Is a father’s involvement important for a child’s development?
Just ask Dr. Gregory Gordon.
He’s been a pediatrician for 17 years.
He’s also the father of nine children, ranging in age from 10 months to 19 years old.
He’s seen the difference at work and at home.
“Fathers who are involved help keep children on the right path,” Gordon, one of the pediatricians at the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Florida, told Healthline.
Gordon’s assessment is backed up by a study released today by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
The study is the first by the nonprofit organization on fatherhood since 2004. It’s being released in connection with Father’s Day this coming Sunday.
The Growing Role of Fathers
The AAP study reported that 2 million men in the United States are single parents. That’s about 17 percent of all single parents.
In addition, slightly more than 3 percent of stay-at-home parents are men.
Dr. Michael Yogman, chair of the AAP’s Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health and co-author of the report, told Healthline there are a number of reasons for the increased involvement by fathers in family life.
He said one is the impact from the 2008 recession where unemployed men found it more difficult in many cases to find new jobs than unemployed women did.
“More and more men were left at home,” Yogman said.
He added trends in the workplace for the past 30 years have also put more women in the office and more men working from home.
“Increasingly, parents are sharing the parenting roles,” Yogman said.
The study also noted there are now an estimated 378,000 gay male couples in the United States. About 10 percent are raising children.
“There’s a diversity of fathers as our culture has become more accepting,” said Yogman.
“Parenting roles are a lot more blended,” he said. “Dads have realized they can do things they couldn’t do before.”
How Fathers Help Children
Gordon and Yogman agree that fathers can bring parenting skills to the table that most mothers can’t.
The two physicians noted that mothers and fathers have different strengths and the key is for children to benefit from both of them.
“It’s nice to have a teammate when parenting,” said Gordon.
Yogman said men could provide comfort and security for children as well as encouraging independence and exploration.
He said men tend to play more “rough and tumble” games with their kids.
Gordon said he has fulfilled this role by going on camping trips with his five sons and four daughters.
“It’s all about spending time with the kids,” said Gordon. “That’s all kids really want.”
Yogman noted that these attributes could continue all the way until children are dropped off at college.
Both Gordon and Yogman said children with involved fathers tend to do better in school, get in less trouble, stay away from drugs, and make better choices when it comes to picking partners.
They added fathers also benefit along with the children.
“It’s better for them and it’s better for the kids,” said Yogman.
The AAP study encourages pediatricians to communicate more with fathers.
Yogman said it’s also important for dads to go to the doctor’s office for their children’s visits and ask questions.
“That way they don’t feel like a bump on a log,” he said.
Yogman said that pediatricians should inquire about a father’s mental health in those early months of parenthood. He said women aren’t the only ones who can struggle after the birth of a child.
The AAP study also recommends that government officials increase the amount of time fathers can receive for parental leave after the birth of a child.
Yogman said fathers should have three months of this paid time off. He said the United States lags far behind other industrialized nations in this category.
“It’s really an embarrassment,” he said
Overall, both physicians said, society should do everything it can to encourage fathers to be actively involved with their children.
“There’s a host of benefits for kids when they do,” said Yogman.