These days, custody battles can be brutal. Lawyers are determined to come out on top and will keep you fighting as long as possible, but it’s nearly impossible to navigate the “justice” system without them. The good news is that times are changing as far as custody rulings are concerned. No longer do judges automatically side with the mother, father be damned. (Did you know in Kentucky they passed a law to make joint custody schedules the new standard?) Because the truth is, dads matter too.
Yes, I’m a mother. And for the longest time I thought that my daughter being with Mommy more was what was best for her. I fumed at the thought that my ex, the same man who refused to change her diapers as a baby, was fighting so hard to take her away from me (or so I believed).
Every child needs his/her mother. But they also need their fathers. We all think we know and understand that. People have told me “Isn’t that obvious?” While we may think we already know this, there are plenty of moms (and dads) who do everything in their power to alienate the other parent. This is wrong on all accounts.
So while I list the reasons children need their fathers just as much as their mothers, keep in mind I’m not talking about abusive men. I’m talking to the women who keep their ex at arm’s length because they’re angry, because they’re hurt, because he cheated, or for whatever reason don’t think Dad deserves it. Keeping Dad away for our own emotional reasons is selfish.
A dad who’s present and wants to be involved should have that opportunity.
A father who is good to his kids, and who does his best, should have as much time as possible with his children. And here’s why:
What happens when children are kept from Dad?
Many kids who grow up without getting to know their fathers often wonder about that half of their identity. Children look to their parents to help figure out who they are, and when one side is prevented from developing a relationship with them, it can sometimes feel like a part is missing. Feelings of physical or emotional security are often not as strong.
Young women with absent fathers are more likely to crave male affection, viewing their loss of a father as a rejection. These girls are far more likely to go after men who treat them poorly, and who abuse or exploit them (source).
When an FBI agent interviewed an incarcerated sex trafficker how he decided which girls to prey on, the man explained “It’s easy. I see a girl at the mall. I go up to her and say, ‘You have beautiful eyes.’ If she smiles and says ‘Thanks,’ I leave her alone. But if she looks down and says, ‘No, I don’t,’ I know I’ve got her.” (source) Because if she isn’t used to a male figure complimenting her, it’s difficult to accept when a stranger does.
Anger and behavioral issues.
According to statistics, fatherless children score poorer in school, are more likely to be truant, or to even drop out of school. They may also have difficulties in social situations, adopting an intimidating demeanor to mask their anxieties or unhappiness. (source) Apparently, they are also 297% more likely to carry guns and deal drugs than kids who live with their father. (source)
Loneliness and abandonment issues.
Children often feel abandoned when their father isn’t around and struggle with episodes of self-loathing. Lacking an involved father figure, these kids often also find themselves lonely, longing for their other parent. According to a clinical case on SciELO, there is evidence that these children will often latch on to any father figure in their life to try and develop that bond, but when that parental figure dies or leaves, they feel even more hurt, lonely, and abandoned than before.
Kids without involved fathers have a higher likelihood of involving themselves in crime, gravitating toward drugs or alcohol, and being promiscuous. This also leads to higher numbers of teen pregnancy and STDs.
Poorer life chances.
Although we hear stories about successful people raised by single mothers (President George Washington, President Barack Obama, etc.) there are far more instances of poorer life chances among children raised in fatherless households. According to Psychology Today, 90% of runaway children have an absent father. These kids are also more likely to be unemployed, have lower incomes, or rely on social welfare programs. Plus, an absent father is also linked to lower educational achievement (source) which of course leads to lower income, etc.
*There is a detailed and highly informative clinical account of a fatherless young man you can read at SciELO.*
What happens when fathers are involved in a child’s life?
When fathers are involved in their children’s lives, spending quality time together and telling them they love them, children feel loved and more emotionally secure. And when there are two parents listening and supporting children, they tend to understand their own emotions more. This also leads to…
Involved fathers are more likely to build up their children’s self esteem, letting them know they can accomplish what they want, complimenting their children, etc. This creates happier, more confident children (source). Girls with fathers who love and compliment them are also less likely to be preyed upon by human traffickers, because they don’t suffer from “daddy issues” (source).
Better life chances.
Because women continue to fight for equal pay for equal work, it’s obvious why research indicates families with involved fathers are better off financially. With more money comes greater access to life resources and necessities.
Greater academic achievements.
Children with active fathers are more likely to feel academically prepared and confident in their abilities. They score higher in school – on mathematical and verbal areas, are less likely to drop out, and are more likely to go to college (source).
Less behavioral issues.
Kids whose fathers are active in their lives are less likely to be promiscuous, to commit suicide, to be involved in crime, and to abuse drugs or alcohol. Fathers also give young men more of a moral compass when it comes to setting an example of “how to be a man” (source).
With higher self esteem, higher grades, and less run-ins with the law, it’s no wonder children who grow up with both mother and father figures involved in their lives have a greater change of success and accomplishing higher achievements.
The intention of this article isn’t to bring down single mothers by any means. Women who are able to do it all are magnificent. But when a father wants to be in his child’s life, we should make it possible – easy, even – for him to have an influence and a real relationship with them. Having a father figure involved in a child’s life is important. These studies and statistics prove the kind of value a dad can have in his child’s life.
So the next time, Mama, you start thinking about how your son or daughter doesn’t need to spend any extra time with their dad… pause for a moment. When you start thinking things like “he hasn’t paid his child support, so he doesn’t get to see his son” – stop. Remember how important it is for your child that he spend time with Dad. Remember how you always want what’s best for your baby. You want them to grow into confident, successful adults. Getting Dad involved in their childhood is part of that.
Much like Kristen said in her Get Over Yourself post, I’m going to tell you right now – custody schedules are not about you. They’re all about your kid. You and their father already made the decision to end your relationship, but your children did not. They still want – nay, need – both of you in their lives.
So if it’s possible, why not give that to them?