Children in families without fathers in the home are not doomed to failure, or anything close to that. So concludes an article in Scientific American Mind, “Where’s Dad,” by Paul Raeburn of the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, and author of Do Fathers Matter?: What Science Is Telling Us About the Parent We’ve Overlooked.
However, as the article also noted, “The discovery of the father is one of the most important developments in the study of children and families. Our failure to address the question of fathers’ value is more than simply a matter of academic bickering.”
Fathers make unique contributions to their children. “Fatherhood is about helping children become happy and healthy adults, at ease in the world, and prepared to become fathers (or mothers) themselves.”
Fathers are disappearing: fewer dads are participating in the lives of their children now than at any time since the U.S. began keeping records. This shift matters because the effects of a missing father can be profound . . . .
Mothers today continue to perform the majority of primary caregiving tasks (feeding, bathing, comforting) notes science journalist Roni Jacobsonin her Scientific American Mind article, “Build Your Own Family.” Fathers tend to take part in supplementary activities, such as play, which matters less to survival than to cognitive development. For that, the quality of a father’s involvement appears to matter more than the quantity.
In a 2013 study of fathers living apart from their children, scientists at Tufts and the University of Connecticut found that neither monetary contributions, nor the frequency of visits had a significant effect on a child’s well-being. What mattered was how often the father engaged in child-centered activities. These included helping with homework, playing together, and attending sports events and school plays.
Participation in such child-centered activities stretches the child’s current level of ability, building on what they know right now and expanding it, according to Anne Martin, a Columbia University developmental psychologist. Known as “scaffolding,” quality engagement in child-centered activities helps children develop logical reasoning and problem-solving skills. With the intact family, both parents tend to “scaffold” equally. However, children living apart from their fathers are less likely to receive the same exposure to cognitively stimulating activities, according to a study by University of Wisconsin-Madison sociologists Marcia Carlson and Lawrence Berger.
What’s more, as Dr. Martin notes, “consistency is key. . . . You need somebody who is going to be there for the long haul.”
“Teachable moments” can happen anywhere, at anytime. Relegating fathers to alternate weekend status limits the opportunities to engage in the full range of child-centered activities, and immediately changes the quality.
However, physical presence is no longer required. Scanning, Skype, academic portals, Internet gaming, etc., create opportunities for shared parenting that could not exist even a decade ago.
Preparing for post-divorce co-parenting requires a major commitment by both parents — to the children, and to each other.
To change the prospect of losing another dad, either at the time of the divorce, or in the years thereafter, the manner in which parents choose to get through their divorce can shape their ability to co-parent for years to come.
The break-up of a marriage and the divorce process, itself, can easily lead to stomach-turning for the primary-caretaking mom with every interaction with dad, even as innocuous as a one-minute “goodnight” phone call. How many fathers make the choice to bail, rather than have to interract with mom?
Enter the interdisciplinary Collaborative Divorce process. With divorce litigation, the parents sit silently in the background while the lawyers work things out (if the parents are lucky). In Collaborative Practice, the parties actively particiapate at the table with their specially-trained lawyers, a neutral financial specialist and the “family specialist” or “coach” (a specially trained mental health professional).
The Collaborative professional team is uniquely qualified to resolve the issues arising from the divorce by have the parties work with each other, while optimizing opportunities to get past the anger and pain, and developing the skill set needed to co-parent.
The courts of New York have long recognized the importance of the “custodial” parent promoting the relationship of the children with the “non-custodial” parent. Doing something to enhance the ability of both parents to do that is not the courts’ forte.
If parents are going to make the long-term commitment to each other, and the children, and afford both parents the opportunity to have regular quality teachable moments, each parent needs not to cringe when the other is with the children, even long distance. Figuring out how to make that happen begins when the decision to separate is made, and requires substantial effort during the divorce process itself.