STORRS, Conn. - (AScribe Newswire) -- Researchers
who look to children's mothers to understand the youngsters'
development are getting only half the story, says Ronald
Rohner, director of the Center for the Study of Parental
Acceptance and Rejection in the School of Family Studies at
the University of Connecticut.
A father's love - or lack of it - is a critical yet
understudied factor in child development, according to
research by Rohner and his colleague Robert Veneziano, an
assistant professor of social work at Western Connecticut
"What we find surprising and new is that a father's love
is turning out to be just as important as, and sometimes
more important than, a mother's love," Rohner says.
Fathers are cited more than mothers in issues such as
psychological maladjustment, substance abuse, depression,
and conduct problems, says Rohner, a professor emeritus. On
the positive side, a father's love provides a buffer against
the development of these difficulties and can contribute to
a child's good physical health.
In an article, "The Importance of Father Love: History
and Contemporary Evidence," published in the December 2001
issue of Review of General Psychology, Rohner and Veneziano
examine nearly 100 studies that explore the effect of
parenting on children's behavior. The studies, published
between 1949 and 2001, are some of the few that deal with
fathers. Prior to the 1960s and 1970s, many behavioral
scientists assumed fathers were relatively unimportant to
their children's healthy development, the authors note.
"At the very most, fathers were thought to be peripheral
to the job of parenting because children spent most of their
time with their mothers,"
Rohner and Veneziano write. "Some even argued that
fathers have no biological aptitude for childcare, though
women were said to be genetically endowed for it."
Because mothers were assumed to be so important in child
development, researchers tended to study mothers'
behavior. When they found significant effects of maternal
behavior, the researchers were motivated to study mothers
more. That tended to reinforce their belief that fathers
weren't very important.
In the 1960s and 1970s, researchers gradually turned
their attention to the importance of fathers and father
love. Some of the studies yielded surprising results, the
"Researchers discovered that father love sometimes
explains a unique, independent portion of the variance in
specific child outcomes, over and above the portion of
variance explained by mother love," Rohner and
Veneziano note. "Indeed, some studies reviewed later
found that father love is the sole significant predictor of
specific child outcomes, after removing the influence of
According to the authors, the studies they examined can
be divided into six categories, with each one attributing a
different degree of importance to father love. Although the
studies drew many different conclusions about the importance
of fathers, the mere fact that fathers are being examined
with more frequency is crucial.
"Widespread recognition of fathers' influence may help
motivate many men to become more involved in nurturing child
care," Rohner and Veneziano write.
That increased involvement benefits both mothers and
children, the authors note.
"The evidence seems clear that mothers are more effective
parents when fathers are both supportive partners and
nurturing parents," Rohner and
Veneziano write. "And children are major beneficiaries
when they are raised by warm, loving mothers and fathers."