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The Role of a Father in the Family: Today & in the Past

Gabrielle Applebury
Father playing with daughter

The role of a father in the family is incredibly important to their child or children's psychological and physical wellbeing. When a child has a healthy relationship with a father figure, they tend to grow up to have higher levels of psychological health, as well as better quality relationships.

Role of a Father in the Family

Father figures can play many roles within the family system. Keep in mind that the term father does not solely apply to biological relationships, nor does it only apply to a husband and wife relationship. Same-sex couples, transgender men who are parents, and single fathers can provide just as meaningful parent-child relationships as do families with a husband and wife. There is no one type of family where the child enjoys the healthiest father-child relationship. Father figures:

  • May not be related at all to the child or children they care for
  • May be a step-parent
  • May have adopted a child or children

Regardless of what the family looks like, the most important factor is the quality of the parent-child relationship.

What Are the Roles of Fathers in Families Today?

Fathers today may be expected to parent and assist with household chores equally with their partners. In a study of married men and women who had just had their first child, results illustrated that a good partnership, as well as an effort to reduce their wife's stress, led to overall decreased aggravation for both partners, even when their baby was fussy. Within the family, fathers can take on multiple roles which may include:

  • Financial contributors
  • Supportive partners
  • Loving parents
  • Stay at home parents
  • Healthy co-parents, even after a breakup or divorce
Father helping his son with schoolwork

Why Having a Father Is Important

A father figure can significantly influence the life and wellbeing of their child. In families where the father figure is present, the father serves as one of the first male role models and male relationships the child will encounter. Children are extremely sensitive and observant beings and internalize relational experiences. These early interactions with their father serve as a blueprint for what a relationship with a man looks like and impacts both the father-son relationship, and the father-daughter relationship. This means that unhealthy relationships with a father figure can significantly impact not only the child's psychological wellbeing, but their unconscious relational choices as they become adults.

  • If a child has a healthy relationship with their father, they tend to have higher levels of self-esteem, confidence, and more stable relationships with men in general.
  • If a child has an unhealthy relationship with their father, they may experience more psychological distress and struggle with forming healthy relationships with men as they become adults.

Keep in mind that it is very difficult to alter the internalized relational blueprint that forms when children are quite young. While it is possible, it often takes high levels of insight, as well as significant psychotherapeutic intervention to shift these deep rooted, and often unconscious mental pathways.

Changing Role of the Modern Day Father

It has only been in the past several decades that the idea of the "involved father" has taken shape. Historically, men's identities were heavily tied to their careers, and that still holds somewhat true today, with about 76% of men reporting that they feel financial pressure to provide for their families. More than ever, men are taking a more active role in parenting, but more than half of Americans still hold the notion that mothers are better caregivers than fathers.

  • As of 2016, 7% of dads report being stay at home fathers and of those 7%, 24% cite their primary reason being to take care of their child or children.
  • 49% of men feel pressure to be an involved father.
  • 49% of adults reported that they felt men face more pressure returning to work after they've welcomed a child into their family.
  • 63% of men feel they don't spend enough time with their children.

There is still the notion that more than half of Americans share that women are better caretakers when it comes to child rearing and only 1% cite that men are better caregivers than women. Even though men are more involved when it comes to parenting, there are certainly still some deep rooted biases that Americans view as true regarding men and women when it comes to parenting in a household with a husband, wife, and child.

Top 10 Responsibilities of a Father

In terms of healthy parenting, responsibilities of the father may include:

  • Modeling healthy relational behavior with the other caregiver (if applicable), and other adults
  • Being kind, nurturing, and genuinely connecting with your child without distractions
  • Expressing love in healthy ways
  • Taking good care of yourself both physically and mentally and modeling appropriate behavior when help is needed
  • Being understanding and forgiving
  • Not imposing or projecting your notions onto your child
  • Giving your child the space to be themselves
  • Offering acceptance and compassion
  • Teaching and modeling healthy communication skills, as well as appropriate conflict resolution skills
  • Setting appropriate boundaries and discipline appropriately (no violence, no spanking, no yelling, no withholding affection, and no prolonged punishment)
Father with children on bus in city

What Is the Role of Father and Mother in a Family?

Keep in mind that a family with a mother and father is not the only type of family where a father figure can be involved in healthy ways. Fathers and mothers nowadays tend to share the responsibility of child rearing. In terms of specific roles, these will vary greatly depending on each unique family's needs. However, in healthy families, ideally both parents are flexible and are able to take on the same roles, while supporting each other as parents and partners.

What Is the Responsibility of Father and Mother?

Depending on the family unit, mothers and fathers may trade off in terms of responsibilities, or come up with their own balanced way of splitting the responsibilities. When it comes to parenting, ideally both the mother and father have healthy relationships with their child or children and are equally involved in child rearing.

Importance of Father

The father figure plays a significant role in affecting the mental and physical health of their child or children. Regardless of how the father figure is connected to the child, the most important aspect of the parent-child relationship is the quality of it, and not whether the child and father are blood relatives.

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The Role of a Father in the Family: Today & in the Past