Fathers are critical to a troubled child’s wellbeing. Yet in my experience, they aren’t as present in support groups or meetings set-up for a child’s care. It’s not that they don’t care; they need a different kind of support.
Every year, I attend conferences around the nation that focus on the families, children, and policies associated with children’s mental health. The majority in attendance are women. I was a social worker in children’s mental health for 5 years, and a parent advocate for insurance parity in my state. In every meeting I attended were lots of mothers and female social workers, and one father. Parents who attend my family support group are also mostly woman: bio mothers, adoptive mothers, girlfriends, stepmothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters involved in caring for a troubled child. I always encourage moms to bring in the dad, stepdad, eldest son, brother, boyfriend… any male who’s important in the child’s life, and some are able to convince them to attend at least once, and it always seems to help. I’ll call them all “dads” here,
We need the men. I know they are out there. I know they are engaged in raising a troubled child and perhaps alone with their concerns.
“We’ve been down on our knees in pain for our kids…”
The messages – One panel member said men feel they are supposed to fix the problem, but since they can’t they feel like failures. Another said that “dads are often not the main caregivers, and perhaps they lack experience,” and after trying what they think will work, are at a loss when it doesn’t. Another, “we want a quick fix, but a clear concrete fix will do… we want to know how to problem solve.” That’s a big one, men fix things, they want to get together and hash out solutions. “Men talk solutions right away instead of talking through emotions.” They said men like rules or instructions such as Collaborative Problem Solving techniques, the use of technology, and concrete, measurable plans such as IEPs. (Here is another story about a father who wants to fix his daughters illness.)
In general, moms tend to feel guilty, but dads tend to be resentful or feel like failures:
- Their family’s problems are right out there in public
- Mom is too lenient and easily gives in to the child.
- The child gets all the attention; other family members are neglected.
- Quality relationships with all family members are lost.
Gentlemen, trust me, moms want you to have support that works for you.
Can you help me out? I’d like to find other articles about issues fathers face:
- custody of the children
- disagreements with mom
- their influence on treatment, or placement, or educational issues
- their need for social support with other men
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Research on the very positive influences of fathers
Teenagers whose fathers are more involved in their lives are less likely to engage in risky sexual activities such as unprotected intercourse, according to a new study. The more attentive the dad — and the more he knows about his teenage child’s friends — the bigger the impact on the teen’s sexual behavior, the researchers found. While an involved mother can also help stave off a teen’s activity, dads have twice the influence.
“Maybe there’s something different about the way fathers and adolescents interact,” said the study’s lead author Rebekah Levine Coley, an associate professor at Boston College. “It could be because it’s less expected for fathers to be so involved, so it packs more punch when they are.”
Dad’s positive effect
Parental knowledge of a teen’s friends and activities was rated on a five point scale. When it came to the dads, each point higher in parental knowledge translated into a 7 percent lower rate of sexual activity in the teen. For the moms, one point higher in knowledge translated to only a 3 percent lower rate. The impact of family time overall was even more striking. One additional family activity per week predicted a 9 percent drop in sexual activity.
Child development experts said the study was carefully done and important. “It’s praiseworthy by any measure,” said Alan E. Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University.
Why would dads have a more powerful influence?
“Dads vary markedly in their roles as caretakers from not there at all to really helping moms,” Kazdin said. “The greater impact of dads might be that moms are more of a constant and when dads are there their impact is magnified.” Also, Kazdin said “when dads are involved with families, the stress on the mom is usually reduced because of the diffusion of child-rearing or the support for the mom.”
In other words, dad’s positive effect on mom makes life better for the child, Kazdin explains.
The study underscores the importance of parental engagement overall, said Patrick Tolan, a professor of psychiatry and director of the Institute for Juvenile Research at the University of Illinois in Chicago. “For one thing, the more time you spend with them, they’re going to get your values and they’re more likely to think things through rather than acting impulsively.”
Coley hopes that the study will encourage both moms and dads to keep trying to connect with their teenage children, even as their kids are pushing them away. “…it’s normal for teens to want to pull away from the family, [but] that doesn’t mean they don’t want to engage at all,”
Linda Carroll is a health and science writer living in New Jersey. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, Health magazine and SmartMoney.
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According to recent research and my own 30 years of experience as a psychologist, most fathers and teenage daughters never get to know one another as well, or spend as much time together, or talk as comfortably to one another, as mothers and daughters. Why is this bad news? Because a father has as much or more impact as a mother does on their daughter’s school achievement, future job and income, relationships with men, self-confidence, and mental health.
When I ask young adult daughters why they aren’t as comfortable sharing personal things or getting to know their fathers as they are with their mothers, most make negative comments about men.
- “Because he’s a man, he doesn’t want to talk about serious or personal things.”
- “Because men aren’t capable of being as sensitive or as understanding as women.”
- “Because fathers aren’t interested in getting to know their daughters very well.”
If a daughter grows up with these kinds of negative assumptions about fathers, she will not give her father the same opportunities she gives her mother to develop a comfortable, meaningful relationship. As parents, we strengthen father-daughter relationships by teaching our daughters how to give their fathers the opportunities to be understanding, communicative and personal.
Creating more father-daughter time alone – Regardless of a daughter’s age, the most important thing we can do is to make sure fathers and daughters spend more time alone with one another. Since most fathers and daughters haven’t spent much time together without other people around, they might feel a little uncomfortable at first. If so, they can start by taking turns participating in activities that each enjoys. One idea: The father could choose 15 or 20 of his favorite photographs from various times of his life — as a little boy, a teenager or a young man — and then use the pictures to tell his daughter stories about his life. The key to the success of this father-daughter time is that they alone are sharing this experience.
Staying involved during dad’s absence – Teenage daughters and fathers can strengthen their relationship during dad’s absence through e-mails, letters, pictures and a touch of silliness. Before dad departs, for one example, father and daughter can talk about how much their relationship means to each of them and agree to write or e-mail at least twice a week.
Linda Nielsen is a psychology professor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. Her most recent book is Embracing your Father: How to Create the Relationship You Always Wanted With Your Dad. For more information on father-daughter relationships visit www.wfu.edu/~nielsen/.
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Early Father Involvement Moderates Biobehavioral Susceptibility to Mental Health Problems in Middle Childhood
Boyce, W. Thomas; Essex, Marilyn J.; Alkon, Abbey; Goldsmith, H. Hill; Kraemer, Helena C.; Kupfer, David J.; Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, v45 n12 p1510-1520 Dec 2006
[my summary in everyday English: When fathers are engaged in nurturing and parenting a child from infancy, the child develops healthy responses to social situations when they reach the middle childhood years ~age 9. The father’s engagement actually improves brain function on the emotional level and reduces activity in the stress area of the brain. If a father is not involved, the child is at a high risk of behavioral problems. Also, if a mother is depressed in their child’s early years, the child is at an ever higher risk of behavioral problems.]