The State of Fatherhood: New Research Shows the Importance of Staying Involved

The American Academy of Pediatrics shares its latest clinical report on fatherhood

Dads are increasingly involved in their children’s lives, says the American Academy of Pediatrics in their first clinical report on fatherhood since 2004. That’s good news for parents and kids. 

“Fathers really have a quite impressive impact on their children’s health, including how well they do in school, how well they get along with friends and whether children run into problems like substance abuse or delinquency,” says Dr. Michael Yogman, an assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and co-author of this research review, entitled “Fathers’ Role in the Care and Development of Their Children: The Role of Pediatricians”.

Parenthood is work and it is probably the most important work we do as adults.

The report reviews a surge of new fatherhood-related studies published in the past 10 years and involves a diverse set of data including information on gay, single, military fathers, formerly incarcerated, non-residential fathers as well as fathers of children with special needs.

Findings include:

  • 3.4 percent of all stay-at-home parents are men

  • 17 percent are single parents

  • 10 percent of the estimated 378,000 gay male couples in the U.S. are raising children. 

Research also shows the importance of hands-on fathering, says Yogman. It’s not, he says, just about being “not Mom.”

“One of the messages [of this report] is fathers don’t need to think their only role is to be a less good mother,” says Yogman. “The opportunities are not redundant with what the mother does.” For example, dads are often the preferred play partners with more rough and tumble play, according to the reviewed research. “Fast-forward to a 4-year-old who is timid on the monkey bars and often we see fathers encouraging the timid youngster to climb up to the top,” says Yogman.

The report also encourages pediatricians work closely with men and encourage their involvement in parenting starting at pregnancy. “We’ve come a long way to not even letting fathers into a delivery room,” says Yogman. “Pediatricians can encourage fathers to get involved; one way is to write a prescription for dad with doctor's orders: 'Play with your baby every day.'”

Embedded in this already good news is a call to continue to work on societal changes that will mean more father-child time. A long-time advocate for paid parental leave, Yogman testified before Congress in the 1980s advocating for such a policy.

“What is wrong with us that we don’t believe an investment in paid parental leave is like money in the bank for later on?” he says. “We need to wake up and begin to change some of these misguided policies. Parenthood is work and it is probably the most important work we do as adults.” 

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