Does mother always know best?

Defining the Modern Dad

The old joke goes, What’s the difference between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day? On Father’s Day you buy a cheaper present. Is more soap on a rope or another tie all we can still expect? Are we the buffoons portrayed in the media that can barely get out of our own way, clueless regarding child care? Or have we evolved with the times and passed beyond these stereotypes?


Early studies of parenting and its effects on children were all about mothers. Mothers were blamed for problems from bed wetting to schizophrenia, and praised for all that the child had become or accomplished. Where were fathers in these early studies?

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We were in the background providing for the family, coming to the forefront only as a disciplinarian. Fathers were thought to be peripheral to the job of parenting because children spent the most time with their mother.

Contemporary research has been examining the father’s role with much more interest, and has found that fathers have a distinct and necessary role to play in their child’s adaptive development. Father involvement has been correlated with higher self-esteem, enhanced academic achievement and language skills, greater social maturity and more successful relationships with peers as well as fewer behavioral and psychological problems such as substance abuse and depression.


This result holds true even if the father doesn’t live in the same home as the child’s, as in divorce situations. It appears that how involved the dad is, not where he lives, is the critical factor. The father doesn’t have to be the biological father for a child to reap the benefits. It can be a stepdad, an adoptive father or another male figure in the household. In addition to being a role model for boys, father presence has been correlated with less behavioral problems for boys during adolescence, and it is related to a girl becoming a more confident and independent young adult.

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What researchers are finding out is that father love and involvement is just as important and sometimes more important than a mother’s love. There is ample research evidence that mothers are more effective parents when fathers are both supportive partners and nurturing parents. Children are clearly major beneficiaries when they are raised by a warm loving mother and father.


We fathers have evolved with the times and our roles have changed. Most fathers of a generation ago took all their parenting cues from mom. They participated when mom told them so or when the children got older and sought them out for advice. Fathers’ participation was almost always in sports or other “masculine” activities.

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Paul Schwartz, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology and education at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh.