The Psychology of Fatherhood
By Erin Froehlich
From the Id and Ego Blog Series
Hello and welcome back psychology nerds, to a special Father’s Day Id and Ego Blog.
This week: how being a father affects men and how having a father affects children.
As a woman, I must concede that I cannot completely understand what being a father is to men any more than they could completely understand the unique experience of motherhood. However, I am blessed to have an amazing father in my life.
When I was just 15 and he (pictured right) was just 16 and we were young and stupid (yet thought we knew it all), we feel in love and had a baby. Many people assumed the worse – that he would run and I would be alone, that being so young, I would fail as a mother and that collectively, the hope of success for all three of our lives had gone.
We proved them wrong.
Not only have we raised our now 9 year old daughter, Ivy together, she’s a gifted artist and reader and an amazingly mature, loving and smart little girl. Her father is very involved. He’s always planning fun outings for the two of them when I'm out and he has shared his own passion for music and cooking with her. He plays with her every day and he doesn’t mind the girly stuff. He’ll even play Barbies.
I love my daughter to pieces and personally think she’s about the best kid any parent could hope for, but I also know without a doubt that she wouldn’t be as brave, funny, compassionate and level-headed as she is without him in her life.
This blog is for that very special man and for all you great fathers out there. Keep doing what you’re doing and have a very happy Father’s Day! You deserve it.
How Children Change Men
In Peter Clemens’ blog “One Year On. How Fatherhood Has Changed My Life” he admits:
“…I did not initially welcome the news that I was to be a dad. … I had all these other things planned for my life before I took the big step into parenthood: traveling the world (again), getting rich, etc. I experienced a few months of intense soul-searching before I finally came to be excited about the news… it comes back to the way I changed my thinking. I did not discard my plans, rather I changed them to accommodate the new baby that was to come into our lives.”
He writes that were 5 important ways having his son changed his life – instilling a sense of awe, awareness of his own mortality, meaning, connection with the world and a desire to make a difference.
In his own words “Because I now feel a greater connection to the world I live in, I want to make a positive difference. It is no coincidence that I started this blog soon after Xavier was born. I see this site as a manifestation of my newfound calling to help other people live better lives.”
Peter Clemens’ words are a sweet testament to what fatherhood can be (and I highly recommend you read the blog in its entirety here) But not only can the birth of a child change a man’s outlook on life, their lifestyle and their goals, new researcher shows it actually changes a man’s body! Here are just a few ways science has shown it does:
- Weight Gain and Mood Swings: Couvade syndrome or “Sympathetic Pregnancy” in which some expectant father gains weight, has food cravings and generally suffers from the same pregnancy symptoms as their wife as is a condition that has been cited throughout history.
- Rise in “Nurturing Hormones,” Decline in Testosterone: Men exposed to the smell of newborn babies experience a rise in their prolactin ( a hormone commonly associated with lactating mothers) and cortisol (a well known mothering stress hormone) levels and drop in their testosterone levels. Men with the highest levels of polactin and cortisol were shown in studies to also have the greatest urge to comfort a crying newborn infant shown in a video. High levels of testerone, on the other hand is associated with aggression and “mate seeking” – not so desirable in a new father.
- Brain Changes: There is some evidence from the animal kingdom that fatherhood may even change the brain – enhancing the connection in the responsible planning and memory prefrontal cortex region and increasing vasopressin receptors shown to prompt father/offspring bonding.
How a Father Changes A Child
It’s unfortunate that while a woman’s role and motherhood have been heavily investigated, supported and celebrated, the role of men and fatherhood have really only begun to be. Just consider all the guidebooks mothers have as opposed to fathers. Consider our restrooms – rare is the men’s room with the diaper changing station. As Slate writer Emily Anthes proposed “Maybe it seems too unsettling to treat the changes in expectant dads and moms as remotely equivalent.”
Luckily though, neglect of our fathers IS slowly changing as society adjusts to the fact that they have become more active child-rearing participants than they used to be and as we find just what a difference a father makes on a child’s life.
Here are just a handful of the more recent findings out there on the subject:
Active, Loving Fathers…
- Improve Their Children’s Behavior and Intelligence. Even in low income families, compared with children of absentee fathers, children with actively parenting fathers in their early through mid childhood were better behaved and smarter.
- Decrease Their Children’s Chances of Smoking or Criminal Behavior. Studies show that children of positively active fathers are less likely to smoke or commit a crime.
- Have Children With More Successful Friendships. Studies showed children with a positive father figure developed more successful relationships with other children of both genders than those without.
- Have Adult Daughters That Happier. Woman who had a good relationship with their father at age 16 rate their mental and physical wellbeing higher and have better relationships with their partners at age 33.
- Promote Their Children’s Wellbeing Even When Separated From Their Mother. Even divorced or separated dads not living with their children enhance their children’s problem-solving and abilities and decreased their risk of emotional problems when they stuck to a structured day and set appropriate limits.
Absent or Unloving Fathers...
- Cause Significant Damage to Their Daughters. Contrary to popular belief, studies show it is girls that suffer most without a father in their life. Daughters of absentee fathers were significantly more likely to suffer from emotional problems by the time they reached middle school.
- Put Their Children at Risk for a Lifetime of Emotional Problems. Children that feel rejected by either parent experienced increased levels of anxiety, insecurity, hostility and aggression that lingers into adulthood. A father’s rejection however, was shown to be even more hurtful.
How is a Father’s Role Different Than a Mother’s?
How is the role of a father different than the role of a mother? It varies of course, from family to family, but today with the daily lives of both parents more similar than ever, the difference between a mother and a father has likewise become more difficult than ever to place.
Most families now consist of two working parents who both contribute to household chores and child-rearing in fairly equal amounts. Yet, I do still think there is something special and unique about the role of a father in a child’s life compared with a mother. (and a mother's role compared with a father's for that matter)
While there are traditionally male and traditionally female traits in us all, fathers present children with their first real glimpse at what it means to be male. Psychologist Caroline Hanstke and Brian Grey explain this role well in their, Jungian based self-help guide “The Inner Family Archetypes.” They suggest that a father’s unique role is in teaching virtues of protection, direction and discipline and they explain that these virtues can be applied in either positive “Loving Father” ways or in negative “Unloving Father” ways.
- The positive, Loving Father helps teach us to draw appropriate boundaries, maintain order, be reliable and to be authentic and stay strong in ourselves.
- The negative, Unloving Father however, applies strengths of protection, direction and discipline in a way that is overly critical, controlling, intimidating, inflexible, shaming, condemning and stifling.
They explain that we all have a father archetype we carry with us and should all work to maintain that energy as positive and to embody the benefits of protectiveness, direction and discipline for their children.
What has YOUR father passed on to you?
Inner Family Archetypes.com: Your Inner Family Archetypes Four Vital Energies - Your Father Archetype
ScienceDaily: Fatherhood Can Help Change a Man's Bad Habits
Photography By D Mesa