One in three American children does not live with their biological father.* In the inner-city, these numbers are often much higher. From a mental health perspective, children without fathers are at-risk for a variety of social/emotional concerns. These include:
- Poor school performance
- Drug use
- Teen pregnancy
- Crimes and violent acts
- Jail/prison time
- Depression and suicide
These concerns do not apply directly to young children, but show that a dangerous path begins when fathers are not involved in their children’s lives. Additionally, medical treatments, as well as mental health treatments, may be more successful with a father’s involvement. This information does not indicate that mothers are unimportant, or that they cannot raise a successful, healthy and happy child. Rather, the information encourages adults to let children know they are loved by both their mom and dad, even if they do not live in the same place.
Dads, many things can get in the way of being involved in your child’s life:
- Living far away from your child
- Lack of transportation to visit your child
- Differences between you and your child’s mother
- Financial concerns with child support payments
The question is, despite the road blocks that exist, are you willing to get to know your child? If the answer is yes, keep reading.
As a father of young children, one of the best things you can do for your children is to show them love. You can do this by playing with them, listening to them (even if you cannot understand them), eating meals with them, hugging/kissing them, and having fun together. Kids must learn how to love, and as a father, you are an important teacher for your child.
Focus on things that are going well between you and your little one, even if they have temper tantrums, do not listen, or are aggressive when you are with them. Children know when you do not believe in them, so praising and focusing on things they are doing successfully can make a big difference in your relationship.
If you do not live with your child, spend time with him or her on a regular basis. Children feel safer when routines are followed. For example, if dad visits every Tuesday, a child will look forward to the visit and expect it every week. Consistency can be helpful not only for visits, but at bedtime, mealtime and playtime. Never promise to see your child unless you are certain you are going to be there.
The father-child relationship may be different depending on whether you have a son or daughter. As a father, you may remember toys and games you enjoyed playing when you were little and hope that your son will enjoy the same things. You might also feel worried or unsure of how to relate to your daughter if you have not been around many young girls. Allow your children to grow at their own pace and respect them for who they are. Boys and girls should be encouraged to play with any toy, even if it is a baby doll dressed in pink or a race car. Our society says that girls should play with dolls and boys should play with cars, but in reality, it makes no difference. Let your child have fun and join in. You’ll soon feel confident in yourself and realize you are building a solid relationship with your son or daughter.
In your opinion, what is the most important reason a child needs a father?
*From the 2009 US Census Bureau
Jessica Scheunemann is a family therapist. She provides in-home therapy to families with children under the age of 6 that have emotional and behavioral concerns.