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The scientific arguments defending the importance of fathers

20087881_S.jpgTo the casual observer, it is easy to see why mothers are so important in the lives of their children. Not only are they responsible for carrying the baby during pregnancy and for giving birth, their nurturing instinct after the children are born is often obvious.

But does this mean that men are irrelevant? A century of psychological research seemed to draw that conclusion. The conventional wisdom was that after providing their portion of genetic material, men functioned primarily as financial support and a source of discipline. Thankfully, emerging research conducted over the past few decades has challenged conventional wisdom and shown that fathers play a much more important role than most of us realize. 

The latest research is examined in a new book titled "Do Fathers Matter?" by author Paul Raeburn. His inspiration for learning about fatherhood was largely personal. Like a growing number of men, he divorced and remarried after raising his first set of children and is now raising kids for the second time.

A Washington Post review of the book notes that fathers have especially important roles to play during pregnancy and early childhood. In fact, men's testosterone levels tend to drop during their partners' pregnancies, suggesting that biology is steering them away from mate-finding and toward caregiving.

Studies show that when men are involved with their partners during pregnancy:

  • Mothers have a lower risk of high blood pressure
  • Mothers have a lower risk of anemia
  • Babies are less likely to be born prematurely
  • Babies are less likely to die within the first year after birth

In early childhood, dads in middle-class and poor families also have an important developmental role to play. Mothers tend to be primary caregivers at this stage of life. When they spend a lot of time with their kids, they may start limiting their vocabulary to words that the kids already know and hear often. Fathers often bring a more diverse vocabulary because they are not uniquely attuned to their children's level of language development.

Scientific research is confirming what many devoted dads already know: Men have a unique and important role to play in child rearing. Hopefully, books like this one will help guide the important discussion of fathers' rights in child custody proceedings.

Source: The Washington Post, "Book review: 'Do Fathers Matter?,' on the science of fatherhood, by Paul Raeburn," Bruce Feiler, June 13, 2014 

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