Don't kid yourself, dads, your children need you

Gone are the days when the male provided as the breadwinner and the female stayed home to run the household and raise the children. This traditional division of labor still exists, but a wide assortment of alternative family arrangements have also emerged.

Stereotyped gender roles for parenting have been challenged, and some fathers are playing a more active role in the life of their children. Societal changes such as divorce, increasing female presence in the workplace and greater tolerance for diversity has encouraged fathers to participate more fully in the lives of their children rather than remain in the background.

Men and women don't parent the same. Research shows that even when the father is the primary caregiver, there are significant differences in parenting style.

Gender differences persist in the way men and women approach childcare tasks and the communication style between parent and child. Men tend to be less goal-oriented than women in child interactions and more physical. Dads are more likely to thumb-wrestle, roughhouse in the backyard or play airplane by twirling the child playfully in the air. Some of us even remember using dad as the human jungle gym. Moms, on the other hand, spend a greater amount of time addressing needs such as reminding the child to put on a jacket before they go outside to play, scheduling the next dental appointment and answering the question, “What's for dinner?”

Children reap the benefits of having a fully participating father. The most important benefit is improvement in the father-child relationship. The more time that fathers invest in their children, the better the relationship they will have with their children.

Fathers who are heavily involved in childcare and parenting raise children who enjoy more internal “locus of control” (a psychological term that defines the personal control that an individual feels over life). Indeed, children with greater father involvement have increased confidence and trust in the world around them.

Additionally, children with full father participation demonstrate a more developed sense of empathy than their counterparts who receive less time with their dad. They demonstrate greater willingness to take risks and try new things than their peers with less involved father figures. Moreover, children raised with actively involved fathers have greater tolerance for individual differences and tend to be more flexible and less hindered by stereotyped gender roles in their relationships with peers. Fathers represent the masculine image sons compare themselves to, while acting as an audience for their daughters to test out their femininity.

These are just a few of the reasons why fathering is just as important as mothering. One parent is no less essential than the other. Embrace and celebrate your role as father. Don’t kid yourself, dads, you are an essential part of your child’s psychological and emotional development into adulthood.

If the biological father is unable or unwilling to fulfill their role, then find another male role model substitute, such as a grandfather, uncle, friend of the family or some other trusted male party who is genuinely interested in making a difference in a child’s life.

Jennifer L. Gray, Ph.D., is a private-practice psychotherapist who provides individual, couple and family counseling. She can be reached at 653-0168 or Psychotherapy Associates, Parklane Executive Center, 31620 23rd Ave. S., Suite 318, Federal Way, WA 98003.

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