Research has continually proved the importance of the role of fathers in their children's development. Fathers are important for the cognitive and emotional development for both boys and girls. In fact, a child who has warm, loving and involved father has been shown to have higher academic achievement, improved social and emotional well-being, as well as lower incidences of delinquency, risk taking, and other problem behaviors.
Social scientists often emphasize the role of fathers in the family unit, and how important their actions affect the environment and context in which a child grows. One of the most important ways a father influences that environment is in his interaction with his children’s mother. How young children observe and experience their parent's relationship influences their own relationships later in life. This can be a sobering thought for many parents who are struggling with their marriage, and/or going through a divorce.
Family instability and financial problems contribute to the poor outcomes for children whose parents are divorced. However, experts agree that the major disadvantage related to father absence for children is less parental attention. Fathers who do not live with their children simply are less available to nurture, guide, and provide for their children.
Father absence can have a negative effect on both boys and girl's social behavior. Research shows that children who had absent fathers were more likely to have behavior problems and didn't do well in school, particularly in math and science. Being raised by a single mother raises the risk of teen pregnancy, marrying with less than a high school degree, and forming a marriage where both partners have less than a high school degree. Father closeness has been inversely correlated with a child's use of alcohol, cigarettes, and hard drugs and has been connected to family structure - children with intact families are less likely to use alcohol, cigarettes, and hard drugs. The statistics go on and on!
Clearly it is important for fathers to stay closely involved with their children after divorce. So, what can divorced fathers do to maintain a close, beneficial relationship with their children after divorce?
- Spend quality time with your children. If you only see your children on the weekend, try to make the time meaningful. Taking a walk, working on the yard, running errands, talking, and sharing can help your children learn a lot from you. These types of interactions with your children allow you time to really connect, versus going to an amusement park (aka the 'Disney Dad') and constantly buying them things to make up for lack of time spent together.
- Pay your child support. Studies show children whose fathers pay child support do better in school and have fewer behavior problems. In addition, this will lower the stress between you and the children's mother, which will very much benefit the children.
- Practice authoritative parenting. Authoritative parenting is a parenting style that involves spending time with children, providing emotional support, giving everyday assistance, monitoring children’s behavior, and providing consistent, fair and proportionate discipline. Studies show that children do best when parents practice authoritative parenting, versus permissive parenting or authoritarian parenting. Permissive parenting is where parents avoid setting standards and limits, and in authoritarian parenting, parents are harsh and rigid in their discipline and fail to respect their child’s point of view. Neither of these parenting styles have as positive an influence on children’s development as authoritative parenting.
- Document the memories. Keep your camera close at hand during your time together, take lots of pictures and start a photo album for you and your children. Document what you did and where you went. Your kids will love the process and also love to look back on the memories when they are older.
- Make your home their home. If you've moved out and now have a new home, your children might feel uncomfortable and a little out of place when they visit you. Do everything you can to make them feel welcome and wanted in your new home. If possible, dedicate a bedroom solely for their use and let them decide how to decorate it. This will be exciting for your children and give them a sense of security when they come to stay with you.
Fathers play a unique and crucial role in nurturing and guiding children’s development. Though studies have shown children usually have a better outcome if their parents stay married, father involvement can tremendously lessen the negative impacts of divorce on children. In fact, some fathers say that they have spent more quality time and have a closer relationship with their children since their divorce. No doubt, divorced fathers can still play an important role to help their children grow as long as they have regular and consistent contact, provide practical guidance and act as a positive role model.