Many of you know the topic of fathers is one I hold very close to my own heart. I love writing to fathers and hearing from them as they grow throughout their parenthood journey.
To be clear, my dedication to championing fatherhood does not discredit the amazing role of moms out there — you do so much for your children, and they wouldn’t be the same without you. But there are distinct differences between how kids see, engage with and view their relationships with mom and dad.
I wanted to share a few excerpts from my new book, “Hero: Being The Strong Father Your Children Need,“ which releases May 15, on the subject of moms and dads, how they are uniquely different, and how they are better together.
After a divorce, kids usually feel the bottom has dropped from their worlds.
Kids see Mom and Dad differently. Children respect their mothers, but they typically see Dad as the authority figure — and dads, that’s a heavy responsibility. Children will confide in their mothers, but they speak more carefully to their fathers, and the tone is usually more reserved.
There are many reasons for this, and some of them are purely physical: To a child, Dad is often big and imposing and has a deep voice. Many young children see Mom as a permanent fixture in their lives. They believe their mothers have to love them and stay with them. That’s why many children can be so cruel to their mothers, because they assume Mom will never leave; a mother’s love is non-negotiable.
But many children don’t feel that way about Dad; they feel they have to earn their father’s love. So they try harder to behave around Dad. They don’t want to get on his bad side and risk losing him.
As a father, you might be totally committed; you might have a cheerful, generous, welcoming personality. But your children will still think they need to earn your respect and love. And that’s a good thing because when children respect their fathers, it makes for a healthier home life. Children tend to behave better when Dad’s at home—respecting his authority and wanting to keep in his good graces.
Kids need dads. Many men feel they have failed as fathers and carry no authority. How could they, they assume, when they drank too much, or couldn’t keep a steady job, or were divorced by their wives? Many mothers divorce their flawed husbands because they think he is setting a bad example for the children. But unless those dads have been physically or emotionally abusive, children still want their fathers in their lives — even if their fathers are ne’er-do-wells.
Children need their dads. That’s true of all kids, but we know especially that children from low-income families do better — behaviorally, academically, every way — when Dad’s around. The key factor is not how much money he makes or whether he drinks or has a temper — but how present and involved he is with his family.
Kids aren’t thinking about you. Kids and teens alike are fundamentally egocentric. They don’t care if their parents are stuck in an unhappy marriage. They don’t think of their parents as husband and wife but as Mom and Dad. Mom and Dad might be “happier” after a divorce (though that’s often not the case), but their children aren’t; they usually feel the bottom has dropped from their worlds. They are confused, angry and anxious. Many of them grieve as if one of their parents had died.
In 99 percent of the cases I have seen, there is no question that children are happier with two unhappy married parents than they are with a family divided by divorce.
Children want to be and rightfully are focused on their own happiness, not that of their parents. When they worry about Mom and Dad, they take on more pressure than they can stand.
Writing “Hero: Being The Strong Father Your Children Need” has been a real labor of love for me. I believe there’s never been a time when the message of the importance of fathers has been more crucial.
Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for more than 30 years. She is the author of the best-selling book “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters,” as well as a number of digital parenting resources and online courses, including The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.