I have been following fatherhood research for almost 27 years now. I remember the first time I saw the statistic that 26 million children in America will go to bed tonight without having a father in the house to tuck them in. I sat in silence thinking about the thing that I treasured most about my time with my daughters at home. I could not fathom an evening without the opportunity to walk into the other room, kneel on the floor and visit with those precious little hearts right before the sleepies took over their little minds. We would read a book and pray when they were smaller and the world would seem to come into a proper orbit as we interacted.
I can recite those specific actions easily but I cannot tell you a specific way in which my girls took those actions and brought them into their homes with their own children. The actual time and interaction with each child is specific to the relationship shared. I got to tuck those grandkids in several times through the years but I never got to really witness the intimacy of the time they spent with their own parents. That is as it should be. I can still see the effects.
Armin Brott, known as Mr. Dad from the Chicken Soup series, recently posted a few specific examples of what he called the Dad Effect on babies with involved fathers. I want to share a couple of them because they are, well, specific.
First, for six-month old babies, the more actively involved the father is, the higher the babies’ score on mental and motor development tests. Maybe you didn’t take your six-month old to get their mental and motor development testing done. I didn’t. Thankfully, we can rely on those who wanted to know the answer to the question and were happy to give the specifics that help us know what to do. Dads matter.
Babies whose dads who do a lot of everyday childcare activities such as feeding, changing diapers, giving baths and dressing, handle stressful situations better than babies whose dads aren’t as involved, Brott says. I’ll have to admit that when I was washing out bottles or changing diapers, the first thought in my head wasn’t, “Wow; doing this is going to help my daughter handle stress better in life.” I was thinking about how much work these tasks involved or how tired I was because we missed some sleep last night. We thanked one another for sharing the parenting tasks because co-parenting is much easier than going it alone. But we didn’t realize the specific improvement our child would see in their lives because we were getting the bath water drawn again tonight. Brott thinks we should.
He continues to say that some researchers have linked high levels of father involvement with higher math scores in school and to generally higher-than-age-level scores on verbal intelligence tests. Clearly, he says, kids with involved dads are more likely to go to college. Math and verbal intelligence? Those weren’t even on my mind when I was rocking my girls to sleep in the middle of the night. Math skills are pretty specific. I didn’t know we were working on math while we were playing with the rubber ducky.
These specific outcomes are very detailed but involvement isn’t a very specific word. So let me spell it out. Sitting in the chair while your partner takes care of the children is uninvolved. Getting up to help by taking one of the kids and doing something like reading or playing in the floor is specific. That’s what involvement looks like. Thankfully, it’s also a lot of fun.