Benefits of Father Involvement in the Lives of Children of Separated Families

A father’s relationship with his children following divorce is a potential protective factor for children. Children of fathers with greater paternal involvement who are supportive, set limits, practice effective discipline, who communicate at a personal level, and help with homework, have shown to have higher academic performance, a more positive adjustment, and fewer acting-out or internalizing problems (depression, withdrawal and anxiety) than children with less paternal involvement (Amato & Gilbreth, 1999). In general, research results that reported positive relationships between children and their fathers were associated with more time together, history of involvement and a stable time-sharing arrangement (Whiteside & Becker).

Both the quality and the quantity of involvement on the part of the father result in a number of benefits to children of divorce. According to Amato (2000), Carlson (2006), and Menning, (2006) the quality of relationship and type of activities between the child and a nonresidential parent is a better predictor of adjustment and good academics. The amount of time, as well as the time period shared between father and children, controls the opportunities for the type of father-child interactions. For instance, fathers who enjoy over-night care get the experience of engaging in warm and nurturing activities such as the ability to feed, bathe, and participate in a bedtime routine. The child’s emotional security and quality of the father-child relationship is determined by the interactions and fathers’ responsiveness to their children (Amato, 2000; Carlson, 2006; Fabricius et al, 2012, Menning, 2006). As a result, child outcomes are associated with these factors.

Key published works found that fathers with appropriate opportunities to be involved in their children’s lives do not drop out of their lives. On the contrary, when fathers do dropout of their children’s lives, there are enhanced chances of lifelong psychological, social and economic consequences for children (Pruett and Kelly, 2012).

Children of divorce appear to desire a continuing relationship with their fathers. Reports consistently find that the main complaint expressed by children is the loss of regular contact with their father (Kelly, 1993). Children are dissatisfied with infrequent contact with the nonresidential parent, who is typically the father. Children of divorce want additional time and longer contact with the non-residential parent. Reported findings by Peterson and Zill (1986), Wallerstein and Kelly (1980) found continued contact with competent fathers to be associated with improved psychological scores, fewer behavioral problems, and better peer relationships.   Fathers enhance a child’s life by providing economic recourses, emotional support, guidance and supervision.

Father Involvement and Other Informative Findings from Research on Children’s Adjustment to Divorce (Some material adapted from “The Psychotherapist as Parent Coordinator in High-Conflict Divorce: Strategies and Techniques”, Boyan and Termini)

Behavioral Functioning

         Higher levels of father involvement associated with:

  • Fewer behavioral problems
  • Reduced contact with juvenile justice system
  • Delay in initial sexual activity, reduced teen pregnancy
  • Reduced rate of divorce
  • Less reliance on aggressive conflict resolution

Academic Functioning

  • Father involvement linked to better behavior & academic functioning
  • Greater variety of activities with adolescent lowered school failure
  • Ongoing school‐related discussions (grades, homework, other issues) most significant in lowering probability of school failure
  • Higher grade completion and income
  • Math competence in girls
  • Verbal strength in boys and girls

(Anguiano, 2004; Menning, 2002, 2006)

Emotional Functioning

Higher levels of father involvement associated with:

  • Better communication and social skills in children ages 4 to 6
  • Greater problem-solving competence and stress tolerance
  • Greater empathy, greater moral sensitivity, and reduced gender stereotyping
  • Increased frustration tolerance
  • Fewer angry outbursts

Ann Marie Termini, Ed.S., M.S., LPC