Traditionally, research on family dynamics has focused on fathers’ absence and the effects, usually negative, that this has on children. Recently, researchers have focused more on involved fatherhood and the effects that it has on children. The data consistently demonstrate that having an involved father generally has a markedly positive effect on children.
According to the Institute for Research on Poverty, there are 72 million fathers in the United States. These include not only biological fathers but stepfathers, adoptive fathers and those whose role is primarily social. Because of the different family structures, not all fathers live with their children, but this does not have to preclude them from involvement in the kids’ lives.
Essential functions of fathers
The new model of studying fathers’ involvement identifies three essential functions that they serve for their children:
- Accessibility: Even when not directly interacting with their children, involved fathers should be accessible to them. A father does not have to live with his children to be accessible.
- Positive engagement: Positive engagement involves direct interaction with children, whether that be through play and shared activities or caregiving tasks, e.g., feeding the children or changing diapers.
- Responsibility: Involved fathers prioritize their children’s care and well-being by participating in the decision-making process for child-rearing.
Specific benefits of involved fathers
Children benefit from having involved fathers in concrete and measurable ways. Research from the University of Texas at Austin shows that children of involved fathers are less likely to spend time in jail by 80% and less likely to have a teen birth by 75%. They are less likely to have serious trouble in school and more likely to earn top grades. Ultimately, having an involved father increases a child’s likelihood of going to college and finding stable employment thereafter by a factor of two.
Based on these statistics, it is generally in the children’s interest that child custody arrangements allow for a high level of involvement from fathers so they can perform their essential functions for their children.