Male fig­ures im­por­tant for chil­dren

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - ADVICE - Ar­min Brott (Brott can be reached at ar­min@mr­dad.com)

Dear Mr. Dad:

My best friend re­ally wants to be a mother, but has given up on find­ing “Mr. Right,” and has de­cided to have and raise a baby on her own. I’ve been fol­low­ing your work for a long time and have been telling her how im­por­tant it is for ba­bies to have male in­flu­ences in their life.

She says that dads don’t con­trib­ute any­thing to kids’ devel­op­ment and that her baby will be fine with­out one. I know I’m right, but what can I do to con­vince her?

A: You are, in­deed, ab­so­lutely right. But I’m con­tin­u­ally amazed at how many people share your friend’s ab­surd be­lief that dads aren’t im­por­tant. As we’ve talked about a lot in th­ese col­umns, fathers in­flu­ence their chil­dren’s life as early as preg­nancy, if not be­fore. In other words, a man’s be­hav­ior and choices af­fect the qual­ity of his sperm, which, in turn, can in­flu­ence his fu­ture child’s phys­i­cal and men­tal health.

Un­for­tu­nately, the ma­jor­ity of re­search on at­tach­ment, bond­ing and child devel­op­ment still fo­cuses ex­clu­sively on moth­ers. But the slowly grow­ing num­ber of stud­ies that in­clude men have con­firmed what I’ve been say­ing for two decades — and what most ob­ser­vant par­ents al­ready know: Fathers in­flu­ence their chil­dren just as much as moth­ers do — and in many cases, even more.

Let me give you just a few ex­am­ples. The more ac­tively in­volved dads are with their in­fants — do­ing ba­sic baby care, feed­ing, chang­ing di­a­pers, dressing and so on — the bet­ter they han­dle stress­ful sit­u­a­tions, such as be­ing left with a stranger. Ba­bies with in­volved dads tend to be more in­de­pen­dent, more per­sis­tent and han­dle frus­tra­tion bet­ter than kids with a less-in­volved dad.

Kids with in­volved dads get bet­ter grades — es­pe­cially on math, vo­cab­u­lary and over­all in­tel­li­gence tests — they’re less likely to be ex­pelled from school, and they’re more likely to grad­u­ate high school and go on to col­lege. Those kids also have fewer psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lems, are so­cially bet­ter ad­justed, are more em­pa­thetic, have more friends and higher lev­els of self-es­teem than kids with less-in­volved or ab­sent dads. As th­ese kids hit their teen years, they’re less likely to abuse drugs or al­co­hol or to get preg­nant (or get some­one else preg­nant), grow up to be more car­ing and sen­si­tive adults.

To sum it up, chil­dren who have the in­flu­ence of sen­si­tive, re­spon­si­ble men in their life are bet­ter off than kids who don’t. Notice that I said “sen­si­tive, re­spon­si­ble men.” Ideally, of course, that man would be the child’s fa­ther. But an un­cle, grand­fa­ther, or friend can be a work­able sub­sti­tute. The im­por­tant thing is that the man (or men) be a strong and con­sis­tent pres­ence in the child’s life.

Your friend should know that women ben­e­fit from the fa­ther’s in­volve­ment, too. When the baby’s fa­ther is around dur­ing the preg­nancy, the mom will be less stressed and she’ll be more likely to get pre­na­tal care, which re­duces the risk that her baby will be born pre­ma­turely or be very small at birth — both of which are as­so­ci­ated with a num­ber of neg­a­tive health prob­lems that can last a life­time. When mom and dad raise a child to­gether, there are fewer di­vi­sion-of-la­bor is­sues to fight about, mom is less de­pressed and more sat­is­fied with her re­la­tion­ships, and the bet­ter she’ll per­form her par­ent­ing du­ties.

This isn’t to say that sin­gle moth­ers can’t be good par­ents. Of course they can. But the best thing she can do for her baby is to make sure that there’s an in­volved, car­ing man in that baby’s life, right from day one.

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