In an age when fathers are more hands-on than ever and the number of stay-at-home-dads is increasing, we all know that men's involvement in kids' lives is important, right? Yes, but a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) highlights just how important it is, from baby's first day, and what still needs to improve in our society to help fathers be the best parents they can be. Not just because their involvement benefits the children, but because it's good for the fathers as well.
The report, "Fathers' Role in the Care and Development of Their Children: The Role of Pediatricians," reviewed new studies from the past 10 years that looked at the patterns, causes, and effects of dads' involvement with their kids. Though dads' roles in their children's lives is greater than ever before—the 2008 recession may have resulted in more men embracing the role of SAHD—the report finds that fathers still face cultural and workplace barriers that rely on old stereotypes, and that pediatricians can do more to include dads and encourage their involvement from birth.
Study co-author Michael Yogman, M.D., FAAP told Parents.com, the report found the "benefit for the father is pretty profound" when he establishes an early bond with his child. For the kiddo, the research proves dads contribute different things to their development than moms. According to the AAP, playtime with papa tends to be more stimulating and vigorous, ultimately challenging a child to explore and take so-called "safe risks." (That's what wrestling on the floor is all about!)
Dads also introduce additional vocabulary to kids, according to the report, which is published in the July 2016 Pediatrics. The AAP says a father and child's communication at age 3 actually predicts his or her later language development. Studies further show teens with involved dads are less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, like experimenting with drugs and sex, and are less likely to suffer from depression.
Also, the dads that researchers looked at for this report come from a far more diverse cross-section of the population than in past research, and include single fathers, dads from same-sex couples, dads in military families where the mom is deployed, formerly incarcerated fathers, and fathers from minority groups.
The fact that more companies recognize the need for family leave benefits for dads is another factor resulting in dads' increased involvement, but Dr. Yogman says the U.S. still has a long way to go. "There's still a lot of stigma," he says about paid parental leave for fathers. "The U.S. is the last among developed nations in this regard."
And even if a company offers paternity leave, unfortunately dads often don't take advantage of it because they're worried they'll miss out on the fast track career-wise. Dr. Yogman says "changes are slow but they are happening" and cites Mark Zuckerberg as an example of CEO who took parental leave at the birth of his child.
Because that's where a dad's involvement begins—in the hospital, when a baby is born—Dr. Yogman says hospitals should offer specific bathing and diapering classes for fathers. (Are any moms still letting dads get away with shirking diaper duty?!)
Of course, baths and diaper changes should be just the beginning of daddies rolling up their sleeves and getting involved. "Here is where pediatricians can make a big difference," Dr. Yogman told Parents.com. He says doctors should encourage fathers to attend pediatric visits and avoid directing all questions to the mother, so dads don't "feel like bump on a log at the visit." Involving dads in the discussion helps them feel included.
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At home, moms should encourage their partners to have their own interactions with baby and avoid trying to control what happens during "daddy time." (Something I am definitely guilty of!)
If dad's not in the picture, moms should encourage kids to develop connections with other men like grandfathers. In fact, the AAP defines "father" broadly in their report, as the male or males identified as most involved in caring for the child, regardless of the particular living situation or biological relation.
Finally, researchers also recommend pediatricians recognize the potential for fathers to suffer from postpartum depression and perform screenings if necessary.
The takeaway: Dads are rocking fatherhood and spending more and more time taking care of and playing with their kids than ever before. But companies, pediatricians, and even moms need to offer dads more support. So, moms, encourage "daddy time"—it's beneficial for your man and your little one!
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.