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June 14, 2012 at 4:49 PMComments: 4 Faves: 0

The Psychology of Fatherhood

By Erin Froehlich More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the Id and Ego Blog Series

As a woman, I must concede that I can no more understand what being a father is to men than a man could understand the unique experience of motherhood. However, I am blessed to have an amazing father in my life.

father and daughterWhen 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.

father and daughterNot 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.

Ifather and daughter 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

expectant fatherIn 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:

  • father and newbornWeight 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

father and childIt’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 father and sonBehavior 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?

www.innerfamilyarchetypes.comHow 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 www.innerfamilyarchetypes.commother. (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 Your Inner Family Archetypes Four Vital Energies - Your Father Archetype

TIME:The Psychology of Fatherhood

SLATE: Stretch Marks for Dads: What fatherhood does to the body and the brain

ScienceDaily: Fatherhood Can Help Change a Man's Bad Habits

ScienceDaily: Fathers' Presence Linked to Enhanced Intellect, Well-Being Among Children

ScienceDaily: Children Who Have An Active Father Figure Have Fewer Psychological And Behavioral Problems

Science Daily: A Father's Love Is One of the Greatest Influences On Personality Development

Photo Credits:

Fabiana Zonca

Jenny Downing

Stephen Poff


Photography By D Mesa

Steve Kay

More from Erin Froehlich Others Are Reading


  • Wonderful blog, Erin - and such a sweet photo :) It sounds like Nick is an incredible dad!

    I have definitely noticed many of the traits mentioned in that graph in myself and people I know. I sometimes forget how lucky I am to have grown up in a completely stable home, with a great dad. (I have pretty much all of the traits of the Loved Girlchild, and my oldest brother is definitely the Loved Boychild)

    That stuff about the nurturing hormones is really interesting. I'm not very scientifically minded, myself, but I do find things like this fascinating!

  • Thanks, Laura!

    I just love that photo of the two of them. Ivy's 3 in that picture. We're playing on a sand dune near my childhood home and he's helping her get the sand out of her shoes and off her socks. He really is an incredible dad. :)

    I was also really impressed by the analysis of the inner family archetypes. The idea is that we all have a bit of all these archetypes in us, so it's not going to be a perfect analysis of every person. They explain that our real world father influences the "inner father" we each have, and our own abilities as adults to draw appropriate boundaries, work toward goals and be confident in ourselves.

    People with good, loving father figures in their lives have a head start there, but while people who weren't fortunate enough to grow up with a loving father figure in their life have a hurdle to overcome, they can heal that wound by changing the voice of their own inner father by checking themselves when the critical nature of their inner father has moved from a helpful, beneficial place to hurtful one.

  • This was a great blog to read. I only had my father with me for eight years of my early child hood but I have such fond memories. My mother says I have his sense of humour and although my step father was not the warm and fuzzy type he did provide well for us and I never felt abanded. I have found that our relationship in my adult years is less father daughter and more aquantice like. This is sometimes hurtful and makes me long for my true father at times. I have been very fortunate to have known many father figures that have replaced that role. There truly is nothing like a father's love, not just a provider.

  • Thanks so much, Silver!

    I completely understand what you mean about childhood vs adult relationships. I made this same comment on one of E.M's blogs ( Which, if you haven't read yet, I recommend reading here! ), but I really feel our childhood relationship and our adult relationship with our parents - the point when your parents begin to recognize your maturity and adulthood and when you begin to recognize you are on about the same level as them- are two very different things. In many ways, I feel like as new found intellectual/maturity equals, we need to get to know each other all over again - which is admittedly pretty weird because technically we've each other for years and years!

    About your relationship with your father - though it can totally be done, it truthfully can be really difficult - especially when the relationship has previously lacked openness and honesty - to make a transition to one that is actually more rich and meaningful.

    Sometimes, I think it just takes one person willing to risk opening up to start that process. It's odd as children when we realize that our parents can no longer punish us and that our lives and decisions are no longer subject to their control, but recognizing that truth - what's the worse that could happen if you told them the whole, un-edited-for-parents truth?

    Great, close friends aren't going to like every choice their friend makes, but then they don't need to.They just need to like and accept that person as a whole and be willing to share the most important parts of their lives. I think that's the same for close parent/child relationships. If you want to become closer, you both need to be willing to talk honestly with each other about the things that matter - and on a regular basis. With no disillusions, because quality relationships of any kind take work and sometimes, despite our own best efforts, they fail because ultimately, the other party isn't willing to match that.

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