The importance of fathers
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|Sun, 07-06-2003 - 2:27pm|
By SHELBY MURPHY
Special to the Leader
Funny how sometimes we need statistics to tell us the obvious, or at least confirm what we already suspected. Here's one of those conclusions, guaranteed to shock no one: studies have proven, conclusively no less, that fathers should be intimately involved with their offspring.
Now that nobody has fallen over in disbelief, let me dazzle you with another big duh. When fathers participate in their children's lives as diligently as most mothers — or at least within the same ballpark — those children, fathers, and mothers benefit enormously.
In her book, "How to Avoid the Mommy Trap: A Roadmap for Sharing Parenting and Making it Work," Julie Shields ticks off study after study showing the pluses of men being engrossed in their children's lives, especially early on. Children with dads actively involved during the first eight weeks of life manage stress better during school years, reports Shields. Greater frequency of paternal visits to newborns in the hospital correlates with higher infant weight gain, and, later, a more secure child, she adds.
One study found that the more fathers do everyday repetitive tasks such as bathing, feeding, dressing, and diapering, the more socially responsive children become. The children in this particular study developed more advanced problem-solving, personal, and social skills than the norm. Another study observed a positive connection between children's verbal and math skills and the amount of contact they have with their fathers.
Shields's conclusion, that men and women bring a different and complementary skill set to the role of parent, echoes prominent leaders as disparate as Dr. Laura Schlessinger, James Levine, founder of the
Where moms often nurture, dads play and challenge. Kids who get equal doses of both, as well as the parental strength and guidance of two individuals rather than one, can't help but thrive.
If that isn't convincing enough, Shields throws in a kicker. Fathers who contribute at home report increased happiness, better marriages, and more frequent sex. One would think that alone would send a stampede of men into bosses' offices, demanding a more family friendly or flexible work schedule.
Problem is, we are, for the most part, culturally incompetent at setting up our lives in a manner that allows fathers to contribute much beyond a paycheck. We let dad take a couple days of paternity leave to bond with his new baby, then tell him to ignore the pang in his chest as he spends 40 or 50 hours a week away from his child for the next 18 years.
When fathers participate only occasionally in the lives of their children and are too removed to help out at home, the overwhelming responsibility falls on the shoulders of mothers. The women's movement did very little to engage fathers at home, so without cooperative thinking on our part, we women may carry alone that responsibility forever.
Our society lives by the 1950s template that if a family prefers a parent to be the primary caregiver of children, it is most often the mother who stays home, accepting the full load of child rearing and domestic duty without respite. Or we live by the 1970s template that if a mother must work or chooses to, nearly all of the family and household obligations ambush her at 5 o'clock.
This is what Shields calls The Mommy Trap - a life model where both parents spend excruciatingly long hours at work, come home stressed and overwhelmed, the mother then starts her second shift of cooking, dishes, baths, and laundry, and the children get few benefits of either parent; or the mother sacrifices her interests, and sometimes her identity, to make raising the children her job 24/7, and the children benefit mostly from what she alone has to offer.
Because The Mommy Trap affects both full-time mothers and working mothers equally, it is a dark void where almost every woman has fallen at one time or another.