Father involvement has profound, positive impact on child well-being
Article provided by Jeffery M. Leving
Father-child relationships are magical. A father-child bond forged from years of caring, playing, teaching, learning, talking, setting boundaries and supporting enhances almost every aspect of the child’s life. These relationships can be challenging, but they are irreplaceable.
The evidence is overwhelming that an involved father can make all the difference in creating a positive trajectory for his child’s happiness, health and stability.
The importance of a father’s engagement with his child
Fathers play an extremely important role in their children’s lives, even when the father and child do not live together or only have limited contact.
According to the Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center (ECLKC) and the Office of Head Start, both part of the Administration for Children & Families within U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the research is overwhelmingly supportive of the conclusion that “having a loving and nurturing father was as important for a child’s happiness, well-being, and social and academic success as having a loving and nurturing mother.”
The ECLKC-Head Start article summarizes the collective conclusions of dozens of researchers. Specific aspects of a child’s health and wellness enhanced by a loving, consistent relationship with their father include:
- Stronger cognitive and verbal skills
- Enhanced self-motivation
- More classroom engagement and cooperation
- Greater ability to focus
- More confidence
- Better self-control
- Enhanced qualities such as patience, honesty, kindness, compassion, empathy
- Good social and life skills
- Lower frequency of depression and more happiness
- Exhibition of morally positive behaviors
- Higher math skills
Even infants and toddlers are positively impacted when their dads are present. They are more curious and secure in themselves. In the challenging teen and young adult years, these children are more likely to go to college and are 80% less likely to experience incarceration, along with lower rates of depression, teen parenthood and criminal behavior.
As I summarize in my book “Fathers’ Rights,” the risks of dangerous or extreme behaviors rise sharply among kids with absent fathers, including the commission of violent crimes like murder and rape as well as suicide. Daughters raised by single parents are seriously more likely to experience pregnancy outside marriage, teen marriage and divorce.
Regular, meaningful father-child contact even lessens poverty
U.S. Census Bureau data in 2021 showed that almost one-quarter of American minor children live without fathers at home. Shockingly, these kids are at four times greater risk of poverty, according to 2011 Census reporting.
Of course, fathers can provide financial support for their children, but even when poverty persists, the engagement of a father reduces the consequences of poverty and stress in a child. Kids experiencing poverty but whose fathers are directly involved in their lives show less severe behavioral, developmental and social challenges associated with poverty.
In fact, as I explain in “Fathers’ Rights,” even when a father cannot provide much or any financial support to his child, the kinds of support without price tags are arguably even more critical to a child’s academic, developmental and social successes. The importance to children of certain paternal traits that require fathers’ presence and contact trump even monetary support, namely “availability, approachability, communicativeness, and involvement …”
Fathers should feel empowered to grow their relationships with their children no matter their relationship status with the other parent
It is no longer acceptable in Illinois to assume that the mother’s love and nurturing is more important than that of the father. As ECLKC points out, mothers and fathers tend to parent, communicate, love, interact and play differently. Without an involved father, the child misses out on learning from his unique style and approach to life.
Involvement of both mothers and fathers is important for a child to learn from their different strengths.
Under Illinois law, when a court makes decisions about parenting time or parental decision-making, the judge may not consider the gender of a parent. The historical presumption that a court should favor the mother because of her gender or because of sex-based parenting roles is no longer to be considered by the courts. Yet, it may not always be the case that this plays out in court as it is supposed to, and an attorney can advocate against this on behalf of a father.
Any Illinois father of a minor child facing paternity proceedings, legal separation, divorce or dissolution of a civil union, or who is unmarried but seeking custody and visitation rights, should go into negotiation or trial armed with the knowledge that they have the legal right to seek access to their child to maintain a healthy, regular relationship.
The evidence is incontrovertible that a father’s active involvement with his children enhances their lives in a myriad of ways and that a healthy relationship with dad is almost always in the child’s best interest.
Jeffery M. Leving is founder and president of The Law Offices of Jeffery M. Leving, Ltd., and co-authored the first real Illinois joint custody law and other laws. In addition to “How to Be a Good Divorced Dad,” he is the author of “Fathers’ Rights” and “Divorce Wars.” To learn more about Jeffery M. Leving and his latest court victories, follow him on Twitter and Facebook, and view his videos on YouTube.