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The Father Factor

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Are you a New Dad? Tell Us Your Thoughts Today!

We're excited to partner with the fine folks over at What To Expect, the experts on all things mom and pregnancy. We are conducting a survey about pregnancy and baby's first year. We've heard from the moms, now we want to hear from the dads!

WTENFISurveyIf you're a new dad or dad-to-be, please take a moment to respond to a few questions. All of the opinions will be revealed soon in brand new infographic in partnership with the wonderful folks over at What to Expect. Don't worry, dads, we won't use names or faces for with your honest answers!

Questions on the survey range from number of children to asking about thoughts to questions like—well—we can't say too much or we'll mess up the survey. Just go take it, please! 

Father Facts are Pesky Things

We get a lot of inquiries here at NFI about “trends in fatherhood.” One of the most common “trends” people want to know about is the rising number of single fathers in the country. I hear this inquiry so often that I started to believe it was true, until I actually looked at the data.  

According to the US Census Bureau, 4.2 percent of children lived in “father only” homes in 2000. In 2012, that number dropped, yes dropped, to 3.96 percent. Not a huge drop, but a drop nonetheless.  

To put these numbers in even broader context, the percent of children who live with neither parent stands at 3.6 percent, virtually the same as those living with single dads. It’s interesting that I have never received an inquiry about the “huge” numbers of children living without their parents.  

As most people can probably guess, the number of single-mother homes still dwarfs the number of single-father homes—24.3 percent of children live in mother-only homes. The percent in 2000 was 22.4 percent. Yes, it is single-mother homes that have become more common in the last decade, not single-father homes.

Why am I pointing this out? Because it is critical that discussions about the family are based on facts, not impressions. We don’t have to guess about most of this stuff; we have good, free, abundant data at our fingertips.  

We often see the same thing happen when people are thinking about the impact of father absence. Does it make a difference? How can we really know for sure? Based on at least 30 years of research, father absence does make a difference. Take a look at this small sample of very persuasive data to get an idea of the great scholarship available on this topic.  

Moreover, it can indeed be dangerous if the media (or whoever) is creating news by manufacturing impressions that are not based on facts. Even I, someone who works in this field, was under the (false) impression that there has been a rise in single fatherhood. I mean, everyone is writing about it, right?! The fact that the real story is actually the opposite—that more children are living in single-mother homes, which are of course father-absent homes—is critical. We (NFI, our culture, you and I!) need to be focused on reducing father absence, not weaving fantastical tales about single dads.  

So, the next time I get a call asking me about the rise in single fatherhood, I'm going to burst someone’s bubble and tell him he should write about the rise in single motherhood (read: father absence) instead. I would then be happy to give him more facts, if he doesn't hang up on me. 

6 Tips and More on Talking with Your Teen about Sex

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Read our guest blog guidelines.

As the father of two teen girls (18 and 15), I’ve been focused on doing everything I can to ensure that they avoid sex until they’re adults and, ideally, until they’re married. My primary tactic is, quite simply, to be involved in their lives as much as possible and to love them unconditionally.

dad and teen boy talking

The reason I employ that tactic is not only because I believe in it, I know it’s critical based on research. We’ve known for decades that children who grow up without their fathers are, on average, more likely to become teen parents than are children who grow up with their two, biological, married parents.

A lot of recent research has focused on teens, primarily girls, who have sex with individuals several years older because, as this research shows, children who have sex with much older partners are at increased risk for risky sexual behavior (e.g. having unprotected sex) and poorer emotional health.

A recent report by Child Trends on the latest data on sexual activity among teens confirms these facts and reveals that this is not just an issue for girls, it’s also an issue for boys.

Among young people ages 18 to 24 in 2006-10, ten percent of females and six percent of males reported that their first sexual experience occurred at age 15 or younger with an individual who was three or more years older than they were (“statutory rape”). In terms of the impact of family structure:

  • Male and female youth who were in a family with two biological or adoptive parents at age 14 were less likely than their peers in other family types to report their first sexual encounter was a “statutory rape.”
  • Among young males, four percent of those who lived with two biological or adoptive parents at age 14 reported a “statutory rape” as their first sexual experience, compared with nine percent of males who lived in a step-family, 11 percent of males with a single mother or father, and 13 percent of males in other family structures.
  • The pattern among females is similar, with those who were not living with two biological or adoptive parents at age 14 around three times more likely to have experience a “statutory rape” as their first sexual experience.

Whether you have a teen boy or a teen girl, it’s critical, especially if you are a single parent, to talk with your teen about avoiding sexual activity. There are too many land mines waiting for teens who have sex, especially with partners who are much older.

The good news is that parents have a lot of influence over their teens’ sexual behavior. In fact the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy notes that parents are the most influential factor in teens’ decisions about sex, love, and relationships.

So don’t allow your perception that your teen doesn’t listen to sway your decision about talking with him or her about sex. Another tactic I’ve used is to send a clear message to my girls, since they were very young, that I expect them to delay sex until they’re adults and, ideally, until they’re married. They’ve actually told me they’re glad to know what I expect. 

The Mayo Clinic offers these 6 tips on how to talk with your teen about sex:

      1. Seize the moment. When a TV program or music video raises issues about responsible sexual behavior, use it as a springboard for discussion. Remember that everyday moments—such as riding in the car or putting away groceries—sometimes offer the best opportunities to talk.
      2. Be honest. If you're uncomfortable, say so—but explain that it's important to keep talking. If you don't know how to answer your teen's questions, offer to find the answers or look them up together.
      3. Be direct. Clearly state your feelings about specific issues, such as oral sex and intercourse. Present the risks objectively, including emotional pain, sexually transmitted infections, and unplanned pregnancy. Explain that oral sex isn't a risk-free alternative to intercourse.
      4. Consider your teen's point of view. Don't lecture your teen or rely on scare tactics to discourage sexual activity. Instead, listen carefully. Understand your teen's pressures, challenges, and concerns.
      5. Move beyond the facts. Your teen needs accurate information about sex—but it's just as important to talk about feelings, attitudes, and values. Examine questions of ethics and responsibility in the context of your personal or religious beliefs.
      6. Invite more discussion. Let your teen know that it's okay to talk with you about sex whenever he or she has questions or concerns. Reward questions by saying, "I'm glad you came to me."
image: iStockPhoto

Why Cohabitation is Like “Rent to Own”

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Read our guest blog guidelines.

Cohabitation has risen rapidly in the past 40-50 years. In 1965, only 11 percent of couples lived together without being married. By 2010, that proportion had vaulted to 60 percent. Cohabitation is now the pathway of choice to marriage with about 2/3 of women reporting that they lived with their partners first before marrying them. Moreover, more than half of cohabitating couples get married within three years. For those of you who hope for a return to the time when even a majority of couples married first and then moved in together, I’m sorry to say that ship has sailed and sunk.  

just married just rented

There are a myriad reasons couples choose to live together before marrying, or simply instead of marrying at all. For those couples considering marriage, one of the primary reasons is that they want to “test the water.” A term that has come into vogue among scholars who study cohabitation is “sliding before deciding.” (I prefer “rent to own,” but more on that later.) If it doesn’t work out, these couples reason, no harm, no foul.  

But what happens after these couples move in together? Are they more likely to like the water and jump in with both feet? A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that a good chunk of them are. According to the CDC, 40 percent of cohabiting couples between 2006 and 2010 decided to tie the knot with another 32 percent deciding to stay together ostensibly with the potential for marriage. (The rest of the couples split up.)

While sliding before deciding accurately describes the process that leads to a decision to marry among cohabiters, I prefer “rent to own” because it also considers the possible outcomes—marriage, staying together, or splitting up—and the impact of each one. When a couple decides to marry, it’s a decision to own—the couple “buys” marriage. When a couple decides to stay together, it’s a decision to extend the rental agreement. When a couple decides to split up, it’s a decision to either discard the rental or exchange it for another one.

Another reason I like this rather crass analogy is that it facilitates moving beyond the decision to compare the first two outcomes. What happens after someone decides to own (marry) or continue the rental agreement (cohabit)? This is where it gets interesting and illuminating.  

The most common way in which scholars have looked at the impact of these outcomes is whether cohabitation is more likely to lead to divorce than when couples don’t live together before marriage. While the impact on divorce is a very important discussion, what’s gained less attention is the impact of rent-to-own decisions on the quality of relationships between cohabiting and married couples. Especially in today’s society where marriage seems to be more about the couple’s satisfaction than any other factor (e.g. raising healthy children), it’s critical to examine the impact of these outcomes on how couples see the quality of their relationships which, after all, has a lot to say about whether couples ultimately stay together.  

Married couples consistently report that they are happier/more satisfied with their relationships than are cohabiting couples. Moreover, the proportion of cohabiting couples who are satisfied with their relationships has declined over time even as their numbers have increased. Not so for married couples whose satisfaction level has remained stable. This outcome doesn’t bode well for the couples who renew their rental agreements.  

What leads to these different levels of satisfaction? Scholars didn’t really know until a recent study by some smart folks at Texas Tech University shed some light. These scholars focused on the impact that “disillusionment” has on relationships. Disillusionment theory (yes, it’s a theory) suggests that when people date, they engage in a dance to impress each other. (Think of the male peacock and his plume.) Once married, they aren’t as motivated to impress each other. The idealized images they held of each other while they dated start to fade as does attraction, romance, affection, etc. Disillusionment leads to divorce in some couples. Think of disillusionment as depreciation. Just as something you own depreciates in value over time, so too can your view of your partner and the relationship in general.  

Until this study, scholars had only looked at the effects of disillusionment among married couples. The smart folks at Tech looked at it for the first time among cohabiting couples, compared their levels of disillusionment to those found in married couples, and examined its impact on perceived break-up (i.e. divorce among married couples and splitting up among cohabiting couples). They found that cohabiting couples were more disillusioned than married couples. Furthermore, disillusionment was a greater predictor of perceived break-up among cohabiting couples than it was among married couples.  

While the perception of a break-up doesn’t necessarily mean that a couple will break up, disillusionment helps explain why married couples are, quite simply, more satisfied with their relationships than cohabiting couples. When a couple rents to own and renews their rental agreements, the partners’ view of each other and the relationship depreciates to a greater degree than does a married couple’s. It’s likely that once married, the commitment partners have to each other and their relationship has a protective effect on depreciation. Married partners have a higher ownership stake and place a higher value on each other and their relationship.  

iStockPhoto

Are More Moms Opting In or Opting Out?

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President and Vincent DiCaro, Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Read our guest blog guidelines.

Whenever we think our culture has come a long way in the last 15 years on this issue, we see an article that reminds us that a lot of work remains to be done.  

girl in mom shoes are more women opting in or out nfi fatherhoodAn article published this month on "The Daily Beast" website (a Newsweek property) has caused a lot of furor. The article, called "No Dad? No Problem. Meet the Moms Who Opt In Forever—and Aren’t Complaining," exemplifies an attitude that is growing in popularity in certain cultural circles; that kids do just fine without dads. To point, other than the mention of the word "dad" in the article's title, the remainder of the article has nothing to say about fathers or fatherhood.

So, despite the mountains of evidence that, on average, these children are at risk across every measure of child well-being, the article ignores the data and instead ends with a quote from one mom, whose own words prove that this is not about the well-being of children, but about "personal fulfillment" for adults: "I get to raise my child however I want. There’s no stress, no tension about child-rearing choices. Now I’m happy all the time. There’s not the emotional up and down. There’s never going to be custody disputes. She’ll never be taken away from me. I’ll never have that worry. It’s not as hard as people imagine."    

The article contends that more moms are opting in to a life filled with the demands of work and parenting and doing it all on their own. These moms, dubbed SMCs (single mothers by choice), like the idea of having complete control over their lives including the raising of their children. A life that is free from the trials and tribulations created by men and marriage. There’s even a group called Single Mothers by Choice that SMCs can join and through which they can connect with other SMCs for mutual support. The group even helps SMCs form virtual and local support networks. The philosophy of the group is as follows:  

“The word “choice” in our title has two implications: we have made a serious and thoughtful decision to take on the responsibility of raising a child by ourselves, and we have chosen not to bring a child into a relationship that is not a satisfactory one.”  

We question how thoughtful that decision really is. (It’s certainly a serious one, but not for the reasons these moms might think.) They’re certainly not thinking about the increased risk their children face growing up without a dad. Indeed, in an article chocked full of quotes from SMCs, not a single one mentions anything about the children. They focus instead on how these mothers benefit from being SMCs. Thoughtful, it seems, means “thinking only about me.”  

We also question the second implication of their choice and its validity. By definition, these mothers have chosen to bring a child into the world in the absence of a relationship, not in the presence of an unsatisfactory one. That part of their philosophy is simply a way to make themselves feel better about their choice—a convenient, and untruthful, excuse. The fact is they don’t want to mess with men and marriage and are willing to position their choice against an implication that doesn’t exist for them.  

Finally, we question the sanity of that choice—bringing more fatherless children into the world. A country with 24 million fatherless children (1 in 3) and a world with millions more. A country in which it costs taxpayers at least 100 billion annuallyto pay for the consequences of father absence. So while these moms are opting in to a life as a SMC, they’re opting out of giving their children the love of an involved, responsible, committed father.

Question: How do you think a child should be raised?

image: iStockPhoto

A Must-Watch Video on Texting and Driving

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Read our guest blog guidelines.

I’ve often wondered why my kids rarely call their friends and answer their phones when I call. But when I text them, their responses are almost instantaneous.  

Can't view the video? Watch it here.

Texting has revolutionized the way our children communicate with one another and, for many of us parents, the way that we and our children communicate. Most revolutions, however, create unintended consequences. Such is the case with this one. The challenge for today’s teens (and adults) is that texting has become such a ubiquitous form of communication that one could argue it’s a form of addiction. (I often joke with my oldest daughter that given how often she texts she might as well graft her phone to her forearm.) If you don’t agree, try taking your child’s phone away for a week or even a few days and see how your child reacts.  

To put the dangers of texting and driving in perspective, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reports that texting and driving is six times more dangerous than driving drunk. As the father of two teenage drivers, I am as concerned about them texting and driving as I am about them driving drunk (or getting into a car with someone who texts and drives or who drives drunk). This video is the most remarkable video you’ll ever see on texting and driving. It focuses not only on the devastating impact on victims caused by car accidents when someone texts and drives, it also focuses on the devastating impact of the people who cause the devastation.  

Please share this post and video because doing so might save a life. If your children drive or are near driving age, make them watch it.  

For more information on the national campaign to reduce texting and driving, visit It Can Wait.

Do you set a good example by not texting and driving?

Why Marriage is (Still) a Vital Pathway to Independence

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Email here.

I’m sure you’ve heard that more young adults—the Millenials—are living with their parents. It’s been all over the news in recent years in large part because of the recent economic recession. But as with most things, you have to look beyond the sound bites in the media to see the forest for the trees.  

pew research young adult marriage

Let’s start with the data. According to a recent Pew Research Center report, a record 36% of Millenials (ages 18-31) lived with their parents in 2012. This proportion is even greater than the 34% who lived with their parents when the economic recession officially ended in 2009. To be fair to these young adults and their parents, as many as half might be college students because the census data used for this analysis considers children living in dormitories as living with their parents.  

Nevertheless, the fact that a record number of Millenials live with their parents is a cause for concern. Parents must shoulder the financial load for their children for a longer period of time than parents of previous generations. This lengthens financial burden and negatively affects parents’ ability to save for their own retirement. That effect is particularly troubling given a recent study on Americans’ difficulty in saving adequately for their retirement. That difficulty, as we all know, places a burden on other sources of financial support in retirement provided by us all (i.e. Social Security). And this increased financial burden creates an increased emotional burden as parents worry about their own and these young adults’ futures, not to mention the tension that naturally exists between adults parenting other adults who live in the same home.  

What’s driving this trend? If you only listen to the media, you might have said it’s the economy. That’s only part of the picture. There are three driving factors: declining employment, rising college enrollment, and declining marriage. Specifically, Millenials who are either unemployed, enrolled in college, or unmarried are more likely to live with their parents. (I surmise that the more of these factors that describe a young adult, the more likely he or she is to live at home.) 

The starkest difference within each of these categories is between married and unmarried Millenials—47% of unmarried Millenials live with their parents compared to only 3% of married Millenials. To put that difference in perspective, let’s say you were to walk into a room of 100 unmarried Millenials with the intention of interviewing one of them about their thoughts on this trend. You’d have a 50-50 shot at randomly picking one who lives at home. Try that in a room of 100 married Millenials and it might take you a very long time to find someone.  

To turn a phrase, “It’s marriage (not the economy)—stupid.” While the other two factors should concern us, it is the long-term trend in the decline of marriage that is creating a sea change. Employment is cyclical. The economy is improving. Increased college enrollment—while down among men (another cause for concern)—is good in the long run. (And remember that as many as half of these children are actually living away from home for most of the year.) Parents should consider supporting their college-enrolled children as an investment in their own and their children’s futures. College graduates are more likely to have higher salaries and earn more in their lifetime. They are also more “marriageable.”    

The lesson here is that marriage continues to be a critical path to independence. Think of it as one leg in a three-legged stool of independence. That stool is very wobbly because the importance of marriage in our society is being whittled down to a nub. (Cohabitation, which the Pew report notes is rapidly on the rise, is not substitution for marriage.) Parents tend to focus on the education and employment legs, and rightly so. What parents often neglect, however, is to send a clear message about the importance of marriage—not only its importance as the ideal situation in which to raise children, but how vital it is to parents’ and their children’s eventual independence from one another.   

What action should parents take? Send a clear, frequent message to their children that marriage is just as critical for independence as a college education and gainful employment.

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6 Tips to Avoid Labeling Your Child

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Email here.

Have you ever been in a store and watched a parent berate his or her child and thought, “Wow! What a jerk! What a horrible parent!”? Has your child recently left his or her clothes strewn around the house, regardless of the number of times you’ve told him or her not to, and thought, “What a lazy kid!”? Perhaps you even yelled at your child saying, “You’re such a lazy, ungrateful child!”  

 
label avoid labeling child

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto

What’s the problem with these thoughts? If you answered “labeling,” you can pass “Go” and collect $200. I often hear parents label their children, other parents, and even other children based on what they perceive to be innate characteristics, even when they don’t know who they just called a jerk or lazy.

These labels discount the impact of the situation—the environment—at the time they observe the behavior. And I’m not talking only about negative labels. Some parents use positive labels (e.g. “smart” or “the best [at something or in general])” with such frequency that they ignore or gloss over the behavior of their children that doesn’t support the labels. Their children can do no wrong.  

Why do parents label? One reason is fundamental attribution error, a form of bias that negatively affects our decision-making, including around parenting. (I’ve written two recent posts on how two other biases--optimism bias and confirmation bias--influence our decision-making.)

Consider that the parent who berated his or her child in the store might have had a really bad day or week and the parent just lost it for a moment. It doesn’t excuse the parent’s behavior, but it offers an explanation and allows for seeing the parent as he or she probably is—a loving, nurturing parent. If your child often leaves his or her clothes strewn about the house, I’ll bet that he or she is industrious in many ways, certainly not a lazy child.  

Another reason parents label is to feel better about themselves. Labeling has a very powerful effect on parents’ own sense of self-worth. These parents often see their children as “Mini-Me’s.” Their children’s behavior reflects who these parents are as parents and people. Parents who feel poorly about themselves give their psyches a boost by labeling others.

When parents use negative labels, they deny their own shortcomings as parents because, let’s face it, we’ve all said things to our children that we regret and would rather not admit we said them. When parents constantly coddle their children through the use of positive labels, it’s simply the other side of the same coin. One reason labeling is so difficult to overcome for some parents is that it is deeply rooted in propping up their fragile psyches. (It’s likely that their own parents constantly berated or coddled them.)  

Labeling a child is incredibly destructive because of its impact on the child’s self-worth. Imagine, for a moment, a child who constantly hears that she or he is lazy, dumb, or ungrateful. Imagine a child who constantly hears that she or he can do no wrong—they’re the star performer with no flaws.

  • How do those labels affect her or his sense of self-worth?
  • How do they shape the child’s interactions with parents, siblings, classmates, teachers, and friends? 
  • How do they affect the child’s ability to develop healthy relationships—platonic, romantic, and professional—that are grounded in reality, honesty, and transparency? 


Negative labels can destroy self-worth through shame. Positive labels can destroy self-worth through an overinflated ego.

It takes an entire childhood to develop a strong, healthy sense of self-worth. As a result, the negative effect on a child can start at any age. Follow these six tips to avoid labeling your child:  

1) Reflect on your childhood and how labeling might have affected you. Did your parents, relatives, or significant adults (e.g. teachers and coaches) label you? What did they call you? Think of negative and positive labels. How did you feel about the labels? How did they affect your feelings about your person (or people) who labeled you? How did they affect your childhood relationships? How do they affect your relationships today? Increasing your awareness about the affect your upbringing had on your labeling can help you identify your patterns around labeling and provide some motivation for avoiding it.

2) Ask your child the why behind the what. This tip works well with a child who can describe the reasons for their behavior. Children often want to explain themselves and be heard. Asking why opens the door to constructive dialogue, a sign of a healthy parent-child relationship. You might uncover reasons for their behavior that you couldn’t have anticipated. When your child shares his or her reasons, it provides an opportunity for guiding how to avoid negative behavior and repeat positive behavior.

3) Focus on the action, not on the actor. When your child does something positive or negative, focus on the action instead of using it to characterize. Tell your child that leaving clothes lying around is “irresponsible” rather than telling your child that he or she is “lazy.” If your child receives an excellent grade on a test, congratulate him or her on that accomplishment (e.g. “I’m so proud of you for making an A. Keep up the great work.") rather than using that accomplishment to make a general statement about your child (e.g. “You never get bad grades. You’re the smartest child I know.”).  

4) Explain the reasons for your comments. Children need and want explanations for their parents’ opinions of their behavior, especially when children’s behavior leads their parents to discipline or punishment. Tell your child why it’s irresponsible to leave clothes lying around the house (e.g. it’s negative effects on others) and why getting a good grade is so important.

Even if you apply these tips, you might slip from time to time and label your child. To keep you on the straight and narrow, apply these two additional tips:  

5) Ask your spouse (other parent), relatives, and friends to “call you out” when you label. This is a highly-effective tip, but one of the hardest to implement because it requires exposing yourself to criticism. If you are married to or live with the other parent, ask her to look for instances when you label your child. Tell her to talk with you after the incident about your labeling. Don’t discuss it in front of your child.

6) Apologize to your child when you label them. Admitting when you’re wrong will do a world of good for your relationship with your child.  

When was the last time you labeled your child?

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Is Optimism Fooling Your Parenting? 4 Vital Questions to Ask Yourself

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Email here.

We humans have unique ways of fooling ourselves. One of the ways we fool ourselves is through a number of biases that research has shown lead to poor decision-making. I wrote about one of these biases—confirmation bias—in a recent post for The Father Factor.

imPossible Are you being fooled by optimism 071913Another bias that short circuits our decision-making is optimism bias. (Lest you think you’re immune to this bias, neuroscientists have discovered that our brains are hard-wired for it.) This bias leads us to overestimate good news, such as our odds of winning the lottery or ESPN’s March Madness Tournament Challenge. Conversely, it leads us to underestimate risk (bad news), such as the greater likelihood of dying in car accident than on a plane flight or that we won’t lose our shirts in Vegas. It’s the basis for one of the more well-known phrases for describing someone who is naïve—she/he “looks at the world through rose-colored glasses.”

Optimism bias is also the foundation of hope. People who are more prone to this bias than others are the ones we call “optimists.” They tend to look at the bright side of things. When we experience hardship or find ourselves in a tight spot, this bias generates the hope that is often critical to turning things around. Nevertheless, it is often problematic as it clouds our judgment when we make short- and long-term decisions, including those where our children are concerned. It clouds our judgment because it clouds and alters our reality.

As I reflect on my 18 plus years of fatherhood, I can point to many occasions when I fell prey to optimism bias, even though many people wouldn’t describe my personality as “rosy.” Because I have two daughters, I’ve done my best to remove the bias of my gender to see the reality that exists for girls and women. My oldest daughter is about to enter college and will major in sports journalism, clearly a male-dominated career. She’s wanted to be a sports journalist since I can remember, so I’ve encouraged her along the way—given her hope—because I know how challenging it will be for her to succeed. At the same time, I’ve been clear that she’ll face an uphill battle and will have to work hard to realize her ambitions.

So I was encouraged when I read a Harvard Business Review blog post about Denise Morrison, the chief executive officer of Campbell Soup Company, and the role that her father played in her success. It offers an excellent reminder of how important fathers are to their children when fathers see the world as it is and not as they want it to be while, at the same time, offering their children hope and providing a foundation for success. Denise says about her dad:

  • "I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was setting down a blueprint for my career early on…If I wanted a stereo, [for example,] I would have to make a business plan about it — [explain] how I would pay for it and why I needed it and so forth…He was a man who early on believed that times were changing — that the world would open up in all ways to women…he had four daughters, so I guess he would have to believe that. But the fact is, he did, and he prepared us for it.”

What would have happened to Denise if she didn’t have a father who prepared her for the world as it was and for the world it is today? To fully understand her father’s impact, take a look at what Denise does aside from (although certainly connected to) her success in the corporate world. “Morrison is actively involved in the movement to stamp out childhood obesity and is a founding member of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, an initiative of manufacturers and retailers to combat obesity in the marketplace, workplace and schools. The battlefront includes Campbell’s impoverished hometown — Camden, New Jersey — where the company launched its ‘Campbell Healthy Communities’ program in 2011, setting an ambitious goal to reduce childhood obesity and hunger by 50 percent by 2020 through initiatives that educate children and families about nutrition, cooking and exercise. The company has set aside $10 million for the program.”

Ask yourself the following questions as you consider the role of too much or too little optimism in your parenting:

  1. Are you too optimistic? Think about whether your optimism has fooled you recently and whether you tend to sugarcoat risk in an attempt to protect your children or simply to avoid difficult conversations.
  2. Are you not optimistic enough? Think about whether you didn’t provide enough hope to your children recently, perhaps in an attempt to protect them from the disappointment of failure. It’s a cliché, but we learn as much through failure as success.
  3. How much is self-reflection a part of your daily or weekly routine? Self-reflection is one of the most vital disciplines for good parenting. Create space to reflect on your day, your relationships (with your spouse and children), whether you see the world for what it is (not for what you want it to be), and whether you gave your children what they need to succeed.
  4. Do you  have someone in your life who gives you the “hard news?” Think about whether you have a friend, family member, or someone else in your life who will confront you when you’re clearly off base with regard to your children. All too often parents surround themselves with people who are so like them that they never have to confront their own biases—these people reinforce optimism and confirmation biases.  
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5 Ways Fathers Can Use Science and Nature to Bond with Their Children

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Email here.

The connection between nature and mothers is pretty obvious. From the moment of conception, mothers are inextricably, biologically linked to their children. Mothers’ hormone levels continually fluctuate during pregnancy as their bodies partner with nature to give their children the ultimate environment in which to grow. This connection continues when mothers breastfeed as their bodies release oxytocin, the “bonding hormone,” thus providing a way for mothers’ biological connection to their children to continue well after birth.  

5 ways fathers can   the male brainBut what about fathers? Science now reveals that mothers don’t have the market cornered when it comes to being biologically connected to their children. Nature also provides a way for men to prepare for the arrival of their children and to bond with them well after birth. In her ground-breaking book The Male Brain, neuropsychologist Louann Brizedene points out that men’s hormone levels change during the pregnancy of their partners. Specifically, men’s levels of cortisol (the “stress hormone”) increase. This change puts men’s brains on “alert” for the arrival of their babies. In contrast, men’s levels of testosterone (the “wandering hormone”) decrease. This change lowers their competiveness, aggression, and sex drive.  

After their children are born, men’s oxytocin and prolactin levels increase with their prolactin levels falling to “pre-arrival” levels only after their babies start to walk (12 to 16 months, on average). Prolactin further decreases men’s testosterone levels. Researchers in Israel took this knowledge a step further when they measured oxytocin levels in 80 first-time parent couples shortly after the birth of their children. They found that fathers’ oxytocin levels were just as high as mothers’ when their children were 6 weeks and 6 months, suggesting that fathers’ hormone levels “dance” in harmony with mothers’.  

But they didn’t stop there. The researchers also observed how the increased bonding driven by high levels of oxytocin affected the way that fathers and mothers play with their children. What they found is that higher levels of oxytocin do not equate with the same kinds of parenting behaviors. Indeed, it seems to enhance the unique ways in which mothers and fathers play with their children which, as research shows, benefits children. The researchers discovered that when they compared mothers’ oxytocin levels that those with higher levels exhibited the most "affectionate parenting behaviors." When they compared fathers’ levels they found that those with the highest levels exhibited the most "stimulatory parenting behaviors."  

What’s the kicker? For all of these changes to occur, fathers have to be involved during mothers’ pregnancies and after the birth of their children. They have to view nature as their partner by engaging in activities that create close physical and emotional connections with mothers during pregnancy and with mothers and their children after their children are born. Here are 5 ways that a father can do just that:  

  1. Live with the mother. This advice might seem painfully obvious, but in today’s world of increasing out-of-wedlock childbirths (now at a record level) the chances of fathers not being around are all too real. The best way for a father to ensure constant physical proximity is to be married to the mother of his children.
  2. Spend as much time with the mother as possible. This advice might also seem painfully obvious, but one of the reasons time together is so important is that the exchange of pheromones between a father and mother during and after pregnancy might contribute to the father’s hormonal changes. This exchange can only happen when the father and mother are around each other on a consistent basis.
  3. Prepare to be a dad. During the pregnancy, a father should deepen his involvement in the pregnancy by reading books about becoming a dad and what it takes to be a great dad, attending as many of the mother’s prenatal visits as possible to support her, and enrolling, with the mother, in childbirth education classes.
  4. Encourage the mother to breastfeed. A father should encourage the mother to breastfeed while she is still pregnant. Breastfeeding will help the mother and baby to bond and benefit them in many other ways. A father can be involved in this effort by helping the mother to freeze her breast milk. He can warm it and feed it to his child in the middle of the night to allow the mother to catch some extra, needed sleep and, in doing so, further bond with his child.  
  5. Attend well-child check-ups and use NFI’s Countdown to Growing Up™. A father can deepen his involvement after the birth by attending well-child check-ups. A father can track his child’s development from birth to age 18 with NFI’s free Countdown to Growing Up™ child growth and development tracker. A father enters his child’s age and gender and the tool generates a chart of physical, mental, and social milestones appropriate for his child. He can use this information to more effectively dialogue with the mother and his child’s doctor about his child’s growth and development. NFI also has a number of free articles with advice on how to be a new dad and a great dad.

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Prince George’s County Council Member Mel Franklin Partners with NFI to Strengthen Fatherhood

Two-year project aims to increase father involvement and reduce the possibility of father absence in the lives of children in the 9th District of Prince George’s County, Maryland.

nfi logo

In a press release today from PRWeb, Prince George’s County Council Member Mel Franklin (D)-District 9 and the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) have partnered to create a multi-sector initiative to strengthen fatherhood in southern Prince George’s County.

Using its Community Mobilization Approach™, NFI will work with Council Member Franklin and County leaders to engage 11 sectors in District 9, with a goal of increasing the involvement of fathers and father-figures in the lives of Prince George’s County children. The 11 sectors are government, faith-based, social service, education, health, law enforcement, philanthropic, community activist, civic, business, and media.

“Responsible fatherhood directly impacts quality of life issues in Prince George’s County. We must take action to promote and support strong fathers in our households and neighborhoods,” said Council Member Franklin. “The District 9 Fatherhood Initiative is an opportunity for a true public-private partnership to achieve this important goal. With NFI’s outstanding expertise and research-based methods, we will be better able to measurably improve the lives of children and families in southern Prince George’s County.”

“Responsible fatherhood directly impacts quality of life issues in Prince George’s County. We must take action to promote and support strong fathers in our households and neighborhoods.” —Council Member Franklin

NFI’s Community Mobilization Approach™ (CMA) consists of three phases:

  1. a needs and assets assessment of the community’s ability to promote responsible fatherhood; 
  2. a Leadership Summit on Fatherhood attended by community leaders; and 
  3. implementing an action plan for a fatherhood initiative that uses NFI resources and solutions generated by the district.

“NFI’s Community Mobilization Approach™ will help District 9 create new fatherhood champions within the 11 sectors, while leveraging the great work that existing programs are already doing for fathers and families,” said NFI Vice President of Program Support Erik Vecere. “It will also provide the structure for Prince George’s County Government to lead a mobilization effort and establish model direct-service providers in different sectors to serve as benchmarks on how to involve more fathers in the lives of their children.”

“NFI’s Community Mobilization Approach™ will help District 9 create new fatherhood champions within the 11 sectors, while leveraging the great work that existing programs are already doing for fathers and families.” —NFI Vice President of Program Support Erik Vecere

Over the course of the next two years, NFI will lead the residents of District 9 through the three phases with in-person training, technical assistance, web-based support, events, and other initiatives. At the conclusion of this set of activities, leaders and organizations will be identified in District 9 to comprise a Fatherhood Advisory Committee (FAC) and a plan to guide the FAC in continuing to mobilize the district.

As the premier fatherhood renewal organization in the country, National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) works in every sector and at every level of society to engage fathers in the lives of their children. NFI is the #1 provider of fatherhood resources in the nation. Since 2004, through FatherSOURCE, its national resource center, NFI has distributed over 6.3 million resources, and has trained over 12,900 practitioners on how to deliver programming to dads. NFI is the most quoted authority on fatherhood in America. Since 2009, NFI has been mentioned in over 2,400 news stories, and makes regular appearances in national media to discuss the importance of involved, responsible, and committed fatherhood.

Prince George’s County is a diverse community of nearly 900,000 residents located in Maryland, adjacent to Washington, DC. District 9 comprises the southeastern third of Prince George’s County’s land mass, including much of the Rural Tier and the communities of Accokeek, Aquasco, Baden, Brandywine, portions of Camp Springs, Cheltenham, Clinton, Croom, Eagle Harbor, portions of Fort Washington, Piscataway, and portions of Upper Marlboro, as well as Joint Base Andrews. Council Member Mel Franklin has represented District 9 since his election to a four-year term in November 2010. Council Member Franklin chairs the County Council’s Planning, Zoning, and Economic Development Committee. He is married. He and his wife have two children.

Prince George’s County Council Member Mel Franklin Partners with NFI to Strengthen Fatherhood

Two-year project aims to increase father involvement and reduce the possibility of father absence in the lives of children in the 9th District of Prince George’s County, Maryland.

In a press release today from PRWeb, Prince George’s County Council Member Mel Franklin (D)-District 9 and the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) have partnered to create a multi-sector initiative to strengthen fatherhood in southern Prince George’s County.

nfi logo

Using its Community Mobilization Approach™, NFI will work with Council Member Franklin and County leaders to engage 11 sectors in District 9, with a goal of increasing the involvement of fathers and father-figures in the lives of Prince George’s County children. The 11 sectors are government, faith-based, social service, education, health, law enforcement, philanthropic, community activist, civic, business, and media.

“Responsible fatherhood directly impacts quality of life issues in Prince George’s County. We must take action to promote and support strong fathers in our households and neighborhoods,” said Council Member Franklin. “The District 9 Fatherhood Initiative is an opportunity for a true public-private partnership to achieve this important goal. With NFI’s outstanding expertise and research-based methods, we will be better able to measurably improve the lives of children and families in southern Prince George’s County.”

“Responsible fatherhood directly impacts quality of life issues in Prince George’s County. We must take action to promote and support strong fathers in our households and neighborhoods.” —Council Member Franklin

NFI’s Community Mobilization Approach™ (CMA) consists of three phases:

  1. a needs and assets assessment of the community’s ability to promote responsible fatherhood; 
  2. a Leadership Summit on Fatherhood attended by community leaders; and 
  3. implementing an action plan for a fatherhood initiative that uses NFI resources and solutions generated by the district.

“NFI’s Community Mobilization Approach™ will help District 9 create new fatherhood champions within the 11 sectors, while leveraging the great work that existing programs are already doing for fathers and families,” said NFI Vice President of Program Support Erik Vecere. “It will also provide the structure for Prince George’s County Government to lead a mobilization effort and establish model direct-service providers in different sectors to serve as benchmarks on how to involve more fathers in the lives of their children.”

“NFI’s Community Mobilization Approach™ will help District 9 create new fatherhood champions within the 11 sectors, while leveraging the great work that existing programs are already doing for fathers and families.” —NFI Vice President of Program Support Erik Vecere

Over the course of the next two years, NFI will lead the residents of District 9 through the three phases with in-person training, technical assistance, web-based support, events, and other initiatives. At the conclusion of this set of activities, leaders and organizations will be identified in District 9 to comprise a Fatherhood Advisory Committee (FAC) and a plan to guide the FAC in continuing to mobilize the district.

As the premier fatherhood renewal organization in the country, National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) works in every sector and at every level of society to engage fathers in the lives of their children. NFI is the #1 provider of fatherhood resources in the nation. Since 2004, through FatherSOURCE, its national resource center, NFI has distributed over 6.3 million resources, and has trained over 12,900 practitioners on how to deliver programming to dads. NFI is the most quoted authority on fatherhood in America. Since 2009, NFI has been mentioned in over 2,400 news stories, and makes regular appearances in national media to discuss the importance of involved, responsible, and committed fatherhood.

Prince George’s County is a diverse community of nearly 900,000 residents located in Maryland, adjacent to Washington, DC. District 9 comprises the southeastern third of Prince George’s County’s land mass, including much of the Rural Tier and the communities of Accokeek, Aquasco, Baden, Brandywine, portions of Camp Springs, Cheltenham, Clinton, Croom, Eagle Harbor, portions of Fort Washington, Piscataway, and portions of Upper Marlboro, as well as Joint Base Andrews. Council Member Mel Franklin has represented District 9 since his election to a four-year term in November 2010. Council Member Franklin chairs the County Council’s Planning, Zoning, and Economic Development Committee. He is married. He and his wife have two children.

Connect with The Father Factor by RSSFacebook and on Twitter @TheFatherFactor. 

Why Do People Continue to Believe Children Don’t Need Fathers?

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Email here.

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I continue to struggle with the fact that so many people in our country deny that fathers play a distinct, irreplaceable role in children’s lives. Despite reams of data to the contrary, people believe that fathers are replaceable—that they simply fulfill a role that any man or any woman can fulfill. Indeed, National Fatherhood Initiative’s Pop’s Culture and Mama Says surveys reveal that a majority of American men and women, respectively, believe that another man or a woman can replace a child’s father. The resulting conclusion that a majority of Americans have reached is that dads are dispensable. As W. Brad Wilcox pointed out in a recent article in The Atlantic, many scholars and writers have come to the same conclusion, which gives further credence to a view that is refuted by decades of research.  

Then why does this belief persist? Wilcox, who directs the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, says that it “has a lot of intuitive appeal in an era where millions of women have children outside of marriage, serve as breadwinner moms to their families, or are raising children on their own.” He goes on to point out that this belief ignores not only the evidence that fathers are indispensable, it also ignores the evidence that fathers parent differently than mothers and that the difference is good for children. In Gender and Parenthood: Biological and Social Scientific Perspectives, a new book that Wilcox co-edited, he covers four distinct ways in which fathers parent, each of which are supported by substantial evidence:  

  • Physical (“roughhouse”) play characterized by arousal, excitement, and predictability,
  • Encouraging risk through embracing challenges and encouraging independence,
  • Protection of children through physical size, strength, and “public presence” (a deterrent to would-be predators), and
  • More frequent and firmer discipline.

Moreover, Wilcox notes that these distinct forms of parenting lead to positive outcomes for children that are also supported by research. Children with involved fathers are, for example, less likely to engage in delinquent behavior and become pregnant (or get someone pregnant) as teens.  

While I agree with Wilcox’s assertion for the persistence of the belief that fathers are indispensable, we have to dig deeper to further understand why so many people ignore the evidence and, frankly, the common sense that fathers are not replaceable. Two additional reasons, one cultural and the other psychological, contribute to this ignorance.  

First, American culture is individualistic rather than collectivistic. It is marked by rugged individualism, the belief that individuals can overcome almost any challenge and rise to greatness, and that people should focus on improving their own lives rather than improving society if doing so comes at their own expense. Our constitution and laws are primarily designed to protect and give freedom to individuals. The fact that our culture focuses on the individual does not mean that Americans don’t come together and sacrifice their interests for each other or the common good (e.g. to defend our country against invaders). But when push comes to shove, the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.  

As a result of living in such a culture, Americans tend to ignore population-based evidence. A body of evidence is necessarily population-based because it considers the impact of an issue on a large group of people to reach conclusions about the impact of an issue on the broader population, country, culture, etc. That’s the problem. It’s not a problem with the evidence—it’s clear. The problem is that we live in a culture that makes it difficult for people to accept even a large body of evidence, not to mention act on it. People rely instead on their own experiences (and, sometimes, those of family or friends) to draw broad conclusions about a variety of issues, not just this one. If their experiences don’t match up with the evidence, they simply ignore it and erroneously conclude that their experiences also apply to our society. They might also use “outliers” (exceptions) to ignore the evidence. If they are a child from a father-absent home and turned out fine, raised a child in a father-absent home who turned out fine, or know of someone from a father-absent home who turned out fine, then, clearly, fathers must not be important.  

Second, people are drawn to sources of information that confirm what they already believe and ignore information that doesn’t fit with how they see the world. Psychologists call this tendency “confirmation bias.” As Chip and Dan Health mention in their book Decisive, confirmation bias negatively affects decision-making. “Researchers have found this result again and again. When people have the opportunity to collect information from the world, they are more likely to select information that supports their preexisiting attitudes, beliefs, and actions…The tricky thing about the confirmation bias is that it can look very scientific.” The effects of confirmation bias increase with the emotional nature of the issue—the more emotionally-charged an issue is the more likely someone will experience this bias. When people search for evidence that supports the belief that fathers are irreplaceable, they seek out sources that support this belief, which further concretizes it in their minds. They become even harder to convince, especially because this issue is so emotionally-charged.  

National Fatherhood Initiative started nearly 20 years ago because its founders recognized and acted upon population-based evidence—evidence that has only continued to accumulate. We continue, and write blog posts like this one, because so many people ignore this evidence. Frankly, I wish this country didn’t need our organization. But we will continue as long as it does and, most importantly, as long as there are children who need their dads. 

image: http://flic.kr/p/4zvfEj

The Precipitous Drop in Teen Birth Rates & What it Means for Dads

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Email here.

Last week the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released astounding data on the precipitous decline in the teen birth rate. The birth rate for teens 15-19 years of age fell 25 percent from 2007-2011 to an all-time low. The most significant drop, 34 percent, occurred among Hispanic teens.  

medium 5549214174Dr. Howard Koh, the Assistant Secretary of Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, notes in the Huffington Post that this is an acceleration of the decline we’ve witnessed for more than two decades. Dr. Koh points to a number of key factors that have led to this decline that include stronger pregnancy-prevention efforts (e.g. most notably those spearheaded by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy), teens choosing to delay sex (i.e. abstinence), and contraceptive use among sexually-active teens. The good news from NFI’s perspective is that this decline helps prevent father absence in the lives of children and the range of poor outcomes that these children experience, on average.  

As I reflected on these data and read Dr. Koh’s article, I couldn’t help but wonder why, despite this long-term trend, we see rates of unwed childbearing at an all-time high. The reason is that, more than ever, women in their twenties are having children out-of-wedlock. As I pointed out in an earlier post, nearly half of all births to twentysomethings (48 percent) occur outside of marriage. Coupled with the increase in age among women marrying for the first time exceeding the age at which they give birth to their first child, fathers should be very concerned about the prospects of our grandchildren growing up without involved, responsible, committed fathers in their lives.  

So what are fathers to make of all this good and not-so-good news? One thing for certain is that fathers can breathe a little easier knowing that their teens are less likely to become pregnant or get someone pregnant than when they (fathers) were teenagers. (Can you hear a big “Whew!” coming from this father of two teenage daughters?) But none of us should be under any illusion that there aren’t the same temptations for teens today to have sex than when we were in their shoes. In other words, don’t let any grass grow under your feet as you consider when to send your daughters or sons the message to not have sex until, ideally, they are married.  

What these data reinforce for every father is that the job of a father never ceases. When it comes to ensuring that our grandchildren grow up in homes with involved, responsible, committed fathers—regardless of whether we have daughters or sons—our work extends beyond adolescence and into our children’s twenties. We can’t breathe easy when we realize that so many children in our country are still at risk of growing up without involved, responsible, and committed fathers in their lives because of trends to which many Americans are oblivious. 

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(Video) Dads Club Strengthens Fatherhood

NFI's Vince DiCaro was interviewed today on Fox News Live about our new Dads Club™ and our partnership with Dove® Men+Care™.

Jonathan Hunt of the "On the Hunt" program discussed how NFI's partnership with Dove® Men+Care™ will strengthen fatherhood by helping fathers be better dads.

Learn how you can connect with other dads and share parenting tips today!


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