Dads are a shrinking presence. Since 1960, the number of children living in single-mother families rose from 8 percent to 23.3 percent. According to the U.S. Census, 34 percent of children live without their fathers.
Scientists have coined the term “father absence” to describe families where a biological, adoptive or stepfather doesn’t reside with his children.
The men may be fully or partially absent from family life. Full-time absence is often the result of death, incarceration or abandonment. Part-time absence includes fathers who live in a different household because of a divorce or separation. It also claims men who were never married to or no longer live with their children’s mother but who continue to have contact with their offspring. Father absence exacts a huge toll on society . In an extensive study entitled “The Costs of Father Absence” and funded by the Fatherhood Initiative, researchers Steven Nock and Christopher Einelf found that the federal government spends at least $99.8 billion providing assistance to father-absent families. That includes such programs as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, child support enforcement, food and nutrition programs, housing programs and the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan.
Why the hefty price tag? Consider these statistics: Forty-four percent of single-mother families live in poverty compared with only 8.8 percent of father-present families. The median household income of married couples with children is $65,906. For single mothers, it’s $27,244. Public intervention is rightfully used to ensure children are fed and clothed.
But that’s only part of the story. Children without fathers get lower grades, have more emotional and behavioral problems, have generally poorer health, and are more likely to use drugs, smoke cigarettes and become delinquent than their classmates with a dad at home. Teenage girls have higher pregnancy rates; teenage boys are more apt to father a child.
As boys and girls in father-absent households mature, they’re at greater risk for dropping out of school, earning less money throughout their careers, having a child out of wedlock and getting divorced. They’re more likely to go to jail and less likely to care for their family members when they become elderly.
Of course, fatherlessness has many faces. For some, it’s a temporary arrangement; for others it’s a way of life. Many nonresidential dads are hands-on, while one-third have no contact at all with their offspring.
An additional 31 percent have contact less than once per month. The key lies in keeping men connected to their kids, a goal that benefits all.
TIPS FOR BUILDING FATHER-CHILDREN RELATIONSHIPS
Learn what your kids like. Ask about their favorite actress, color, or super hero. Discuss the most memorable birthday ever. You’ll discover what makes them tick and get ideas for future outings or events.
Be involved in your children’s education. Talk about school. Help with homework. Watch your daughter dance in the elementary school talent show. You’ll demonstrate your commitment to their schoolwork, a key factor to their ultimate success.
Share quality time. Take your daughter on a date. Go fishing with your son. Make every hour say, “I love you. You mean the world to me.”
Keep your promises. Call them when you say you’ll call. Take them to the ballgame if you tell them you will. Your reliability helps them feel secure and in control of their world.
Work on projects together. Projects are perfect for father-child interaction. You’ll share a common goal and have plenty to talk about and share. Keep projects simple, especially if your kids are young or you’re not overly handy. The goal isn’t a masterpiece but to have a great experience with your kids.
Respect their mother. The kids have a right to love both their parents, regardless of what’s happened in your relational past.
Be a good role model. You’re teaching children how to be a human and man. Make sure your actions reinforce your words. Even if your life has been less than stellar, you can be an example of how to change things. Your constructive efforts speak a language all their own.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit http://lindalewisgriffith.com.