Research: Foster Fathers Raise Emotionally Intelligent Children
When my eldest son, who is now almost 13, was born in July 2008, I thought I could easily balance my career and my desire to be a lot more engaged at home than my dad and his father were. generation. I was wrong.
Almost immediately, I noticed how hard social policies, schools, and health systems make it difficult for fathers to get involved and engage in the home. Conflicting expectations about work and family life abound.
As a fatherhood researcher with four children, I am convinced that fathers are transformative figures for children, families and communities.
But the mere presence of a man, his salary and his willingness to punish children who misbehave are not enough. Many of the benefits of fatherhood for children come from the fact that fathers are caring, loving, and engaged in all aspects of parenthood.
When fathers care for them – when they offer emotional support and act with affection towards their children – the effects extend far beyond growth, development, good health and good grades. My research shows that the benefits also include having children who value emotional intelligence, gender equality, and healthy competition.
Foster dads vs. stoic fathers
Thinking about the general impact of fathers, I analyzed how fatherhood affects different social values - such as belief in gender equality – in May 2021.
By interviewing over 2,500 American fathers aged 18 and over, I discovered that the fatherhood involved has a lasting impact on children’s personal principles and cultural perspectives.
In my survey, the differences between the least caring and the most caring fathers are stark.
Fathers surveyed who said their own fathers were very withdrawn tended to be hypercompetitive, emotionally stoic, and ungrateful for the contributions of women outside the home.
In contrast, surveyed fathers who reported having very caring fathers were much more likely to achieve their goals in a healthy way, to be more emotionally open, and to believe in a fair partnership.
How dads instill values
Decades ago, many fathers were unwilling or unable to provide their children with emotional support or physical care. Instead, they focused on earning their living, disciplining the children, and just being home.
These traditional norms have left many contemporary fathers ill-equipped for modern parenting. Contemporary social norms set broad expectations for fathers: rule enforcement and economic support for the family while meeting the physical and emotional needs of children.
Broad paternal involvement with children is important because fathers have unique effects on children. Children’s values, beliefs, emotional expression and social development are strongly associated with fatherhood. Children are better emotionally regulated, more resilient, and more open-minded when their fathers are involved in their upbringing and socialization.
Boys, for better or for worse, often mirror their own father’s habits, interests and values.
My colleague Scott Easton and I have discovered that a father’s behavior is particularly powerful given that cultural, social and institutional norms regarding fatherhood are much lower than they are for motherhood.
For example, mothers are traditionally known to show affection to children and provide them with emotional support. Social expectations for these behaviors are not well defined among fathers. As a result, fathers have a much greater impact on the paternal behaviors of their sons than mothers on the maternal behaviors of their daughters.
Positively, this means that a significant portion of men reproduce the best attributes of their own fathers – like being loving and affectionate. Negatively, this means that bad behavior – such as extremely harsh discipline – is sometimes repeated from generation to generation.
However, some men compensate for their own father’s poor or nonexistent parenting role by forging their own ideas and values about parenting.
Benefits for everyone
The results of my survey are based on decades of research into the benefits of positive fatherhood. And these benefits aren’t just for kids.
Mothers and other parental partners are healthier and happier when fathers are very engaged with their children. Men who care for and support their children also benefit – with a better self-image, purpose in life and relationships. And communities gain confidence and security through the relationships established when fathers positively participate in their children’s activities, education and social networks.
How can American society ensure that healthy competition, emotional openness, and respect for women are prevalent among future generations of men and fathers? Part of the answer is to value a loving and supportive fatherhood.
It means more support for fathers in workplaces, public policies and institutions. Paid family leave, flexible working arrangements and integrating fathers into antenatal and postnatal care are all effective ways to encourage fathers to become more involved.
Many fathers have increased their share of childcare duties during the COVID-19 pandemic. These changes can become permanent, ultimately altering cultural values around parenthood and gender roles.
Society also needs to provide clearer messages to fathers about what works and what doesn’t in parenthood. For example, my colleagues and I have shown that men who think they should be foster parents are more involved in their children’s lives. Fathers who demonstrate healthy masculine traits like assertiveness and a strong goal orientation also tend to be sensitive and committed parents.
So, there are many paths to transformative fatherhood. And that’s not just behavior for biological fathers. Fatherhood is broadly defined and people often look to non-biological father figures like parents, stepfathers, foster fathers, and independent mentors.
All men who support and care for children have a vital role to play in instilling positive social values in future generations.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.