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Feature Article


Father with young sonThe impact of fathers

Nina Chen, Ph.D., Human Development Specialist, Jackson County, University of Missouri Extension


A study conducted by Michael Lamb of the University of Michigan found that children had similar reactions to separation from each parent. For instance, when their father left, the children would cry or complain just like when their mother left. Other research results indicate that children seven months to two years are attached to both mothers and fathers. These findings reconfirm that fathers play an important role in helping their children grow.

Fathers are significant for both boys and girls. Research findings consistently reveal that warm and affectionate fathers not only help their children develop positive self-esteem, but also influence the development of their children’s gender role behavior. For instance, boys can learn from their fathers about growing up as a male, male interests, activities and social behavior. Girls can learn from their fathers to develop a trusting comfortable relationship with men. Loving fathers have a positive influence on achievement in boys and personal adjustment in girls. Loving fathers who provide limit setting, moral reasoning, and reasonable and firm guidance without imposing their will can help promote their children’s competence.


Research on father-child involvement also shows that fathers are significant for children and sensitive to children. The way fathers play with children is different from the way mothers play and it’s beneficial for children to experience both types of play.

Alternately, there are some negative impacts on children when they experience loss of or infrequent contact with a parent (usually the father) following parental separation or divorce. Research finds that the majority of children in this situation miss their fathers very much. Young children usually grieve the absent father as if he had died. The permanent separation or father’s absence may lead to prolonged grief. In addition, father absence can have a negative effect on both boys’ and girls’ social behavior. Research findings show that children who experienced father absence were likely to have behavior problems and didn’t do well in school, particularly in math and science.

Nonresidential fathers can maintain positive, close relationships with their children, but it takes some effort. If you have not been involved much in your child’s life, start now to spend quality time with your child. For a divorced and non-residential father, it is very important to keep regular contact and spend quality time with children. Mothers also need to provide support and encouragement to help build the bond between a child and a father.

If you only see your children on weekends, try to take advantage of the valuable time you have with them. Taking a walk, working on the yard and household chores together, running errands, talking and sharing can help your children learn a lot from you. This can be the best time for your children because most children would like to hang around with their fathers and this can be a good memory for them when they grow up. Some fathers spend more quality time and develop a closer relationship with their children after separation or divorce. Divorced and never-married fathers can still play an important role to help their children grow as long as they have regular contact, provide warmth and consistent rules and routines, and act as a positive role model.

Although fathers play an important role in children’s lives, children can still be healthy and well-adjusted if there is not a father in their lives. Research has consistently shown that children with gay and lesbian parents do as well as children with heterosexual parents. This suggests that the parent’s gender is not as important as the quality of parenting. Children who live with a single mother and have no contact with their fathers also do well when they receive quality parenting and educational support, and have adequate financial resources. For children who do not have contact with their fathers, support from other male adults such as an uncle, grandfather or family friend can provide a positive male role model. After-school programs, boys and girls clubs, and youth programs can be good sources of support for your children. Reading books about males who are kind and nurturing can also help.



Acock, A. C., & Demo, D. H. (1994). Family Diversity and Well-Being. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Arbuthnot, J. & Gordon, D. (1996). What about the children: A guide for divorced and divorcing parents. The Center for Divorced Education.

Lamb, M. (1981). The role of the father in child development. New York: John Wiley.

Patterson, C. J. (2002). Lesbian and gay parenthood. In M. H. Bornstein (Ed.), Handbook of Parenting: Vol. 3, pp. 317-338. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.


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Last Updated 06/16/2015