Marcia Segelstein has covered family issues for over 20 years as a producer for CBS News and as a columnist. She has written for FoxNews.com, “First Things,” “World Magazine,” and “Touchstone.” She is a Senior Editor for “SALVO” magazine.
We live in a time when single motherhood is often lauded as some kind of feminist affirmation. For the movement whose catchphrase was “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” it’s not a stretch to discount the need for men in general, including for children. Consider that the organization Single Mothers by Choice has counted 30,000 members since its start in 1981.
We also live in a time when divorce is thought of as no-big-deal for the kids — who often end up living without their fathers — as long as it’s a “good divorce.”
And we live in a time when “Heather Has Two Mommies” is just another way of life for children living with lesbian partners.
Social science, however, says that fathers matter.
In my last blog I wrote about the American College of Pediatricians and their science-based policy recommendations which stand in stark contrast to the politically correct pronouncements of so many other medical organizations.
The “Fatherhood” section of the ACPeds website spells out why fathers matter, including links to the scientific evidence behind what many would consider to be simple common sense assertions. Here are some of the headlines:
- Children with more involved fathers experience fewer behavioral problems and score higher on reading achievement.
- Children living in homes without fathers are almost four times more likely to be living in poverty.
- Being raised by a single mother increases the risk of teen pregnancy.
- Father involvement in schools is associated with higher academic achievement.
- There is significantly more drug use among children not living with both their mother and father.
On top of all that, fathers and mothers are different. They interact differently with their children, and those differences are good for children. Or as the ACPeds website puts it: “Children benefit from the unique parenting contributions of both men and women.” Here are some examples they cite:
Fathers’ play with children emphasizes spontaneity and limits simultaneously. They are more likely to allow children to explore and take risks by supervising rather than intervening in children’s play. Fathers are more likely to encourage children’s exploration of novelty. Fathers help children develop their independence from the family by giving adolescents a sense that the child can be relied on.
Fathers matter in the lives of their children. And, of course, children matter to fathers! I recently spoke with Dr. Carl Pfanstiel, a pediatrician on the Board of Directors of the American College of Pediatricians, on the subject of fatherhood. He and his wife have six children and 21 grandchildren. And despite the fact that he’s been in practice for 47 years and sees babies and children every day of his working life, he told me he still tears up when he thinks about the birth of his first child. Becoming a father was a life-changing experience for him, as it no doubt is for many men. “In my case,” he told me, “next to my wife and knowing the Lord, it’s been the greatest thing that’s happened to me – being a father and now being a grandfather.”
It’s no surprise that over the years Dr. Pfanstiel has seen a growing number of his young patients without fathers in their lives. The National Fatherhood Initiative [http://www.fatherhood.org/fatherhood-data-statistics] cites statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau which reports that 24 million children in America – that’s one out of three – live without their biological father in the home. We need societal shifts in how we think about non-marital sex, unwed motherhood, divorce and gay marriage. But until then, Dr. Pfanstiel has a suggestion for men: “Look around you for young people who don’t have a father or a father figure in their lives. Reach out to them. Scripture talks about taking care of the fatherless, the widows and orphans, and I think we in the Church haven’t done that properly. So reach out to them. Let them know they’re important.”
Because fathers matter.