In last week’s episode of the Fathering Strong blog, we shared some thoughts about being providers. The main takeaway was that dads bring a lot more to the table than financial resources.  The “S” in POPS stands for Stabilizer. In this final episode of this series, we will discuss how a present, mature, and responsible father is a stabilizing force in his child’s life.

Traditional nuclear families, typically consisting of two married parents and their biological children, can offer several advantages for children. Here are some of the potential benefits:

  • Stability and Security: Nuclear families can provide children a stable and secure environment. With two parents sharing responsibilities, routines, finances, and living arrangements are consistent and predictable. This stability can be crucial for a child’s emotional well-being.
  • Clear Roles and Responsibilities: Traditional families often have clear roles for parents, leading to a sense of order and predictability. Children may benefit from knowing what to expect from each parent and having dedicated caregivers for different needs.
  • Division of Labor: With two parents, household chores, childcare duties, and financial responsibilities can be shared. This can lead to less stress on each parent and potentially more time and energy to devote to their children.
  • Strong Parental Bonds: Ideally, a healthy marriage provides a strong foundation for the family. Children can benefit from observing positive and supportive relationships between their parents, which can help them develop their own relationship skills.
  • Financial Security: Dual incomes in a nuclear family can provide greater financial security for children. This can translate to access to better education, healthcare, and extracurricular activities.

The Crisis of Fragile Families

Therefore, children fare better when both parents are committed to their well-being over the long haul. Unfortunately, despite their high hopes, most parental relationships do not last. As a result, many children experience high levels of instability.

The following is from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study Fact Sheet.

  • Only 35% of unmarried couples are still living together five years after the birth of their child, and less than half of the 35% are married.
  • Couples that were cohabiting at birth are more likely to be together than couples in “visiting unions.”
  • Just over 50% of cohabiting couples are married or cohabiting five years after the birth.
  • Once their relationship with baby’s father ends, many unmarried mothers form new partnerships and many have children with those new partners.
  • Nearly 40% of all unmarried mothers experience at least one new partnership, and about 14% have a child with a new partner, adding to the potential instability and complexity of these families.

Whoa! Let’s talk about that.

  • Think of it this way: One hundred unmarried couples have a baby in one year. Five years later, only 35 of those couples are still together. Only 17 or fewer of the one hundred couples got married to each other. Multiply that by thousands of times and think about all the children who endured the trauma of the breakup of their parents in one year!
  • Or this: One hundred couples cohabit and have babies in a year. Five years later, only 51 of those couples are married or cohabiting. That means 49 out of a hundred have children in an unstable home. Multiply that by many thousands.

Imagine the children’s pain caused by these break-ups. People used to say, “Children are resilient. They get over it.” In truth, much has been learned about the emotional damage caused to children by separation and divorce.

The Trauma to Children of Parental Break-ups

Separation and divorce can be a difficult time for children, and they may experience a range of emotional difficulties. Here are some of the common ones:

  • Sadness and loss: Children may feel a deep sense of sadness and loss over the breakup of their family unit. They may grieve the loss of the life they once had and feel scared about the future.
  • Anger and resentment: Children may feel angry and resentful towards one or both parents for the divorce. They may blame their parents for the situation or feel angry that their lives are disrupted.
  • Confusion and insecurity: Divorce can be a confusing time for children. They may not understand why their parents are separating and may feel insecure about their place in the family.
  • Anxiety and fear: Children may experience anxiety and fear about the future. They may worry about where they will live, how they will be financially supported, and whether their parents will still love them.
  • Guilt and self-blame: Some children may blame themselves for their parents’ divorce. They may think that they did something wrong to cause the breakup.
  • Frequent moves: Because divorce often results in financial stress and housing challenges, frequent household moves can occur. This is traumatic for children as it frequently requires changing schools and losing friends.

It’s important to remember that every child is different and will react to divorce in their own way. The severity of the emotional damage will also depend on factors such as the child’s age, personality, and the way their parents handle the divorce.

The Problems with Serial Relationships

To make matters worse for their children, nearly 40% of all unmarried mothers experience at least one new partnership, and about 14% have a child with a new partner, adding to the potential instability and complexity of these families and the trauma to the children.

The damage multiplies when single parents engage in serial relationships.

  • Instability and insecurity: Frequent changes in partners can create a feeling of instability in a child’s life. They may struggle to form attachments with new partners who come and go, leading to insecurity and anxiety.
  • Confusion: Children might have difficulty understanding why there are so many different people in their lives and may feel confused about their role in these changing relationships.
  • Jealousy and competition: They might feel jealous of their parent’s attention to a new partner or compete for affection.
  • Loss and grief: Even if the relationship with a new partner doesn’t last long, the child can experience a sense of loss and grief when they leave. This repeated cycle of attachment and detachment can be emotionally draining.
    • These losses can cause some children to develop a hard shell around their hearts to protect themselves from further hurt.

The Impact of Fathers as Stabilizers

The good news is that, as men are encouraged, empowered, and engaged, they bring stability to their families and prevent this trauma from reaching their children.  By being present and participating in your child’s parenting, regardless of the success or failure of your relationship with the mother, you ensure that your child will have some stability.

There are many advantages to a father’s constant engagement in his child’s life after separation or divorce. Here are some of the key benefits:

  • Stronger emotional well-being: Children with involved fathers tend to have better emotional regulation, higher self-esteem, and lower levels of anxiety and depression.
  • Improved social skills: Consistent father involvement can contribute to a child’s ability to form healthy relationships with peers and others.
  • Academic achievement: Studies suggest a correlation between a father’s consistent presence and a child’s academic performance.
  • Positive male role model: Fathers provide a unique perspective and can be valuable role models, especially for sons and daughters in shaping their expectations of healthy relationships with men.
  • Sense of security and stability: A constant father figure can offer a sense of security and stability during a significant change for the child.
  • Reduced conflict: Children with involved fathers often experience less conflict between their parents due to more straightforward communication and co-parenting efforts.
  • Long-term benefits: The positive effects of a consistent father relationship can extend into adulthood, influencing a child’s future relationships, career choices, and mental health.

It’s important to remember that “constancy” doesn’t necessarily mean equal time with both parents. It refers to a reliable and consistent presence in the child’s life, where the father is actively involved and engaged, even if it’s not every day.

The Impact of Stable Families on Communities

Stable families can have a ripple effect of positive impacts on communities in several ways:

  • Reduced Crime and Social Issues: Studies have shown a connection between stable families and lower crime rates. Children raised in secure environments with positive role models are less likely to engage in risky behaviors. Additionally, strong families can contribute to a decrease in social problems like child abuse and neglect.
  • Stronger Educational Outcomes: Stable families often prioritize education and provide support for their children’s learning. This can translate to higher graduation rates and better overall academic performance, benefiting the community’s future workforce.
  • Increased Civic Engagement: When individuals feel connected to their families and communities, they’re more likely to be civically engaged. This can involve volunteering, participating in local events, or even running for office. Active citizens contribute to a stronger sense of community and a more vibrant social fabric.
  • Economic Growth: Stable families tend to be more financially secure, which can contribute to a community’s economic growth. With a stronger tax base and a more stable workforce, communities can invest in infrastructure, attract businesses, and create more opportunities for everyone.
  • Intergenerational Support: Strong families often provide a network of support that extends across generations. Grandparents can help with childcare, offering a helping hand to younger parents. This sense of shared responsibility strengthens the community and fosters a sense of belonging.
  • Positive Role Models: Stable families can serve as positive role models for other families in the community. When people see healthy relationships and responsible parenting, it can inspire others to strive for the same in their own lives.

It’s important to note that these are potential benefits, and the strength of the impact can vary depending on the community’s specific circumstances. However, stable families can significantly create a safer, more prosperous, and more engaged society for everyone.

Conclusion

Family stability rests squarely on fathers fulfilling their responsibilities as protectors, order keepers, providers, and stabilizers. Children fare better when both parents are committed to their well-being over the long haul.

While marriage is best for the sake of their children, fathers should be encouraged and empowered through the granting of access to be fully engaged in co-parenting regardless of marital status. Family and community stability is achievable through the constant presence and good work of mature, responsible, nurturing fathers.

Inspiration from the Holy Scriptures

Fathers should aim to be as stable as a rock for our families. The metaphor of God as a rock is a common theme in the Hebrew Bible, especially in the Psalms and Deuteronomy. The rock metaphor represents God as a source of stability, strength, and protection. We dads should strive to be like Him.

The Lord is my rock, and my safe place, and the One Who takes me out of trouble. My God is my rock, in Whom I am safe. He is my safe-covering, my saving strength, and my strong tower. – Psalm 18:2 NLV

About the Author

Eli Williams is a father, grandfather, and father figure to many. He and his wife Judy have served in community outreach ministry since the late 1980s and founded Urban Light Ministries in 1995. Eli has been a professional fatherhood practitioner since 2008 and is an ordained Christian minister helping to pastor New Hope Church in Springfield, Ohio. Reverend Williams authored Father Love—The Powerful Resource Every Child Needs in 2018.

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