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The Father Factor:
Fatherhood Matters

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Dads And Depression: Are You Passing Your Symptoms To Your Children?

I can admit to the Father Factor readers that I’ve struggled with depression over the years, with therapy and group sessions aiding me through the rough patches. Various things happened over the course of my life that led to my diagnosis, but I tried hard to mask the pain. This is a dangerous practice done by lots of people, especially men. This could prove to be even more troubling if you happen to be a father.

There is a disturbing lack of research showing what being a depressed father does to children in the home– until recently. A study undertaken by NYU researchers found that one out of every four children who are raised in a home with depressed parents soon develop mental health issues of their own. This nationwide study captured data from 7,247 US households where the parents and children all lived. Of that number, 6% of the fathers showed results that suggested they were depressed.

Further numbers in the research paper show other alarming stats: 15% of children with a depressed father showed symptoms; 20% of children with a depressed mother showed symptoms and, lastly, 25% of children living with two depressed parents showed symptoms. Factors influencing the depressive symptoms in parents included poverty, joblessness, and having a child with special health care needs.

Amazingly, this is the first large study done on male depression as it relates to fatherhood although there is plenty research on maternal and postpartum/postnatal depression. One could suggest that men are typically insular with their emotions and cope silently. Another point could be that many men don’t even know where to go for resources. When was the last time you saw a men’s mental health care center in your neighborhood? Do you know of any outreach groups doing work on a large scale?

I can tell you from my own experience that finding help for my depression was an epic task. I called therapists and counselors who all had many female clients but barely any male patients. Finding groups to talk about my issues also proved difficult, as I scoured the Internet and newspaper classifieds for assistance. Eventually, I did find some help.

It was important for me to move beyond my depression as a father. I know that my child watches every move, so it became necessary for me to make sure she doesn’t repeat my mistakes. If we want to make certain as fathers and parents to not pass on bad physical health habits, we have to start including our mental health in that equation as well.

Are you, or a father you know, suffering with depression? Do you think fathers pass on bad mental health habits to their children? Leave us a comment below or tweet to us at: @thefatherfactor. You can also like and comment on our Facebook page by following this link.

Men at Work: Time and Turf Wait for No One

Husbands across the country can celebrate – Time magazine has printed (on its cover no less!) that married men and women do the same amount of work each day! (Chore Wars, 8/8/11)

This assertion is based on new U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data that shows that when you combine paid (your job) and unpaid (child care and housework) work, married moms work only about 20 minutes more per day than married dads do, the smallest difference ever reported (in childless couples, men actually work - paid and unpaid - 8 minutes more per day than women!).

While it has become popular for women to air their grievances about their lazy husbands and for the culture to permit them to do so, I think this data is not surprising to most people (is it?).

As the article points out, when mom comes home and starts her “second shift” of caring for the children, it is because dad is still at work… working.

In other words, just because dad’s “first shift” is longer than mom’s does not mean she is working more. She is working “differently” and, as most people also understand, she is often doing so by choice. As the writer of the story -- a working mom -- points out, she is exhausted by all the work she has to do because she decides to go home earlier than her husband does, and thus is the one who faces the children and messy house first.

But despite this, married dads are putting in 53 minutes per day of child care – three times more than they did in 1965 – while moms put in 70 minutes per day (about the same as they did in 1965).

But enough with the data. What is really going on here? Why do moms still feel overwhelmed?

A few of us at NFI have long asserted that the reason moms feel overwhelmed is that they have a powerful desire to be the lead organizer/scheduler/chauffeur/referee/cook/etc in the home, regardless of how much they work, and they often do so at the expense of dad’s involvement. Sharon Meers, in her book Getting to 50/50, writes extensively about this.

So, while dads have had to make room in the workplace for moms, moms have not been expected to (nor have they often been willing to) make room for dad in the home to the same extent. Clearly, out of necessity, working moms have had to allow dads to get more involved, but the fact that women still feel overwhelmed is a testament to the idea that they sometimes can’t let go of their traditional “dominion” over all things domestic.

So, really, the debate is no longer about time, but about “turf” -- and moms want to retain their “home turf” advantage.

This leaves dads in a “transitional” space in which they are expected to do a little more at home (but not too much!), and still be full partners at work. Thus, we have dads feeling even more work-family conflict than moms do! (see the Time article)

So, while it is helpful to have data that shows that dads are not slackers, we still have a problem to solve: how can we help moms feel more comfortable ceding some of their home turf to dads?

Fatherhood is Like Real Estate

A new study has found that one in five American moms have kids with more than one birth father. This is disheartening news for a number of reasons, but the analysis provided by the MSNBC story in which I read about the study ignores the most important reason.

Why Should Dad Care?

A recently released study by The Ohio State University suggests that in families with young children, the parents were more likely to have a stronger and more supportive co-parenting relationship if the dad was more involved in play activities than in caregiving activities with the child. On the flip side, if the dad spent more time in caregiving activities (i.e. preparing meals, bathing the child, etc.), the parents were more likely to be less supportive and more undermining towards each other.

Given that today’s dads have taken on significantly more responsibility in the home and family than previous generations of fathers, this is an interesting and, at first glance, a potentially concerning finding.

This increased likelihood of tension between parents when dad helps out with the kids might be due to the mom’s response to the father. The study noted that, “fathers’ increased involvement in caregiving might also arouse negative maternal gatekeeping behaviors (a particular type of undermining behavior) as mothers consciously or unconsciously try to protect their authority over parenting.”

NFI recently conducted a survey called Mama Says of 1,533 moms (a sample more than 10 times the size of the OSU study) on their attitudes about fathering. A couple findings from that survey are relevant here:
  • 84% of moms recognize that mothers and fathers parent in different ways.
  • 93% of moms think mothers are more nurturing than fathers
  • 66% of moms think they’d be able to balance work and family better if they had more support from the father.
The bottom line is that moms and dads are wired to interact with their kids in different ways. But different doesn’t always mean wrong. Different can actually be helpful, if both parties can recognize that.

Kids need both their parents to be involved in all aspects of their lives. How mom and dad divide parenting responsibilities will vary from family to family, but if both parents can be mutually supportive of each other, everyone wins – especially the kids.

Where are the "Tiger Fathers"?

Many of you have probably heard about (or participated in!) the firestorm around the new book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. It is a memoir by author Amy Chua of what she calls the "Chinese way" she is raising her two, now teenage, daughters. Chua came to national attention when The Wall Street Journal published an excerpt from the book earlier this month called "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior." I can't imagine why that title would spark controversy...

Either way, I just read the Time magazine cover story about her book here, and something interesting emerged. You would think that Chua's own mother inspired her Chinese mothering. But all of the examples she cites of how she learned to parent the "Chinese way" come from her father. She remembers her father as her inspiration. Yet, it does not seem that she is suggesting that today's fathers (or her own husband) have anything to do with the parenting approach she has adopted. It seems she has assumed that it is the mother's role to engage in "Chinese parenting."

I wonder why.

Maybe it is because real life Chinese fathers are not expected to be involved in the day-to-day care of their children? Maybe she also assumes that American fathers are even less likely than American mothers to adopt her approach? I would like to do more research to see what she thinks the father's role should be -- her own husband, a non-Chinese American, was the softer parent in their household.

Would she say that there is a fatherhood equivalent to the Chinese mother? She did not expect her husband to be that way even though her father was that way.

As I read the Time article, it did not answer my questions about Chinese mothering. It raised new questions about what Chua would have today's American fathers do.

Are you a "Chinese father"? What do you think of Chua's parenting techniques?

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