Children Need Involved Fathers

Children need a consistent relationship with parents who care about them, regardless of how the family is structured. Urie Bronfenbrenner of Cornell University says that children need someone who "is crazy about them." Children can thrive in intact families, divorced families, blended families, single-parent families and foster families. It is not the structure of the family that counts; it is the quality of the relationship that the parents have with the children that most influences their development.

So what is the role of fathers in the family? David Blankenhorn, in his book, Fatherless America, decries the diminished role of fathers in the lives of their children. Father absence is a significant problem for America's children. Fatherlessness has been associated with youth violence, juvenile crime and teen promiscuity. Divorce, separation, employment demands and sometimes incarceration diminish the influence of fathers on their children. Even in two-parent families, fathers may be detached, apathetic or simply too worn out to be active, effective parents. On the flip side, research supports the importance of father involvement. Fathers who take an active interest in their sons and daughters help them to develop positive self-esteem, a system of moral standards, and intellectual and social competence.

So how can fathers become more involved in their children's lives?

  • Show affection for your children in concrete ways. Say "I love you" often, snuggle and hug more, let them climb into your lap or on your shoulders, and leave silly love notes in their lunch boxes.
  • Strike a balance between work and family. While work and career are important to men, marriage and family must be a priority if fathers intend to have enduring relationships and positive influence. Set limits on the number of hours you work and avoid bringing work home.
  • Be a role model for healthy male-female relationships. Express your love openly and frequently. Communicate often and respectfully. Invest time and energy into your relationship with your spouse and take nothing for granted.
  • Divide household and parenting responsibilities fairly. The daily chores of maintaining a home and raising children can overwhelm one person and lead to parental burnout. Even when dad is the breadwinner, he can help with housecleaning, laundry, doctors' visits and meal preparation. Providing a safe, comfortable, orderly home for children is one way to show you care for them.
  • Get involved with your child's education. Review homework and help when needed. Participate in parent-teacher conferences and school orientation programs. Join the PTA and attend meetings when possible. Regardless of your own level of education, send the message that you value education.
  • Play with your children every chance you get. Usually father's play is more active and raucous than mother's play - and children love it. Fathers can also do creative activities, like arts and crafts, with children or read to them.
  • Be a good listener. Show genuine interest when your children tell you their ideas, feelings and stories. Turn off the TV and put down the newspaper so you can give them your undivided attention.
  • Volunteer to help with your child's out-of-school activities. Fathers are needed to coach, teach and lead youth teams and groups. These experiences can enrich the parent-child relationship.
  • Have fun with your family. The greatest motivation for involved fathers is the enjoyment and satisfaction they derive from active involvement with their children. You can play board games, take hikes and bike rides, go camping or canoeing, plan family field trips together or do almost anything that interests you and your children.
  • Even fathers who are separated, divorced or otherwise estranged from the child's mother can stay involved in their son's or daughter's life. Support your child financially and keep the lines of communication open with the child's mother. Provide a consistent, nurturing, emotionally safe environment when your child visits you.

Source: Tim Jahn, Human Development Specialist, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. Parent Pages was developed by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. HD 61


Anna Steinkraus
Family & Community Development Program Coordinator
(607) 272-2292 ext. 145

Last updated August 8, 2015