Fatherhood: The new “normal”

The role of fathers has changed significantly from the days of Leave it to Beaver. The structure of a “normal” family has changed significantly in the past few decades. Given the high divorce rate and changing socio-cultural climate, only a third of all families are intact families with a mother, father and children living under one roof. Men are in parenting roles with their own children but also children who may not be biologically their own.  Single parent families, same gender parents, older fathers and non-resident fathers, all make up the new “normal”. Despite these real changes in families, many in our culture have not made a shift in their notion of fatherhood. Men often feel confused about the importance of their role in the family. It is important to recognize that mothers and fathers bring different strengths and styles to the parenting roles. These roles can be complementary to each other and involved fathers provide many benefits to all members of the family, including the men themselves.

Drs. Chen and Dora Oren, in their edited book titled “Counseling Fathers”, address the cultural differences in the role of fathers and unique needs of men from different backgrounds.

Men may face obstacles to be actively involved in their children’s lives:

  • Due to lack of role models, fathers may feel that they lack parenting skills and avoid involvement to avoid feeling inadequate.
  • They may lack the support from the other parent.
  • Fathers may not want to be stereotyped as “Mr. Mom”.
  • Fathers may have had bad experiences with their own father.

Positive Effects of Father Involvement on Children

  • Children display increased self-confidence.
  • Better able to deal with frustration and other feelings.
  • Higher grade point averages.
  • More likely to mature into compassionate adults.
  • Paternal emotional responses to sons were associated with a 50% decrease in sons’ expressions of sadness and anxiety from preschool to early school age

Positive Effects of Father Involvement on Men

  • Helps men reevaluate their priorities and become more caring human beings who are concerned about future generations.
  • May reduce health-risk behaviors.
  • Decreases psychological distress as emotional involvement with children acts as a buffer against work-related stress.
  • Happiness and increased physical activity.
  • Sense of accomplishment, well-being, and contentment.
  • Men tend to be more involved with extended family and others in the community.
  • Over time, fatherhood increases marital stability.

Fathers who parent from afar can also contribute tremendously to the emotional and cognitive well being of their children by supporting their children, being present and showing up. Self-esteem of children builds on knowing that their parents care and want to be involved in their lives. Neither parent can do the job of raising kids, by themselves, as effectively as when they have the support of the other parent.

Reference: Oren, C. Z. & Oren, D. C. (Ed.) (2010). Counseling Fathers. Routledge Series on Counseling and Therapy with Boys and Men.

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