How do dad’s emotions affect their children?

There is some interesting research on the link between depressed dads and its effects on their children. This supports much of the posts I have written on the importance of father/child bond. The research is summarized by Child-Psych.org at http://bit.ly/mvo6nu: “The current study used a nationally representative sample of fathers of one year-olds, 1,746 dads in total.

The men answered questions in four different areas: interactive play (e.g., peek-a-boo), speech and language interactions, reading to the child, and spanking. Whether or not the fathers had talked with their child’s pediatrician during the past year was also assessed. Seven percent of the fathers in the study reported being depressed during the past year. Seventy-seven percent of these dads also had spoken with the pediatrician over the past year… there were no differences between fathers that were not depressed and those that were in their reports of playing interactive games and singing songs/nursery rhymes with their children. Depressed dads were less likely to read to their one year-olds and much more likely to spank them.”

Conclusions of this study focused on the relationship between a fathers well-being and the child emotional and academic abilities later in life. As you might expect, the higher the depression in dad, the lower the functioning of the child. In addition, there is a connection between how aggressive dads were in their discipline. A higher percentage of dads spanked or acted out of anger with their children. Why do I keep harping on this topic? I want dads to be aware of and accept how vital there role is in the life of their children. I want others (moms and society in general) to be more mindful of the need to educate and support dads in this role. As men, we don’t get the same amount of formal or informal training to be parents as moms. More focus is needed for men to rise to the challenge of parenting.

Parenting rewires men’s brains.

What does all this research mean? I’ll make it simple: Men make good parents too 🙂

From Abraham et al., interesting material on a global “parental caregiving” neural network in our brains:

Although contemporary socio-cultural changes dramatically increased fathers’ involvement in childrearing, little is known about the brain basis of human fatherhood, its comparability with the maternal brain, and its sensitivity to caregiving experiences. We measured parental brain response to infant stimuli using functional MRI, oxytocin, and parenting behavior in three groups of parents (n = 89) raising their firstborn infant: heterosexual primary-caregiving mothers (PC-Mothers), heterosexual secondary-caregiving fathers (SC-Fathers), and primary-caregiving homosexual fathers (PC-Fathers) rearing infants without maternal involvement. Results revealed that parenting implemented a global “parental caregiving” neural network, mainly consistent across parents, which integrated functioning of two systems: the emotional processing network including subcortical and paralimbic structures associated with vigilance, salience, reward, and motivation, and mentalizing network involving frontopolar-medial-prefrontal and temporo-parietal circuits implicated in social understanding and cognitive empathy. These networks work in concert to imbue infant care with emotional salience, attune with the infant state, and plan adequate parenting. PC-Mothers showed greater activation in emotion processing structures, correlated with oxytocin and parent-infant synchrony, whereas SC-Fathers displayed greater activation in cortical circuits, associated with oxytocin and parenting. PC-Fathers exhibited high amygdala activation similar to PC-Mothers, alongside high activation of superior temporal sulcus (STS) comparable to SC-Fathers, and functional connectivity between amygdala and STS. Among all fathers, time spent in direct childcare was linked with the degree of amygdala-STS connectivity. Findings underscore the common neural basis of maternal and paternal care, chart brain–hormone–behavior pathways that support parenthood, and specify mechanisms of brain malleability with caregiving experiences in human fathers.

 

Fathers Have More Fun

Are parents happier than their childless peers?

For the last five years or so, I’ve answered that question with a resounding “no.” Statistics (not to mention anecdotal evidence) led me to believe that parents tend to be more stressed and less happy.

In some ways, this seems understandable, even obvious. Folks without kids can go to yoga or hang out with friends without having to find a babysitter (or negotiate with a spouse). Childless people don’t panic over stranding their kids at school when a meeting runs late, or lay awake at night worrying about how to keep the kids’ health insurance, or feel overwhelmed by mountains of laundry and plastic toys and permission slips.

But now three new studies throw a wrench in the previous research. The studies, to be published in the journal Psychological Science, find that parents report higher levels of happiness and positive emotion and have more “thoughts about meaning in life.”

Some parents, that is.

Young parents and single parents don’t fare as well: Unmarried parents are unhappier than people without kids, as are parents under 26 years old. (Parents over age 63 don’t differ from their childless peers.)

Then there’s the gender gap. While it’s true that parents on average report greater happiness and satisfaction with their lives than their childless peers, this is actually because fathers are driving the averages up. Mothers don’t show a big uptick in happiness by having kids. It’s really the dads that are happier.

Parenthood, it turns out, is only associated with greater life satisfaction and happiness among fathers.

As a feminist mother, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a tad resentful about this.

Anyone who has looked at the statistics on household division of labor knows that moms typically bear the brunt of the unfun housework that comes with child-rearing, not to mention the logistical backflips of the highly-scheduled childhood.

I’m not saying that men don’t do housework, because they do. And, on average, they are doing more than they have in past generations. But every day, mothers are doing housework and caring for family members for nearly four hours, compared to dads’ three hours.

What’s more, housework in the U.S. is still very gendered: Women do more laundry and dishes and cleaning; men do more yardwork. I know I find gardening on the weekends more fun than battling the dishes in my sink morning, noon and night. So perhaps that extra hour of work, and the different type of work, makes moms less happy than dads.

But my resentment will buy me nothing in the happiness department. Focusing on happiness as a zero-sum game gets us nowhere in our fight for equality.

Here’s why. First, we all presumably have the same goals; namely, to raise happy and healthy kids, and to find happiness ourselves. And a happy father is, generally speaking, a good father. We know that positive emotions make us better parents – when we are feeling good, we are more likely to be better listeners, warmer caregivers and to be more consistent in our discipline.

Second, it is better for our own well-being and the well-being of our children if we are cultivating (and modeling) what Buddhists call mudita rather than cultivating and modeling resentment. Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg describes mudita as “vicarious joy,” or “the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people’s well-being rather than begrudging it.” Experiencing another person’s happiness vicariously really can bring us great happiness; happiness is very contagious. In fact, happiness generally spreads three degrees, affecting not just our friends, but our friend’s friend’s friend’s.

For example, my own dad is about the happiest father imaginable. He takes my daughters to the dentist, volunteers at their swim meets and takes them out for ice cream once a week. The pride, pleasure and great meaning that he gets from his fathering activities is obvious, contagious and moving. When I watch him with my children, I feel a deep contentment that is hard to come by in other ways.

I’m not suggesting that structural and cultural changes aren’t in order to correct the happiness gender gap among parents, or that it is okay if dads’ happiness comes at the expense of moms’. I am suggesting that this Father’s Day, we should celebrate the fact that fathers tend to be happier than their childless peers, as this bodes well for everyone, not the least of whom are mothers and children.

Maybe your happiness on Father’s Day will come from a moment of reflection, as a dad, about the ways parenting is satisfying. Or, maybe your happiness on Sunday will come vicariously, through the fathers in your life. Either way, Happy Father’s Day.

Fathers: What is it about being a dad brings you the most happiness and life satisfaction?
Mothers and others: How do you derive vicarious joy from watching the happy dads in your life?

© 2012 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

Become a fan of Raising Happiness on Facebook.
Follow Christine Carter on Twitter
Sign up for the Raising Happiness monthly newsletter.

–>


Follow Christine Carter, PhD on Twitter:

www.twitter.com/raisinghappines