Growing up in a family with 9 kids — 8 girls and 1 boy — my dad did everything he could to meet our needs and to keep us safe. When I was young, my dad would go around the house late at night after everyone was home to lock the doors. This is just one simple way my dad worked to keep his family secure and protected. I felt safe, cared for, and even more importantly, deeply loved when my dad was around.
His influence on me and our family was profound. He was kind, involved and worked hard to provide for and protect our family. He strove for continual improvement in his life and loved my mother fiercely. I couldn’t be more grateful for my dad. Can’t you just see how much he loves his family in the photo below?
Unfortunately, the scenario I grew up in is not the reality for a large number of children growing up in the world today. And I know there are many amazing single moms among us raising their children to the best of their ability. However, this circumstance is not the ideal for families. Research shows that children thrive best with a mother and a father to care for and raise them. Children with involved dads do better emotionally, socially, and academically than kids without dads around.
The Problem with Fatherlessness
Unfortunately, fathers’ influence in the home, community, and world is rapidly diminishing. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 19.7 million children, more than 1 in 4, live without a father in the home. As fatherlessness becomes more and more commonplace, you may be tempted to ask, “Is it really that big of a deal?” The answer is a resounding YES! And here’s why.
Fatherlessness is at the root of what drives so many problems with kids growing up in the world today. Research shows that kids who grow up without dads at home are much more likely to engage in behaviors that are detrimental to themselves and to society.
Without a father in the home, children are:
Twice as likely to drop out of high school
More likely to abuse drugs and alcohol
Four times more likely to live in poverty
Seven times more likely to have a teen pregnancy
The evidence is clear that having a strong and stable father or father-figure in the home leads to strong children, families and communities.
One Solution: Watchdog Dads
Not only do we need dads at home, but we need them in the community as well. In 2012, I served as the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) president for my children’s elementary school. While serving, I learned about a program called (Watch D.O.G.S (Dads of Great Students) and decided to bring it to our school.
It was amazing to see the difference this program made in the school and community. Each week dads would volunteer to help around the school and in the classroom. Seeing dads (or grandpas or uncles) participate on a daily basis was incredible! The kids loved seeing that father figure (or even their own dad) wearing his watchdog t-shirt with pride, walking down the halls, smiling and giving all the kids high fives. Students would follow him around as if these dads were rock stars—and they practically were!
Kids would line up to sit by him at lunch, beg for his assistance in the classroom and light up when they saw him as they came and left for school each day. Everyone wanted the “dad” on their team at recess. Every day I noticed that the Watchdog Dad was a force for good! These Watchdog Dads showed people at school and in the community just how important fathers and father-figures really are.
What Can We Do?
We can no longer casually sit on the sidelines. This issue is real and important! We can and should promote fatherhood in our homes and communities. Here are some ways to make a difference and get involved:
We need to praise and support fathers in their fathering. As the dads around us step up to their roles as fathers, we must look to their example and honor the gift of fatherhood. We must also help fathers take their place in our homes and communities. Having a father in the home is a great thing, but we need fathers who are actively involved in their children’s lives, who set a good example for them, who livehonorably, who provide for physical and emotional needs, who participate in the home with loving authority, and who protect their children in every way he can.
While the number of fatherless homes is devastating, the goal is not to merely have dads home. We’re not just saying, “Let’s get dads back in homes.” We’re saying, “Let’s get dads doing good fathering.”
The saying goes that kids don’t come with an instruction manual. Yet thankfully for today’s dads, there’s no shortage of fabulous resources to support fathers. If you’re a dad that’s sitting on the sidelines, jump in and take your place as a father! For the rest of us, our job is to cheer these dads on in their efforts to become present and improved fathers. As we do our part to promote and strengthen fatherhood, we’re strengthening the entire family, the community, and the world.
For more information on the importance of fathers, check out fatherhood.org for statistics, research, and resources.
Meet the Author
Amy Chariton is currently finishing her undergraduate degree in Marriage and Family Studies and following graduation wants to pursue a master’s degree in Marriage and Family therapy. She is married to her sweetheart of 20 amazing years. They have 4 kids who are her whole world. Her hobbies are trail running, hiking, backpacking and anything in the Utah mountains.
I don’t know about you, but I always feel awkward when the lady cleaning my teeth asks me questions. It normally goes a little something like this:
Dental hygienist: So, where are you from?
Me: *trying not to get that yucky toothpaste on my tongue* Uh, Rexburg.
Dental hygienist: Oh. Do you like it here?
Me: *trying not to drool on myself* Uh-huh.
Anyway, I think you know what I’m talking about. It’s not the easiest thing to carry on a conversation while someone’s hands are inside your mouth.
But this last dentist visit, conversation was even trickier than usual.
When the dental hygienist found out I’d just had a baby, she offered the token congratulations. When she found out I recently graduated with my bachelor’s degree, she once again congratulated me.
Then she asked me a question, one that shouldn’t have taken me by surprise:
So now what?
She asked if I was planning on graduate school, or what career I hoped to have. I struggled to explain to her that while I want to go on to grad school one day, I wouldn’t be doing it right now. And my husband has a solid job secured that will provide well for our family.
So, I said, I would be focusing on taking care of our baby. I want to be a mom.
She just kind of looked at me, as if being “just a mom” was a totally foreign concept.
This conversation was getting more uncomfortable by the second.
It was as if she couldn’t comprehend why someone would go to college and graduate, only to stay home changing diapers and doing laundry. (And some days I feel like that too, especially when I’m scrubbing poop out of yet another onesie.)
Although I’ve long advocated for motherhood, I’ll admit that I didn’t adequately explain my future plans to this puzzled dental hygienist. So today, dear readers, I hope to at least partially make up for that by letting you all know why I chose to be a mom.
Moms Make a Difference
Growing up, I was never sure what I wanted to be. Because I enjoyed most subjects in school, one day I’d want to be a band director and the next day I’d hope to become a biologist. It seemed to change from week to week, but one thing always stayed the same: I wanted to make a difference.
There were a few years as a teenager when I didn’t want to be a mom. I thought because I’m not naturally your have-some-milk-and-cookies-sweetie kind of gal that I just wasn’t cut out for mom-hood. I thought I could make a bigger difference as a counselor or a nurse, a teacher or a medical researcher.
But then I realized something important: you don’t have to be a cookie cutter mom to make a difference. You don’t have to be good at crafts and canning and cute-outfit-planning. You just have to love.
My little girl doesn’t always have an adorable outfit on with matching hair bow. And sometimes I less than cheerfully get up in the middle of the night to feed her. But my baby still grins at me all the same. Her eyes tell me, “It’s okay, mom. I know you love me.”
And I do. Whether she looks cutesy or not, boy do I love her. And it’s that love that makes all the difference.
Loving Mom, Healthy Kids
There are a lot of ways moms can have significant impacts on their children. It turns out that loving moms can make a big impact on their children’s physical health. For instance, research shows that a mom’s love can offset some of the health challenges normally associated with poverty. Kids who would usually be at greater risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity are instead likely to be physically healthy as adults.
Not only this, but mothers can also help their children have healthier relationships. One longitudinal study found that when kids have a healthy attachment with their mothers, they tend to have better social skills, better emotional regulation, and better conflict recovery — all things that help them form more secure relationships in the future.
Being an involved and concerned mother can also help my children educationally. While some may think that staying at home with my kids is a waste of an education, my decision to be with my children is doing a world of good for their educational future. According to research from the National Education Association, when parents are involved in their children’s education, kids are more likely to perform well in school and go on to graduate. And this is “regardless of family income or background”!
That’s Why I’m a Mom
Don’t get me wrong: anyone from a counselor to a nurse, a teacher to a medical researcher can certainly make a difference. I’m so grateful for all the people who choose professions to help other people. And for those moms who either have to or choose to work outside the home, I applaud you for being able to juggle it all!
But I guess what I wish I had explained to the dental hygienist is that I chose to be a stay-at-home mom because I want to make a difference too. And just because I’m not getting paid to do it doesn’t make it any less worthwhile.
Elizabeth Warner is the content manager for Family Good Things, recently gave birth to her first child, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marriage and family studies. For more articles by Elizabeth, Dr. Rob, or Dr. Tim, check out the rest of our blog and our Facebook page.
Marriage means different things to different people. For some, marriage is just a piece of paper. (In fact, the Pew Research Center found that almost 4 in 10 Americans think marriage is obsolete.) For others, marriage is a nice but perhaps unreachable ideal. And for others still, marriage is desirable but just hasn’t happened yet. (More Pew Research data found that about 6 in 10 unmarried Americans want to get married.)
Regardless of what people think about marriage, here’s the question: Does marriage really matter? Is the institution of marriage obsolete, or is it something that can benefit individuals, families, and society as a whole?
Here are a *few reasons why social science suggests that marriage really does matter.
1. Marriage Strengthens Families
While non-traditional families can still have a great deal of love, social science research shows that marriage promotes even stronger relationships. For example, according to the Institute for American Values, when parents are married, they’re more likely to have positive relationships with their children.
Marriage also provides a more stable family environment for kids. An international report from the Social Trends Institute found that children born to cohabiting parents are “more likely to see their parents split by age 12 than children born into married families.”
2. Marriage Improves the Economy
Marriage may have great benefits for families, but it’s not just the families that benefit. Research shows that marriage does a lot to improve the economy! Marriage both reduces poverty and increases wealth. In fact, the Heritage Foundation says that marriage may be “America’s greatest weapon against child poverty”!
3. Marriage Helps with Physical Health
Surprisingly enough, having a healthy marriage can lead to physical health benefits too! One meta-analysis explains that the physical health benefits of marriage “may be as large as the benefit from giving up smoking.”
Read that sentence again. Yeah, you read it right! Marriage may do as much for your health as it would to quit smoking. That’s a pretty big health benefit right there.
Marriage may also lead to not just a healthier life, but also a longer one. Research shows that on average, married people live longer than unmarried people do.
4. Marriage Helps with Mental Health
Marriage does more than just help your physical health; it can help your mental health too! One international study found that married couples are happier overall, even compared to couples who live together. And as marriage researcher Paul Amato explained it, married people “report fewer symptoms of depression and are less likely to think about suicide.”
5. Marriage Reduces Crime and Domestic Violence
Healthy marriages can help reduce crime for both parents and children. Studies show that married women are much less likely to experience domestic abuse. Not only this, but kids who grow up with married parents are less likely to become involved in criminal activity. (Check out the US Department of Justice’s report on how family life affects crime here!)
If marriage really does matter so much, then what should you do about it? Here are some things to consider.
Share the facts. People in the world today don’t always realize just how great or important marriage is. So share it with them! (You can start by sharing this article. 😉 )
Teach your children. Because much of the world says marriage isn’t important (remember that Pew survey?), your kids won’t see why marriage matters unless you tell them. And perhaps more important than telling them is showing them.
Strengthen your marriage. These benefits are found most in healthy marriages. So do what you can to strengthen your marriage, and you’ll be much more likely to see the plus side of marriage.
Now you may be wondering, is marriage the magical cure-all for personal and societal problems? Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. Most of these benefits are associated with healthy marriages, which takes work and effort. (For example, check out Dr. Rob’s article about the importance of being intentional in marriage.) But as we try our best to improve our marriages, we’ll have happier, healthier families and a happier, healthier world.
*The idea for this article came from the Institute for American Value’s publication, Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences. Check out the summary of it in their PDF here.
Elizabeth Warner is the content manager for Family Good Things, just gave birth to her first child, and recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marriage and family studies. For more articles by Elizabeth, Dr. Rob, or Dr. Tim, check out the rest of our blog and our Facebook page.
Dr. Tim is spending a few months in Washington, D.C. doing research at the Marriage & Religion Research Institute. Watch his latest video to hear about what he’s been doing and learn why dads really do matter!
I check my watch again: 3:45 am, and I’m wide awake. Exhausted, but awake.
Part of it is because I’m 8 months pregnant and my body hurts all over. (I think my body is practicing the no sleep thing for when the baby comes. 😛 )
But part of it is because I can’t stop thinking about my Facebook feed yesterday.
At first, I was confused by the two word status updates popping up everywhere: “Me too.” But then one friend wrote a little explanation along with it. She said, “If all the people who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too.” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Please copy and paste if you feel so inclined.”
As more and more of my friends joined in with their “Me too,” my heart ached. I didn’t know whether to click like, love, or sad. I was so proud of these brave women for speaking out, but so sad that we live in a world full of so much sexual harassment.
While sexual violence has fallen significantly since 1993, it’s still a huge problem today. In fact, statistics show that every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And if you’re a woman, you have about a 1 in 5 chance of being raped at some point in your life.
Everyone is affected by sexual harassment or assault a little bit differently. But often there are both physical and mental consequences. In addition to the risk of STIs and pregnancy, victims of sexual assault often struggle with PTSD, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. It can also cause more general emotional challenges, like difficulty trusting others or feelings of fear and helplessness.
One month from today, our baby girl is due to come into this world. I can’t help but worrying, will she have to post “me too” one day? Will she end up being part of the almost 20% of women who get raped in their lifetime? Will she have to struggle with the fear and pain that comes from being a victim of sexual harassment or assault?
I sincerely hope not.
While I’m grateful for the many women and men who are fighting against this plague of sexual violence, there are some aspects of our society today that seem to contribute in a negative way.
Many people are pushing back against sexual violence, but some of these same people are also advocating strongly for sexual exploration and freedom. This March while visiting the UN Commission on the Status of women, I heard many voices advocating for sexual rights of all kinds.
And to some extent, I’m grateful for the work that’s been done so far. I’m grateful that I can decide when I want to marry and have children, that I have control over my sex life.
On the other hand, it seems that the push for sexual freedom has had some unforeseen consequences. Dr. Leslie C. Bell explains it well:
“Today’s 20-something women have more freedom than their grandmothers could have imagined – educational, professional, and personal. But while this freedom has engendered a great deal of opportunity, it hasn’t necessarily resulted in women having good sex and satisfying relationships in their twenties.”
Much of the push for sexual freedom has placed an emphasis on our own personal fulfillment. Do whatever you want, whatever makes you feel good physically. Sex is about you, not about anyone else, today’s media seems to say.
Unfortunately, that emphasis on personal fulfillment may have had the opposite effect.
With all this sexual freedom, pursuing whatever you want physically, you may think it would lead to better sex. But according to research from Dr. John Gottman, perhaps the biggest key to sexual fulfillment is your friendship. While casual sex can be fun and exciting, one survey found that the happiest couples are those who communicate and build up the intimacy that is foundational for fulfilling sex. When sex is about your relationship, not just about you, it becomes a whole lot better.
So in actuality, it turns out that sexual fulfillment isn’t just about the physical. And it certainly isn’t just about you.
If we aren’t careful, the way we promote sexual freedom can also promote sexual selfishness. This selfishness will not only lead to less fulfilling sex, but it also can be dangerous. This line of thinking that says “Sex is all about me” is one that ignores the other person involved.
I’m sure those who rape or sexually assault others are, in a twisted way, seeking their own sexual pleasure. They have decided to use their sexual freedom selfishly. And unfortunately, they do this at a great cost to those around them.
Sexual Freedom Isn’t Free
In teaching our kids about their sexuality, we must help them realize that sexuality isn’t just about them. Other people are involved, people who deserve to be loved and respected.
As we push not just for sexual freedom but for mutual love and respect, we can achieve sexual freedom without promoting sexual selfishness. We can help our kids see that sexual freedom isn’t really free, because with these rights come great responsibilities.
Getting ready to welcome our baby girl into the world has put this all in a new light for me. I hope the numbers of sexual harassment and assault can continue to decline. I hope sincerely that she doesn’t become a part of the statistics. And I hope that one day, nobody has to say “Me too.”
Elizabeth Warner is the content manager for Family Good Things and will graduate in December 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in marriage and family studies. For more articles by Elizabeth, Dr. Rob, or Dr. Tim, check out the rest of our blog and our Facebook page.