Magazine article Psychology Today

Pop Psychology

Magazine article Psychology Today

Pop Psychology

Article excerpt

AS RECENTLY AS as the 1970s, psychologists parenting experts had a ready answer to uestion of how much fathers contrib, children's development: Not much.

Admittedly, science journalist Paul Raeburn writes ' book, Do Fathers Matter?, researchers at the : data to prove the value of fathers-but ause few had taken the time to look into it. r to look for the father's impact, we find psychiatrist and fatherhood research pioneer Kyle Pruett told Raeburn. Ignoring dads, Pruett says, produced a field of research with "staggering blind spots."

Today we know better. The body of work that psychologists, biologists, sociologists, and neuroscientists have begun to produce on fatherhood is "one of the most important developments in the study of children and families," Raeburn believes, even though many findings have yet to receive wide attention.

As for his own family, Raeburn, a father of five, writes, "I'm glad to know my involvement is a good thing. But that's not why I spend time with my kids. I do it because I like it."

Following are seven discoveries about paternal influence Raeburn shares in his book, covering life from conception through adulthood:


A Battle in the Womb

Harvard University biologist David Haig has detected that some "imprinted" genes-those that can be identified as coming from the male or female parent-compete for resources within the womb. Some paternal genes push the fetus to extract as much nourishment and energy from the mother as possible, even to the detriment of her health, while some maternal genes seek to deliver the fetus only as much as it needs. Haig's explanation is that "maternal genes have a substantial interest in the mother's well-beingand survival," while "paternal genes favor greater allocation of maternal time and effort to their particular child."


The Power of Presence

During a woman's pregnancy, there would appear to be little a father could do to affect the child. A recent University of South Florida study shows that's not the case. Infants whose fathers were absent during pregnancy were more likely to be born prematurely or with lower birth weights than those whose fathers were present. Such babies were also four times more likely to die within their first year. Even in mothers, complications of pregnancy that would seem to have no connection to male involvement, including anemia and high blood pressure, were more common when fathers were absent.


Men Deliver Relief

Old sitcoms showing fathers anxiously pacing in waiting rooms while their wives delivered their children were no exaggeration: From the 1930s, when most U.S. births had moved from the home to the hospital, until the late 1960s, when more men had successfully agitated to gain a place by their wives' bedsides, delivery was a women-and-professionals only affair, to the apparent detriment of everyone involved. As more men took their place in the maternity ward, women reported feeling less pain, and requests for pain medication declined. Mothers were even less likely to cry. What's more, men present for their children's birth report being more attached to their infants and more involved in their care. Lettingdads in, Raeburn writes, "pays off in ways no one anticipated. …

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