says.

You can reflect on your purpose as a parent in the moment or after the fact by processing with your partner or journaling. The important thing is to give yourself a chance to remember your goals as a parent — and how patience can contribute to your bigger purpose of instilling your principles in your kids.

6. Integrate Mindfulness into Your Routine

At its core, impatience means you have a hard time tolerating tough situations. Mindfulness meditation, which teaches you how to exist in the present moment without judgment or evaluation, can help you improve your patience over time.

“A lot of people think mindfulness is about relaxation, and while that might be a byproduct, it’s more about seeing what’s happening and not moving immediately into action,” says Peck. “It helps lengthen the amount of time and space between the activating event and your response.”

Try downloading a meditation app like Headspace or Insight Timer and carving out a few minutes every day to meditate. During meditations, notice what you feel when you’re trying to meditate — maybe you’re wishing the meditation was over or stressed about what’s next — and then bring yourself back to the moment. Over time, your ability to persevere in patience-requiring situations will grow. “You can look at a situation, be curious about what will unfold, and choose how you’d like to respond,” Peck says.


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How To Truly Share The Mental Load In A Marriage, According To Five Therapists

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Tuesday, December 27, 2022

How To Truly Share The Mental Load In A Marriage, According To Five Therapists 

 Here’s how you and your partner can balance out the everyday burdens. 

by Jeremy Brown

Updated: Dec. 22, 2022

Originally Published: July 16, 2021, in Fatherly





The mental load of parenting can weigh anyone down. That’s why, whenever possible married couples must ask themselves: Am I doing enough? Is my partner taking on too much? What can I help with to share the mental load? Because when one partner takes on too much, it’s easy to buckle under the weight.

What is mental load? Well, it’s a blanket term for the invisible work that parents must take on — the planning, organizing, remembering, and worrying that tasks require — much of which is usually shouldered by mothers. Let’s use a playdate as an example. The mental load of a playdate is all the little things that add up to a successful outing. The scheduling. The coordinating. The initial conversations with other parents. The buying of snacks. The planning of activities. The consideration of all details. All of these and more add up to the mental load of the little things a parent must remember.

There is a mental load for seemingly every task, from paying bills and buying groceries to putting away clothes and bringing the kids to tee ball practice. It’s a lot of work, but work that co-parents can better handle when they A) have regular conversations about who’s doing what B) play active roles (i.e. don’t ask “what can I do to help?” and just, well, help and C) keep the unseen work in mind and always seek ways to lift the burden.

“Sharing responsibilities with another person can either be strenuous or rewarding,” says Erica Cramer, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. “In most circumstances, two heads work better than one and sharing the mental load with your spouse can lead to optimal results.”

It really is as simple and as difficult as that. If you properly distribute the mental load of parenting in your marriage, Cramer adds, life can be easier, decisions can be better and people can feel more empowered. But if couples are not properly dividing the load, she says, they “can develop tension, resentment, and ruptures.”

So how can you help balance the mental load of parenting? What are some tactics to understand? We spoke to five therapists about balancing the mental load and keeping division equitable. Here’s what they said.

1. Understand What Sharing the Mental Load Means

“Sharing the mental load is not as simple as asking someone to take out the trash. The whole point of offloading this work is to not then be responsible for telling the other person to do it. I remember once having a fight with my own partner where I shared that I felt overly responsible for keeping our household moving. When he told me he was happy to help, I just needed to tell him what to do. I was once again put in a position of responsibility.

What I had really wanted was for him to take on the responsibility not only of the actual tasks but of the thinking and knowing about the task so that I could completely offload it from my mind. The conversation is ongoing, fluid, and dynamic. It is not a ‘one and done’ conversation. As your life grows and changes, most likely your mental loads will as well. This conversation requires couples to be open to their partner’s experience and understand what it would really require to take on a portion of their partner’s mental load. I’d encourage partners to approach this conversation with curiosity rather than defensiveness. It is easy to feel hurt when we are told that we aren’t doing enough, but defensiveness will immediately shut down the conversation.” — Jessica Small, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

2. Play to Each Other’s Strengths

“When one partner has a more rational, intellectual perspective and the other a more intuitive, emotional approach, the two can work together as a lovely, full-bodied partnership. Look at it this way: Each partner has their superpower, which they bring to the equation. Acknowledging and using each skill set to its fullest advantage will help each partner feel seen and valued.

It helps significantly if the two partners take a page from each other’s book. The typically more rational partner can do some work around increasing their understanding of their own emotions so they can more readily express themselves and understand their underlying motivations and reactions. This will also increase their capacity to empathize with their partner. The typically more emotional partner can practice emotional management in the form of mindfulness. The ability to self-regulate will help them communicate in a way their rational partner can receive.” — Zoe Kors, LA-based sex therapist and resident sex and intimacy coach for sexual wellness app Coral.

3. Take a Business-Minded Approach

“Download an app designed for creating lists, such as ‘Microsoft To Do.’ This type of app allows each partner to have a place to put their thoughts as they arise, and it automatically shares it with the other partner. It’s much more effective than sending a text that only gets lost.

And invite your partner to a regular ongoing weekly ‘team meeting’ and hold space on both parties’ calendars. This is a little different than the sit-down and think with me, however, it might end up looking the same. In this weekly meeting, go over what is going to happen this week, this month. and this season. Set some goals about what you’d both like to experience and then put them in the To Do app, so when it’s finished you can mark it off and the app notifies the other person it’s completed.” — Andrea Dindinger, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

4. Maintain a Flexible Mindset

“Life constantly fluctuates. Responsibilities won’t always fall as equally on our shoulders as we would like. Be flexible and know when to bend and when to communicate before you break. There will be times in life when you or your partner is overwhelmed with personal or professional issues. Other times, you’ll find yourself having more time and flexibility and should be mindful of this and offer to pick up each other’s slack.

For example, if you are a teacher who has summers off and your partner’s busiest time in the career is the summer, if your partner’s parents are healthy and live independently but you’re taking care of a sick parent, or if your child needs more attention from a specific parent – it’s important to wane and wax with each other so your individual needs are met and the relationship doesn’t suffer.

In situations like these, be willing to step in and shoulder most of the mental load for that day, week or even month. Hopefully, your partner will do the same when you need their help and support. If your partner is not as attuned to your needs, be honest about the extra support you require. See how they respond and if they are willing to step up to the plate when necessary. Let them know you appreciate their flexibility and your recognition should go a long way.” — Erica Cramer, Licensed Clinical Social Worker

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A Father’s Impact on Child Development

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Thursday, November 10, 2022

A Father’s Impact on Child Development

By: Children’s Bureau 6/07/2018




 

Father’s Day is a time in which we recognize fathers and father figures and their contributions to their children, as well as society overall. There are tremendous advantages that are afforded to children who have active, involved fathers during childhood and adolescence. The Fatherhood Project, a non-profit fatherhood program seeking to improve the health and well-being of children and families by empowering fathers to be knowledgeable, active, and emotionally engaged with their children, researched the specific impacts of father engagement during the different childhood development stages.

Here are ten important facts that were collected during their research:

10 Facts About Father Engagement


  1. Fathers and infants can be equally as attached as mothers and infants. When both parents are involved with the child, infants are attached to both parents from the beginning of life.
  2. Father involvement is related to positive child health outcomes in infants, such as improved weight gain in preterm infants and improved breastfeeding rates.[2]
  3. Father involvement using authoritative parenting (loving and with clear boundaries and expectations) leads to better emotional, academic, social, and behavioral outcomes for children.
  4. Children who feel a closeness to their father are: twice as likely as those who do not to enter college or find stable employment after high school, 75% less likely to have a teen birth, 80% less likely to spend time in jail, and half as likely to experience multiple depression symptoms.
  5. Fathers occupy a critical role in child development. Father absence hinders development from early infancy through childhood and into adulthood. The psychological harm of father absence experienced during childhood persists throughout the life course.
  6. The quality of the father-child relationship matters more than the specific amount of hours spent together. Non-resident fathers can have positive effects on children’s social and emotional well-being, as well as academic achievement and behavioral adjustment.
  7. High levels of father involvement are correlated with higher levels of sociability, confidence, and self-control in children. Children with involved fathers are less likely to act out in school or engage in risky behaviors in adolescence.
  8. Children with actively involved fathers are: 43% more likely to earn A’s in school and 33% less likely to repeat a grade than those without engaged dads.
  9. Father engagement reduces the frequency of behavioral problems in boys while also decreasing delinquency and economic disadvantage in low-income families.
  10. Father engagement reduces psychological problems and rates of depression in young women.

Overall, the impact that fathers and father figures can make is substantial. Just as there are many positive aspects to father involvement, the effects of father absence can be detrimental as well.

Father Absence

According to the 2007 UNICEF report on the well-being of children in economically advanced nations, children in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. rank extremely low in regard to social and emotional well-being in particular. Many theories have been explored to explain the poor state of our nation’s’ children. However, a factor that has been largely ignored, particularly among child and family policymakers, is the prevalence and devastating effects of father absence in children’s lives.

For starters, studies repeatedly show that children without fathers positively present in the home suffer greatly. Even before a child is born, their father’s attitudes regarding the pregnancy, behaviors during the prenatal period, and the relationship between their father and mother may indirectly influence risk for adverse birth outcomes. In early childhood, studies show that school-aged children with good relationships with their fathers were less likely to experience depression, to exhibit disruptive behavior, or to lie. Overall, they were far more likely to exhibit prosocial behavior.

In adolescence, the implications of fatherless homes are incredible, as these children are more likely to experience the effects of poverty. Former president George W. Bush even addressed the issue while in office, stating, “Over the past four decades, fatherlessness has emerged as one of our greatest social problems. We know that children who grow up with absent-fathers can suffer lasting damage. They are more likely to end up in poverty or drop out of school, become addicted to drugs, have a child out of wedlock, or end up in prison. Fatherlessness is not the only cause of these things, but our nation must recognize it is an important factor.”

 

Narratively speaking, many individuals can attest to the fact that the lasting impact of a father in child’s life cannot be denied. Many would admit that they have struggled with feelings of abandonment and low self-esteem, due to the lack of a father’s love in their lives.  Some have turned to drugs, alcohol, risky sexual activities, unhealthy relationships, or other destructive behaviors to numb the pains of fatherlessness.

Although the absence of their father is not an isolated risk factor, it definitely can take a toll on the development of children. This is important to take note of, as many would argue that one parental role is more significant than the other. That is simply not true.

According to Psychology Today, researchers have found these narratives to be true. The results of father absence on children are nothing short of disastrous, along a number of dimensions:

  1. Children’s diminished self-concept, and compromised physical and emotional security (children consistently report feeling abandoned when their fathers are not involved in their lives, struggling with their emotions and episodic bouts of self-loathing)
  2. Behavioral problems (fatherless children have more difficulties with social adjustment, and are more likely to report problems with friendships, and manifest behavior problems; many develop a swaggering, intimidating persona in an attempt to disguise their underlying fears, resentments, anxieties and unhappiness)
  3. Truancy and poor academic performance (71 percent of high school dropouts are fatherless; fatherless children have more trouble academically, scoring poorly on tests of reading, mathematics, and thinking skills; children from father absent homes are more likely to play truant from school, more likely to be excluded from school, more likely to leave school at age 16, and less likely to attain academic and professional qualifications in adulthood)
  4. Delinquency and youth crime, including violent crime (85 percent of youth in prison have an absent father; fatherless children are more likely to offend and go to jail as adults)
  5. Promiscuity and teen pregnancy (fatherless children are more likely to experience problems with sexual health, including a greater likelihood of having intercourse before the age of 16, foregoing contraception during first intercourse, becoming teenage parents, and contracting sexually transmitted infection; girls manifest an object hunger for males, and in experiencing the emotional loss of their fathers egocentrically as a rejection of them, become susceptible to exploitation by adult men)
  6. Drug and alcohol abuse (fatherless children are more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, and abuse drugs in childhood and adulthood)
  7. Homelessness (90 percent of runaway children have an absent father)
  8. Exploitation and abuse (fatherless children are at greater risk of suffering physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, being five times more likely to have experienced physical
  9. Abuse and emotional maltreatment, with a one hundred times higher risk of fatal abuse; a recent study reported that preschoolers not living with both of their biological parents are 40 times more likely to be sexually abused)
  10. Physical health problems (fatherless children report significantly more psychosomatic health symptoms and illness such as acute and chronic pain, asthma, headaches, and stomach aches)
  11. Mental health disorders (father absent children are consistently overrepresented on a wide range of mental health problems, particularly anxiety, depression and suicide)
  12. Life chances (as adults, fatherless children are more likely to experience unemployment, have low incomes, remain on social assistance, and experience homelessness)
  13. Future relationships (father absent children tend to enter partnerships earlier, are more likely to divorce or dissolve their cohabiting unions, and are more likely to have children outside marriage or outside any partnership)
  14. Mortality (fatherless children are more likely to die as children, and live an average of four years less over the life span)

 

 

Tips for Dads

Dads! It would be best if you made every effort to become actively involved in your child’s life – whether you live in the same home as them or not. Here are some great ways to create healthy, positive engagement with your children (adapted from the Modern Dad Dilemma):

  1. Speak positively to, and about, their mother. It is so important to be on the same page as their mother about what you desire your role to be, and what that will look like. This is especially important when the relationship is severed through divorce or separation. Be clear and respectful, emphasizing your desire to be an involved father to your children. Also, speak positively about her in front of your children! You may have disagreements at times, but your child needs to know that you respect their mother. They are just as much her child as they are theirs! Speaking poorly of their mother will only damage your relationship with them.
  2. Create a vision for fatherhood engagement. Twenty years from now, what do you hope your children say about you as a father? What do you hope they don’t say? Answering these questions will help you clarify your sense of purpose as a dad and guide you in important decisions with your own children. How can you get there?
  3. Be the bridge between your own father and your children. Whether or not you look to your father (or mother) as a model for parenting, the legacy of our parents, for better and for worse, lives inside each of us.This is why it’s important to explore and understand your family legacy, particularly your relationship with your father. How will you pass on the positive aspects of your relationship with your father to your own children? How will you avoid repeating the negative aspects of your relationship with your father?
  4. Establish a ritual dad time. One way to spend positive time with your child regularly is to create a Ritual DadTime. This is not meant to replace more frequent rituals like taking your kids to school or reading to them at bedtime. Get together as father/child at least once a month. Minimally for at least one to two hours and with only one child at a time (this may be difficult for larger families, but it is essential for building a one-on-one relationship). Choose an activity you both agree on. You may allow your child to choose or alternate who decides. We don’t recommend executive decisions, except in cases of extreme resistance. Make sure you talk during your time together. Using “action talk” (i.e., shooting baskets or playing video games while talking) is great, but men also need to model face-to-face dialogue for children of all ages. You don’t always need a distraction! Be consistent. The ritual does not have to be on the same day each month, but make sure it happens so your child can count on it. Try scheduling your next ritual time at the end of each time together!
  5. Know your children. Every child craves the interest, attention, and presence of their primary caregivers. They need you to know who they are as unique individuals, not as vessels for our own grand plans or unrealized dreams. By becoming an expert about your children’s lives – knowing what a certain look on their face means, the best way to get them to sleep, who their friends are, what they’re doing in school, what causes them stress — you send a clear and powerful message that they are worthy of your time, interest, and attention.

 

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What to know about co-parenting

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Sunday, November 06, 2022

What to know about co-parenting

Medically reviewed by Karen Gill, M.D. - By Zia Sherrell, MPH on March 29, 2022 in Medical News Today

When parents’ divorce or separate, it can be difficult for them to maintain a civil relationship for the sake of their children. However, healthy co-parenting, or shared parenting, provides children with a sense of stability. This stability is critical to their well-being.

Co-parenting requires communication and cooperation to be successful. Although it can be challenging, there are ways to make co-parenting work for everyone involved. With a little effort, divorced and separated parents can work toward setting aside their differences and providing their children with the environment they need to thrive.

Keep reading to learn more about healthy co-parenting, and how parents can work together to make it a positive experience for each other and their children.

What is co-parenting?


Share on PinterestVladimir Tsarkov/Stocksy

Co-parenting usually refers to both parents sharing responsibilities for their children following separation. Children may experience emotional turmoil when their parents divorce or separate. Co-parenting can help minimize the effects of separation. It involves maintaining positive communication with all parties involved.

There are different co-parenting arrangements, but most should involve both parents working together to decide the child’s welfare, living arrangements, education, and activities.

Co-parenting can be a challenge, but it can also be rewarding. By working together, parents can provide their children with a sense of stability during difficult times.

Benefits for the child

Effective co-parenting helps lower children’s stress and anxiety levels. It can also help reduce the conflicts between parents that negatively impact their children, and provide stability to the child.

StudiesTrusted Source show that children can develop a range of psychological, physical, and behavioral symptoms when exposed to parental conflicts.

For example, when parents clash, children may blame themselvesTrusted Source and experience changes in their emotions, general conduct, or conduct at school. Additionally, parents who clash may conflict more with their childrenTrusted Source, affecting parent-child relationships. Cooperative co-parenting helps avoid these issues.

Children may benefit from knowing that both parents put them first and want to spend time with them. Additionally, children gain a critical sense of security and safety when they have a consistent routine or set of rules to abide by.

How to co-parent effectively

An essential factor to effective co-parenting is ensuring that the children’s emotional and physical needs always come first. This should remain a priority, no matter how the parents feel about one another.

Parents must recognize that co-parenting might be challenging at times, especially while living separate lives in different homes. Other factors, such as distance between homes, can make co-parenting more difficult.

Communication is key to the co-parenting process. The parents must make every effort to listen to one another and talk about their child only. Even if the situation is stressful, co-parents must ensure that they talk in a manner that is without blame, complaints, and sarcasm.

It may be difficult to make shared decisions, but parents must develop a set of rules and routines together for children to adhere to, no matter which home they are in. When the parents agree to these rules, they must abide by them and not attempt to undermine the other parent.

Parents should remember that effective co-parenting has considerable benefits and helps provide a consistent, stable environment for their children to thrive.

Tips and best practice for families

Co-parenting may be hard work initially, but the rewards for the children are invaluable. The following tips can help people effectively co-parent:

  • Communicate: Parents should be able to discuss matters about their children openly, without concern of either one raising personal or past issues. When parents communicate effectively, resolving any conflicts becomes easier for all parties.
  • Compromise: Parents should try to be open to each other’s concerns or ideas regarding matters about the children. Flexibility is also invaluable on both sides. Although routine is healthy for the children, it is easier for both parents if they are accommodating toward one another.
  • Agree on strategies: Although parents are unlikely to agree on every decision, they need a basic level of agreement. This would be for essential factors, such as health, education, discipline, curfews, etc.

Common mistakes

Co-parenting can be challenging, particularly if the parents have a strained relationship. Often, separated parents feel that the trust between them is lost, they must rebuild this in relation to parenting their children.

It is important for people to avoid some of the common mistakes when co-parenting. They should consider:

  • Never talking badly about one another in front of the children. Although parents may find it challenging, setting aside any hurt and resentment is important.
  • Not using the child as a weapon to punish the other parent, for example, withholding visits.
  • Not using the child as a messenger, as this can put them at the center of any conflicts. Instead, parents should communicate directly with one another.
  • Avoid buying excessive gifts or offering unusual freedoms to the child in an attempt to win favor.

Remember that children can feel responsible for their parents’ negative emotions toward the other. It is also important for parents and caregivers to understand that co-parenting is not about their feelings. It is about ensuring the child is happy and stable.

Co-parenting with a mental health condition

Coping with a mental health condition is extremely difficult both for the individual and their family members. Co-parenting with an individual living with mental health difficulties can be even more challenging. However, there are some steps that can help both parents and children cope. These include:

  • Educating the children about their parent’s mental health: Parents should educate their children in an age-appropriate way about the symptoms of the condition and strategies for coping. Parents can seek advice from a qualified mental health professional to find the best approach for talking with their children and helping them understand that sometimes a parent or caregiver’s confusing behavior is not their fault.
  • Modeling behavior: A parent or caregiver can explain to their children the importance of empathy and how to avoid escalating conflict. They can also explain how mental health issues can change a person’s behavior, which children may find difficult to understand. Parents can help model behaviors for children by talking kindly and calmly to one another. This approach may empower children to replicate the behavior.
  • Separating the person from their diagnosis: Children need to understand that their parent has an illness and that this problem does not define them. Parents should avoid using terms such as “depressed” or “bipolar” to describe the individual living with the mental health issue. This language can stigmatize and negatively affect the children’s relationship with that parent.
  • Establishing strong boundaries: If children report behaviors that concern them, the parent should discuss this directly with the co-parent. However, if the co-parent is suicidal, people should call 911 and request a welfare check rather than getting involved personally. This helps maintain healthy boundaries with no potential for manipulation.

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The Big Realization That Helped Me Become a Better Dad, According to 10 Men

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The Big Realization That Helped Me Become a Better Dad, According to 10 Men

 

These "ah-ha moments" helped this group of dads become better parents.

by Matt Christensen in Fatherly.com

Updated: Jan. 4, 2022

Originally Published: July 9, 2021

 


Chances are every parent has had an “ah-ha” moment, a time when suddenly and often inexplicably, clarity takes over and a realization sets in that helps you reframe who you are as a parent and person in general. Maybe you realize that you were being too serious and not silly enough in your parenting. Maybe you realized that it’s much better — and simpler — to be honest with children about the long hours you work. For fathers, those moments can be as refreshing as they are eye-opening, reframing duties and elevating the concepts of compassion, understanding, presence, and making the most of every moment.

These moments of clarity are important. As important is sharing them so that fellow dads can learn the hard-won lessons sooner. That’s why we asked a group of dads to share the realization that made them a better father. They shared stories of ah-ha moments both small and large that happened at charity book fairs and in classrooms. Each contains a bit of wisdom that fathers young and old might learn a thing or two from.

I realized that I could be the silly dad and not just the serious dad

“When I had my first son, I stopped ‘playing’ in order to be ‘serious’ about being an adult and a father. I gave up a lot of the things I loved to do, like water sports and traveling. I quickly became disgruntled and resentful. My son didn’t deserve that. He never asked me to give up my passions. But my whole family was suffering under my contempt, and I’m ashamed to say just how downtrodden and lost I became. The happy ending came when I realized that I could be myself

and my son’s father at the same time. It sounds silly, but I thought I needed to choose one or the other. Really, my silliness and spirit were the levity my family needed most. Once I allowed myself these guilt-free rights, I held the responsibility of parenting closer to my heart. I returned to being the man I wanted to exemplify to my kids.” – Alex, 38, Utah

I realized I didn’t need to keep work and family separate

“I’ve always been a busy working professional, and I tried my best to make it work with my family. At one point, my son came to visit me at work, and I had a revelation that made me realize what kind of a dad I wanted to be. I always tried to keep work and family separate, but this was the time I realized that it didn’t have to be that way. When my son visited, he was very curious about my work and would constantly ask questions. At one point, I realized how happy I was that he was there and was so curious about what I did. From that point on, I always used work discussions as a way to bond with my children and build a better relationship. They also respect my work more because of that, so they understand to keep away when things get too serious. It’s a relationship I wish for every working dad!” –Akram Assaf, United Arab Emirates

I realized that I needed to be more involved as a dad

“My wake-up call to become a better father came through the passing of my own dad. I was constantly thinking I wish I’d been different, and spent more time appreciating him when he was alive. So I saw it as my chance to step up and become more involved in the lives of my children. We take the opportunity to get outdoors as often as possible. Fishing is my passion, and there have been trips when I feel the hairs on my arms stand up with the realization that I am pursuing the path of better parenthood. Sometimes it’s the little things that mean the most, like just expressing myself more often and being honest with my feelings. Hopefully, I’m teaching my children that life isn’t always smooth sailing and we all deal with failure in some aspect or another. In short, I want to use the passing of my father to benefit the life of my children, and I hope that my dad looks down on us with pride.” – Liam, 38, California

I realized I needed to be more present

“I’m the father of two kids, one boy, and one girl. I’ll never forget this certain moment of epiphany that has prompted me not only to become a better father but a better individual as well. My youngest daughter was having her fifth birthday party. After we blew out the candles, she asked me if she would have a birthday every year. I said she would, and she asked, ‘Does that mean I’ll grow up like you?’ I said yes, she would, and she replied with, ‘Then that means you’ll grow up some more and get old like grandpa and grandma? But, Daddy, I want to be with you longer!’ From that moment, I realized how much longer I want to be with my children too. That single instance has prompted me to be more present every time we’re together. It has prompted me to try and maintain an active and healthy lifestyle, and to become a kinder and better parent and individual every chance I get.” –Johnny, 46, California

I realized I needed to become an advocate for my child

“An individualized educational plan (IEP) meeting for my disabled daughter was how it was billed on paper. To this day, that meeting remains one of the most pivotal moments in my life as a parent. I had felt comfortable and competent as the parent of two children, the youngest autistic, the eldest not. Navigating the world with our daughter taught us to think differently about disability, acceptance, and community. ‘She does not qualify for special education,’ was all the administrator would say that day. Despite the years of assessments and psychological batteries, the letter from her pediatrician and mountains of medical records, and most painfully, despite uncovering that the school had altered my daughter’s test scores to purposefully keep her from the access she required, her predetermined position would not change. On that day I was forced to become an advocate. Because on that day, I was painted as a difficult parent. Both labels put me on a path that challenged everything I knew about myself, and forced me to re-examine parenting.” – Aaron Wright, 46, California

I realized I had to be a better example for my daughters

“I was at a charity book sale and saw an old copy of Dr. Spock on Parenting by Dr. Benjamin Spock on sale for one dollar. I thought for a dollar, I couldn’t go wrong. It was the best parenting dollar I ever spent. As I read it, I could see why Dr. Spock’s book Baby and Child Care was one of the bestselling books of the 20th century. Ask any baby-boomer if their parents read Dr. Spock. They all did. In one of his chapters on being a father, he wrote that if you want to be a good father you have to be a role model to and a leader of your children. The wisdom in that sentence hit me. I realized that I had to step forward and take the lead on dealing with situations involving my daughters. I had to be an example of the values I wanted my daughters to have. I had to be the kind of man I wanted my daughters to choose. It transformed me from being someone who was more of their mother’s helper to being their father.” – Elliot, 56, Toronto

I realized I needed to start re-considering my children’s viewpoints

“I have two teenagers, 15 and 17. For all of us, 2020 was a rough year all around. Not just because of COVID, but because of the general state of everything. We had a conversation about all the things affecting the world and, in turn, their lives. I learned that my kids have a

much different perspective about the world than I do. I have always led with a ‘my way or the highway’ philosophy, and being made aware of their perspectives made me realize I needed to take a step back and reassess. They were scared about how rapidly the world was changing. And, honestly, I was too. After that initial discussion, we had many others. We really learned to communicate and be open with each other. This was such an extraordinary time for me as a dad. I was able to put my viewpoints on the back burner and listen to what they had to say about the world. The issues that are important to them are much clearer now, and important to me as well.” – Steve, 48, Arizona

I realized I didn’t need to hide information about my work

“Sometimes bringing home extra work or putting in longer hours is unavoidable, especially when you’re the boss. One day I stopped to talk to my kids and tell them exactly why I had to work so often and for so long this particular week, and I realized that was the key to both lessening my guilt and helping them understand why I’d be gone more than usual. I started explaining to my kids why I’d have to bring work home or stay at the office longer, in simple terms they’d understand. I also made sure to always tell them it was just for a few days. Rather than try to hide it or ignore the fact that I was seeing them less, I gave them a reason why. They understand that when I have to work late it’s just temporary, and that’s made us all happier.” – Gabriel, North Carolina

I realized how fast the years were passing by

“I think I realized how fast time was going by the day my youngest son graduated elementary school. I began to see that time spent with my kids wasn’t something I could ever get back. I stopped worrying about work so much, and tried to be more present and focused on my family. I used to always hear, ‘The days are long but the years fly by.’ When I watched my son graduating, it hit me that in eight years he would be gone from home forever. It really changed my perspective, and I devoted that last decade to being present. Not just physically, but invested in every minute with my kids and my family.” – Hugh, 48, Oregon


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For many dads, the COVID pandemic brought new perspectives on fatherhood

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Monday, September 26, 2022

For many dads, the COVID pandemic brought new perspectives on fatherhood

June 19, 20225:01 AM ET

SHAUNEEN MIRANDA



A father plays with his son at a park in Amritsar, India, on Father's Day in June 2016.

Narinder Nanu/AFP via Getty Images


With the shift to working from home giving dads the opportunity to spend more time with their children, the challenge of striking a balance between work and family over the last two years has given some of them new perspectives on fatherhood.

For Elgin Oliver, a dad of two who lives in Missouri, navigating fatherhood during the pandemic meant also working a full-time job and taking online courses.

"It was difficult, especially the school part, because just trying to have time to sit down and do my schoolwork and then still try to help out around the house with the kids ... so my time was really stretched thin," Oliver said.

Elgin Oliver with his daughter.

Elgin Oliver

"I've come to find out it's not exactly what you do, it's more of the time that you spend with them, and I've learned that our bond has grown and strengthened," he said.

Other dads reflected on the impact of their kids learning remotely during the pandemic.

"You basically have to shift your role from being dad, to your role being dad, teacher, caretaker, phys-ed instructor, nutritionist, because all meals are eaten at home. ... But also kind of finding that sense of balance on how beautiful it was that the family was together for just about all three meals every single day," said Lance Somerfeld, a father of two who lives in New York.


A Pew Research Center survey from February, which polled working parents with kids under the age of 12 at home, found that 43% of fathers and 58% of mothers noted difficulties in child care responsibilities resulting from the pandemic. A corresponding survey in October 2020 had similar results.

Working at home, there's no separation between home and office

The pandemic also forced many fathers to balance life and work while having no separation between their homes and their offices.

"With our kids being young — just 7, 4 and under 1 — they don't necessarily understand the concept of what work actually is if you're working from home versus previously, when I was on active-duty Air Force," said Austin Lieberman, a father of three living in Florida.



FAMILY

How Many Dads Does It Take To Screw In A Lightbulb? Father's Day By The Numbers

The stress of working from home and managing more childcare responsibilities during the pandemic also led dads to look to each other for support.

Oliver started the podcast Call of Duty Black Dads with his friend in 2018 to shed light on their experiences as Black fathers. They continued to record episodes throughout the pandemic about their concerns as parents.

Groups for dads offer a way to connect

Others have looked to dad-focused groups within their areas to foster a sense of community and connection.

Somerfeld, who co-founded City Dads Group in New York City in 2008, said the organization has grown into a collective network of roughly 24,000 fathers in over 40 cities nationwide.

Sean Leacy, a dad of four and organizer for the Puget Sound Dads Group and Tacoma Dads Group, said: "With more and more dads coming into the home because of remote work, it's really given an opportunity for dads."

"Being able to be a part of these guys' groups and really getting a chance to connect with other guys has been huge," Leacy said.


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Fathers’ influence on development and well-being of children

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Monday, July 11, 2022

Fathers’ influence on the development and well-being of children

June 12, 2019

Mary Beth Nierengarten, MA

Contemporary PEDS Journal, Vol 36 No 6, Volume 36, Issue 6

 

Despite the growing involvement of fathers in their children’s lives, there persists a lack of focus on fathers in pediatric care. Updated guidelines can help pediatricians to better engage fathers in the care of their children.



 

Growing evidence shows the positive influence that fathers have on the development and well-being of their children. Longitudinal data published over the past decade or so support that paternal involvement from the prenatal stage through a child’s lifetime benefits the psychosocial and behavioral development of their children, often in ways different from and complementary to maternal involvement.1,2 Other data exploring the biological and epigenetic influences of fathers on their children are revealing the complexity of this paternal influence on their children.3-7 Among the most studied areas of research is paternal depression and the associated adverse effects on children.8-13

In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its guidance for pediatricians on the role of fathers in the care and development of their children based on the increasing number of “high-quality” studies that now quantify and qualify this role.1 According to the guideline, among the drivers underlying this increased interest in fathers are socioeconomic forces in which the traditional roles of men and women are changing. More mothers are working outside the home and more stay-at-home fathers are taking on caregiving activities. Fathers also are increasingly taking on the primary caregiving role as single parents. Also highlighted are changing social mores encouraging more involvement by fathers beyond their historic protector and provider role. Data show this, with involvement by fathers in childcare nearly doubling between 1965 and 2011.14

Despite this growing involvement of fathers in their children’s lives, pediatric visits largely still focus on the mother-child relationship.15,16 A recent systematic review of father-inclusive perinatal parent education in the United States found only a small number of early parent education programs for fathers.15 In addition, recent survey results of 100 pediatric primary care providers found that less than 50% of the respondents regularly implemented recommendations for engaging fathers as listed in the recent guidelines by the AAP.16 The survey also found that supporting parenting skills and perinatal depression screening for fathers were the least implemented recommended practices.

Craig F. Garfield, MD, professor of Pediatrics and Medical Social Sciences, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois, attending physician at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and one of the authors of the AAP guidelines on fathers, emphasizes the persisting lack of focus on fathers when it comes to pediatric care.

“Pediatrics has been slow in embracing the roles of fathers,” he says, citing, for example, a recently published AAP guideline on postnatal depression that largely focused only on maternal depression.17

This article reviews some of the data on ways fathers contribute positively to the development and wellbeing of their sons and daughters, and suggests opportunities for pediatricians to better engage fathers in the care of their children.

Defining the role of father

When talking about the role of fathers in their children’s development and well-being, it is important to define what is meant by “father” as the term carries several assumptions that may not be completely accurate given the changing family structure. In the AAP guideline on fathers, father is defined broadly as “the male or males identified as most involved in caregiving and committed to the well-being of the child, regardless of living situation, marital status, or biological relation.” Along with the biological father, this definition includes foster fathers, stepfathers, and grandfathers.1

Underlying this discussion of who is a father is the recognition of the evolving and changing nature of family structures, societal norms, and understanding of masculinity and femininity that is creating additional complexity to understanding the multiple influences on childhood development. Research shows that the influence of fathers on the psychosocial and behavioral development of children is distinct from that of mothers.1 However, it is difficult to tease out of this current research how these different influences are related to the biological distinctiveness of masculinity or femininity. Emerging research on the neurobiology of parenting provides some preliminary signs by showing just how complex the interplay between hormonal and neural circuitry is in men and women and how these biological processes manifest differently in parenting behavior.7

Benefits of fathers’ early involvement

Data show that getting fathers involved early in their children’s lives predicts later involvement. Prenatal involvement by fathers, along with living with the mother, is the strongest predictor of their involvement by the time a child is aged 5 years.1,18

Paternal involvement just after a child is born is also critical. “Good research shows that the more men take time to spend at home with a child after birth, 2 weeks or more, they are almost 2 times as likely to be involved in diapering, feeding, cleaning, and caring for their baby at 9 months,” says Garfield.19

Helping fathers to be more confident in taking care of their children helps their children during all stages of their development (Table 1).1 Garfield highlights 3 main areas in which involvement by fathers is distinct from, and often complementary to, involvement by mothers.

One is in the area of language development. Garfield cites evidence showing that the more words and language to which a child is exposed at an early age, the greater benefit for kindergarten readiness. Children exposed to language and vocabulary through both mothers and fathers benefit by the additive effect of both hearing more words and also more variety.1,20,21

Another way in which fathers uniquely contribute to early childhood development is by promoting more risk taking and problem-solving behavior through greater physical engagement with the child than is typically done by mothers.1,21-25 “Really unique to dads is in the general area of play and in particular what is called ‘rough and tumble’ play,” says Garfield, describing this type of play as a very high-energy and physical game wherein fathers may be changing the rules during play forcing the child to adapt quickly to the changes.26 “It is thought that this is helping children learn about how to make decisions and how to stay focused when they are amped up,” he says, “and that can actually be teaching resilience to the child as well.”

Fathers also influence their children during early childhood years and into adolescence by role-modelling behavior.1 Garfield emphasizes the important influence of fathers as a role model for adolescent sons and daughters. “They are role modelling how to be in a relationship, how to make health and well-being behavior decisions, and that can be important for the child as well,” he says. For example, longitudinal data show an association between father involvement and reduced behavioral problems and enhanced cognitive development in adolescent boys as well as reduced psychological problems in adolescent girls.27 Other benefits of father involvement for adolescent girls are decreased early sexual experiences and teenaged pregnancy,21,28 and for boys the potential for improvement in sexual health through better communication about condoms.29

Interplay of biology with caregiving

An emerging area of research on the biologic and epigenetic influences of fathers and mothers on children is offering further insight into the complexity of parental biology on childhood development and caregiving. For example, recent studies explore the interplay of biologic and environmental influences of fathers on childhood atopic dermatitis,3 the efficacy of treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children,4 paternal diet and breast cancer risk in daughters,5 and increased incidence of childhood autism and cancers associated older paternal age.6

Further research is looking closer at how caregiving behavior is linked to neural and hormonal mechanisms of mothers and fathers as recently reported in a study examining the role of hormones (oxytocin, testosterone, prolactin, and arginine vasopressin) and their interplay on parenting behavior, and brain changes and parenting behavior.7

Fathers and postnatal depression

An important area of research is on the influence of fathers’ mental and physical health on their children. Among the most studied areas is that of paternal postnatal depression and the adverse effects on children. An updated meta-analysis found paternal depression in 8% of men during the first trimester and 1-year postpartum period.12 Data also show that by the time their children are aged 12 years, more than 20% of fathers will experience depression.10 In addition, during the first 5 years of fatherhood, those fathers who reside with their children have reported a 68% increase in their symptoms of depression.9

Despite this prevalence, the recently published AAP guidance on postnatal depression focused almost exclusively on mothers, as mentioned previously.17 “With the exception of a short paragraph talking about the problem of paternal postnatal depression, dads were missing from the report,” says Garfield.

The need to better recognize, identify, and address postnatal depression in fathers is highlighted by data showing the associated adverse effects on children-notably, poorer behavioral and emotional outcomes.13

Additional data show that when mothers are depressed, fathers play an indirect but key role in helping their children by supporting mothers, which mitigates the impact of maternal depression.30


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The science of how fatherhood transforms you

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Monday, July 11, 2022

The science of how fatherhood transforms you

Emerging research has proven it: Men’s bodies are built to parent, and involved fathers bring benefits to almost every aspect of their kids’ lives. (And—bonus!—there’s a payoff for dads, too.)

Micah Toub, Photography by Roberto CarusoJune 8, 2021




Couch: Urbanbarn.com, Clothes: gapcanada.ca, Parasol diapers: Well.ca

When it came to being a dad, my father says he was pretty much flying blind. My grandfather didn’t change my dad’s diapers, didn’t put him to bed, didn’t even play with him that much. One of the most prominent father-son memories he has is of when he was five and his mother was letting him stay up late to watch a show on TV; his father vetoed that and sent him to bed crying. He also remembers his dad coming after him with a belt. Then, when my dad was 13, my grandfather remarried and moved away.

“I didn’t have a role model for how to be an involved father, so I had to come up with that myself,” he told me recently. “But I think it was also instinctive—it just came out of my desire to be close. I felt love for you, so I wanted to teach you things and play with you.” He added that, subconsciously, he was probably making up for the shortcomings of his own childhood.

The idea that a man can possess a parenting instinct, and is not just suited to be a provider or a hapless sidekick, is relatively new. For my grandfather’s generation, it was highly controversial. When I was born, in 1976, the expectation that men should do more was picking up steam, but they were still considered a poor substitute for mom. In fact, up to that point, scientists who studied children’s early development looked exclusively at mothers.

 

“[The mid-’70s] was the heyday of attachment theory, which, as it was incarnated then, was very much focused on the critical importance of the attachment between an infant and its mother in the first years of life,” says Michael Lamb, who became a forerunner of fatherhood research in the ’70s and continues to study it at the University of Cambridge in the UK. “That went along with the assumption that it was the only [primary] relationship kids could form.”

At that time, however, Lamb and a small number of other researchers were all coming to the same conclusion: Babies can form as strong an attachment to their dads as to their moms. From that seed has grown an intriguing but limited body of evidence stating that not only are men built to care for children, but that being an involved dad impacts kids’ physiologies, psychologies and outcomes for the rest of their lives.

In short, dads make a difference. So why is it that when we see a man with an infant on a weekday, we still reflexively wonder where that baby’s mother is, even if we think it’s so darn cute that he’s “babysitting”? The truth is, just as women have always had what it takes to be CEOs, men have always had the power to nurture. Now that we’re recognizing this, the day may soon come when the default assumption that mom is the primary parent will seem laughably quaint—and we’ll all be better for it.

The birth of a father

It wasn’t until the turn of this century that researchers discovered a fascinating detail about men: Our bodies transform when we become fathers. (And I’m not talking about the second trimester–size belly bump we fight into old age.) Whether we’re biological dads or adoptive ones, heterosexual or queer, our hormonal systems alter dramatically when we become parents—an amazing revelation basically implying that despite the narrow role we fathers have straitjacketed ourselves into for so long, our internal chemistries may have always been nudging us toward more involvement.

We’ve long known that oxytocin—the “love hormone”—plays a role in a mother’s initial bonding with her child after birth. But more recently, researchers have observed that the same spike in oxytocin occurs when fathers hold and play with their newborns.

My own discovery of this fact began in an initially distressing way. The fairy tale I’d always heard was that parents experience an overwhelming flood of love for their babies on first sight. Almost four years ago, when the surgeon brought my son around the curtain and passed him to me, I was astonished by the fragile, crying creature. But I didn’t experience that surge of love. “I feel like he could be anybody’s baby,” I confessed to my mother in an anxious phone call from the hospital hallway.

The next two days were a blur, as I alternated between taking care of my son and my wife, who was recovering from a C-section. But once we’d settled at home and I made a habit of putting my son on my shirtless chest, I began to feel it: love. It was transcendent, much like the early-days rush I’ve experienced in other landmark relationships, and it came with similar side effects: the feeling of walking on air, an overriding empathy toward all people and a narcissistic inability to talk about anything else. The oxytocin buzz.

While that love drug pumps through a new father, his testosterone level typically drops, making him less prone to risk-taking behaviour and more able to nurture his newborn. And also, oddly, he registers an increase in prolactin—a hormone best known for helping women produce breastmilk. Its purpose, it turns out, is greater than that.

University of Notre Dame anthropologist Lee Gettler explains that the presence of prolactin goes back hundreds of millions of years to our animal ancestors—before mammals existed (even before breastfeeding existed). Over the past decade, Gettler’s research has come to some conclusions about the hormone’s function in modern-day dads. “Fathers with higher prolactin play with their babies in ways that are beneficial for their babies’ learning and exploration, and the fathers also seem to be more responsive and sensitive to infant cries,” he says. In other words, this ancient hormone plays some role in, as my father put it, increasing dads’ desire to be close.

All of the internal changes can depend on how much time dads spend solo with their kids in infancy and toddlerhood, says Hayley Alloway, who studies endocrinology in fathers at Memorial University of Newfoundland. “Having time where the man is responsible for direct physical interaction with an infant—not just being in the room, but actually providing care—has the biggest influence on his hormonal levels changing,” she says. And indeed, studies have shown that the more intimate time a dad has with his baby, the lower his testosterone dips and the more empathetic and soothing he is with his child.

I experienced the change in myself but wondered whether other involved dads did, too. What it means to be “involved” is somewhat subjective—a complex matrix of quantity of time spent with quality of interactions. But I found that several men who define themselves as “involved” parents all spent intensive and regular one-on-one time with their babies during their first year. None of them went into a scientist’s lab to prove it, but we know their hormones were shifting to accommodate their new role. And while they didn’t always find it easy, they spoke of the transformation with the seriousness of someone taking on the great responsibility that it is.

Josh*, who became a stay-at-home dad when his son was eight months old, told me the physical bonding started almost immediately, as he paced the hospital hallways with his newborn to give his wife some rest. “I didn’t want his crying to wake her,” he says. “I was the only dad I saw doing this, and I got a lot of people saying, ‘Aww, that’s adorable,’ but I was surprised it was so unusual.” Later, when his son was a month old and could take a bottle, he and his wife began splitting the nighttime feedings. For months on end, if he wasn’t rocking and soothing his son, the baby was asleep right on top of him—a difficult, sleepless experience that he nonetheless describes as “lovely.”

“It was important to me to step up and say, I’m here now. I’m not going to wait until my kid can participate in my favourite hobbies. I’m putting in the time immediately,” he says. “Being a dad means doing the hard things as well as the fun things.” The reward for Josh’s effort came during the daytime, when he says his son would often crawl over to him and sit in his lap, which never failed to send that “in love” feeling surging through his body.

Brandon Hay, founder of Toronto’s Black Daddies Club, also did much of the nighttime duty 15 years ago when he first became a dad. And the growing bond he had with his baby changed the way he viewed his own life. “After my son was born, I had a new purpose. Life is bigger than just me now.” Brandon’s own father had been mostly absent during his childhood in Jamaica, inspiring Brandon to do an about-face in one generation, taking his parenting role so seriously that to do even better, he formed an organization—a network of black fathers that has engaged 8,000 families since 2007.

According to Alloway, the hormonal changes in dads during the initial stages of a baby’s life don’t continue once the two have less physical contact—but kids do have a long-term effect on men’s bodies. Although research in this area is scant, one 2004 study that reviewed the literature since 1966 found that men under 40 with children had poorer health than those who had none. (As someone who became a father at 37, my joints and bones can confirm this.) But, in men over 40—who had settled into their parental roles—the opposite was true. And, if a father makes it all the way to 60, a 2017 study conducted in Sweden at Stockholm University and the Karolinska Institutet found having a kid adds about two years onto his life expectancy.

Reaping the benefits

The social movement to create more equity among the sexes, which was in full swing by the mid-’70s, played a role in my father becoming more involved in my care. While feminists battled to create the Equal Rights Amendment in the United States, within my own house in Denver, Colo., my parents were figuring out how my mother—who had stayed home to raise my sister—could go back to school and work. “It wasn’t the old paradigm anymore,” my dad says now. “We decided that we both had to raise our kids and that it was going to be something we did as a team.”

Although I can’t recall the times he changed my diaper or rocked me in the middle of the night, I do have fond memories of him cuddling with me in bed to read books, and I remember that he used to pick me up from kindergarten early at least once a week. In this sense, he was at the forefront of the shift, involving himself in ways that are now the norm.

Although that push 40 years ago may have been for the sake of balancing work and child care between parents, the research Lamb and others began doing at the time attempted to show that fathers were more than just a convenient backup to mothers. After modest initial studies—experiments showing that a temporarily abandoned baby would stop crying when its father returned—researchers eventually came to conclude that active dads can have a net positive impact.

And no, it’s not just that an involved dad makes a kid better at sports—research shows our presence is a boon to pretty much every aspect of a human being’s development. Having an involved dad has been associated with fewer cognitive delays, better school readiness, a decrease in tantrums and aggressive behaviour, and lower rates of depression. In the book Do Fathers Matter?, science journalist Paul Raeburn summarizes findings from a 2007 Swedish study concluding that an involved father may even keep his teenage offspring out of jail: “Children whose fathers played with them, read to them, took them on outings and helped care for them had fewer behavioural problems in the early school years, and less likelihood of delinquency or criminal behaviour as adolescents.”

Of all the studies Raeburn came across, two of the most surprising to him were from the University of North Carolina showing that, no matter how well-spoken a mother was, the father’s use of vocabulary had the greatest impact on a toddler’s language development.

That conclusion reminded me of something my friend Simon* told me about the initial weeks of his four-year-old’s life. “My first impression of being a father was the shift of having another person in between me and my wife,” he says. “It came as a shock, but then I also realized I wanted in. I wanted my son to have a connection with me, too.”

After googling different iterations of “how do dads bond with babies?”, Simon found information that suggested infants can form strong connections with a parent’s voice. “I didn’t have breasts, but I could talk,” he says, and so he did. He talked to his child constantly and, in short order, his son—who is now a skilled and passionate storyteller—responded by gravitating toward Simon whenever he heard his voice.

My friend’s experience may explain one reason for those studies’ conclusions, but Raeburn says his conversations with the researchers suggested something else. “They speculate that because a father traditionally spends less time with the child than the mother, they weren’t as attuned to what words the kids knew,” he explains. “So while mothers might change their language a bit to use words that their kid understands, fathers are more likely to speak using something closer to their normal vocabulary, which stretches kids so they learn more.”

This hypothesis inadvertently raises one of the concerns I have with studies aiming to prove that kids with involved dads do better in life. If the researcher’s rationale is true, wouldn’t a dad who splits care evenly with his partner, or who even does more, stop having that effect? And then this: How do we know what’s due to the gender or sex of the parent and what’s just a benefit of having more than one person investing time in a child’s development?

As it turns out, Lamb—that pioneer of proving fathers make a difference—has come around to the opinion that gender isn’t relevant when it comes to outcomes. While he says he believes all that research has been useful to confirm “the appropriateness of fathers becoming more involved,” he hasn’t seen conclusive evidence that men provide anything women can’t—and he thinks that the less-involved parent just ends up having a different impact, no matter their gender. “Kids benefit from having both parents actively involved because then they have more parent time and more parent stimulation. And because any two people differ in personality and bring different strengths to the table.”

I think Lamb’s insight is something that can apply to having two moms or being raised by a single parent with other family members or caregivers filling in the gaps. But still, for all the families that do have dads in them, it’s worth emphasizing what this research is saying: Yes, we matter. We can be left alone with our kids.

The personal payoff

When you talk to involved dads, you quickly discover that the positive effects of becoming one aren’t just for the children. Fathers’ own ideas of manhood expand during the transition, as do their abilities to form rewarding human connections.

Brandon was 22 when his first son was born, and he didn’t yet have a solid career, a fact he struggled with because, to him, being a father was synonymous with providing. “I knew a lot of friends who were going out west to get jobs in oil rigs, and I thought maybe I should do that,” he recalls. “I thought I would be more impactful if I went away and sent my partner money.” In the end, he stayed—and shared the primary parenting role. Although he remembers feeling judged (and judging himself) for doing drop-offs in his sweats while other dads wore suits, he doesn’t regret that time spent together. “It was important that I was giving my kids what I didn’t have.”

Later, when Brandon worked on a research project with Lance McCready at OISE and Carl James of York University that explored the experiences of and issues facing black fathers, one of the main findings was that they, too, found it difficult to “feel like a father” if they weren’t providing financially. As he told me about this over the phone, he was taking a walk with his third child, now 12—not going anywhere specific, just strolling for the sake of being together. “What I tell new dads is that little things like this, taking a walk, don’t cost money, and they’re the things your kids remember in the longer term.”

But Brandon says the payoff has also been personal. “I grew up in a culture and era when spanking was the go-to. I had to develop the kind of patience you need to not jump to that kind of discipline and instead take the time to talk to them, have conversations with them and really communicate,” he says. “Before I had kids, I never really knew what love was. I’d say, ‘I love my mom,’ or ‘I think I love this girl.’ With my kids, it’s different. I would give them a body part.”

While Josh’s dad lived in the same house, he was largely absent, retreating into his work and sharing little of himself with his son. Although his dad is nearing retirement now, Josh says it may be too late to form a real bond with him. It’s not that they fight, he says, but just that their conversations don’t go beyond the superficial and never dip into their emotional lives. “To this day, I don’t feel as deep of a connection with him as I do with my mother, even though I’d like to,” he says. “We keep reaching out, but neither of us has had practice, so it’s awkward.”

With his own son, Josh is trying to break that cycle. “I’m watching myself pick up some of my dad’s habit of living in his head,” Josh says. “I’ll literally be sitting down looking at my kid but my mind is elsewhere.” Like a kind of mindfulness meditation, every time Josh notices he’s drifting, he reminds himself to come back to the moment. And whereas his father’s emotional vocabulary was limited, Josh is using fatherhood as an opportunity to grow his own. “When my son hurts himself, I honour his feelings instead of dismissing them. It’s affecting my life outside parenting as well—now, instead of just jumping in to fix a problem, I try my best to listen.”

When strangers see Josh with his now 16-month-old in the park, they sometimes tell him he’s an amazing father, simply because he’s out alone with his toddler. “But I’m not going for ‘amazing father,’” he says. “That seems like a very low bar. I’m going for good parent. I want to be a big part of his life and be there for him physically and emotionally. To do that, I need a solid foundation. What better way to form that than to know him well as he grows up.”

While Josh thinks a shift is occurring where dad involvement is more often considered the norm, in his opinion, it’s not happening quickly enough. “When I run into other dads when I’m out, half of them are embarrassed that they’re the at-home parent,” he says. “There’s still a lingering mentality that men should be working, and I talk to a lot of moms who feel guilty about going back to work. I think both of those reactions should be examined—if someone wants to go to work or stay at home, it shouldn’t matter their gender.”

For his part, Brandon believes the many fathers who’ve long been stepping up are under-recognized. “The narrative has been that parenting was only for moms,” he says. “And the narrative for black fathers was that they are non-existent. But when I started Black Daddies Club 10 years ago, I began to meet men who proved that was a myth. I saw fathers showing up and fathers who were engaged, and these were not the dads being depicted in media.”

When I think back to the early ’80s, I rarely saw dads like mine on television. I remember watching Mr. Mom, in which a laid-off Michael Keaton stays home with his baby, behaving as if it were the first time he’d ever spent five minutes with his kid. I didn’t get the joke.

I had a role model for how to be an involved father—one who worked during the day but was there for me in the evenings or the middle of the night. Of course, even if he hadn’t provided that example for me, I believe the fathering instinct—and the internal shifts that have reshaped me into a parent—would have inspired that desire to be close.

 

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About DFFC

The Delaware Fatherhood & Family Coalition is an extension of the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program and the Responsible Fatherhood Initiative created specifically to give a voice to fathers and the importance of their involvement for the well-being of their children.


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