Being a better father

While many look to mothers as the key person in raising children, there is increasing evidence that fathers play a role at least equal to that of mothers in how children develop.

Dennis Eisenbarth with Family Services of Central Alberta is heading up a new program there called the Father Involvement Program (FIP). It is designed to increase the positive involvement of fathers with their children, says Eisenbarth.

“Being a father is an awesome responsibility. Fathers contribute something significantly different than mothers do as parents,” she said. “

While mothers are thought to be the natural nurturers in a family, fathers can be equally as nurturing. We want to invest in the quality of life of children; and that means healthier children, and healthier fathers and healthier mothers.

“So much is based on the relationship of the father and mother. One of the biggest barriers to fathers being more involved with their children is the relationship the father has to the mother. Obviously this is more of a problem when separation or divorce is involved, but it even happens in regular marriage relationships.”

Eisenbarth says countless studies show that it is the quality of the relationship between fathers and their children, not the quantity of contact that is key to positive outcomes for children and the whole family. Those studies indicate that children with involved fathers do better in many different ways.

“It’s absolutely amazing the difference an involved father can make in the development of a child,” says Eisenbarth. “Children with uninvolved fathers have higher rates of dropping out of school, involvement in crime and juvenile delinquency, teen pregnancies and divorce. Children with involved fathers do better academically and in many other ways.”

Those positive effects on children also include increased emotional and social competence, less child abuse and neglect, better standards of living and less depression and anxiety.

There are benefits for the father too: better overall health, greater work satisfaction and higher self-esteem and confidence. Fathers with higher confidence and self-esteem tend to be more involved. And there are benefits for mothers too: lower stress, less depression and lower levels of impoverishment.

As well, the quality of a father’s involvement with his child seems to be directly affected by the quality of his relationship with the child’s mother, regardless of whether the parents are married, separated, divorced or never married.

The first FIP program is now underway but interested fathers should contact Eisenbarth at Family Services of Central Alberta at 403-309-5834 for another program starting in February or March.

To take part in this free program fathers need to be in a relationship with a child’s mother and co-parenting a child or children seven and under. There is a couple’s option as well as a ‘fathers only’ group and participants must be willing to commit to the program for a 12-month period. The program is funded by the Norlien Foundation’s Alberta Family Wellness Initiative and supported by the government of Alberta.