Fatherhood Misconceptions Revealed
Special Report - January 15, 2010
A majority of mothers in a recent survey said that absent or uninvolved fathers can be adequately replaced by either the mother herself, or by another male role model. This disturbing finding is part of the “Mama Says” report, which was released last month by the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), and written by sociologists Norval Glenn and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead. The report details findings from an online survey of 1,533 American mothers (women over age 18 with at least one biological or adoptive child living at home) conducted for NFI by the University of Texas.
While an overwhelming majority of mothers in the survey (or 93 percent) agreed that there is a “father absence crisis” in America today, 55 percent of the mothers said that uninvolved fathers are replaceable by the mother, and 66 percent said that uninvolved fathers are replaceable by other men. The authors of the report point out that the percentage of mothers who believed that fathers are replaceable varied by the mother’s relationship to the father of her child. For example, mothers who were not living with the father of their child were about twice as likely as mothers who lived with the child’s father to believe that either mothers or other males could serve as adequate substitutes for uninvolved fathers.
Perhaps even more disturbing than the high percentage of mothers who mistakenly believe that fathers are easily replaced is that many fathers appear to agree that they are replaceable. According to a previous NFI survey from 2006, which asked fathers a similar question, just over half of fathers agreed that uninvolved dads are replaceable by other men (57 percent) or by the child’s mother (53 percent). “Apparently, the belief that fathers are irreplaceable is a minority position among both mothers and fathers,” the authors conclude.
On a positive note, 68 percent of mothers in the latest NFI survey agreed that men perform best as fathers when they are married to the mothers of their children (32 percent disagreed). Additionally, the survey found that the father’s family situation (such as whether or not he was married to the child’s mother) “is by far the greatest predicator of the mother’s satisfaction with the father, [and] of the mother’s perception of how close the father was to his child…” For example, 84 percent of married mothers and 82 percent of cohabiting mothers were satisfied with the father’s performance, compared to only 23 percent of mothers who were not living with the father. Married (75 percent) and cohabiting (76 percent) mothers were also more likely to say the father spent adequate time with his child, than mothers who were not living with the father (24 percent). Married (89 percent) and cohabiting (85 percent) mothers were also more likely to report warm and close relationships between the father and child than mothers who were not living with the fathers (34 percent).
In light of these findings, one of the recommendations from Drs. Glenn and Whitehead is that couples considering divorce should consider that one important ramification of family breakup is “a decline in the quality of the father’s parenting and of his relationship with his child or children.”
“It should deeply concern all of us that a majority of mothers and just over half of dads would say that they believe mothers or other men can adequately replace the important role of fathers in children’s lives,” said Bill Brooks, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council. “Not only does a growing body of social science evidence refute this myth and show that children raised without their biological fathers are at risk for a number of negative lifetime outcomes, but millions of young adults who were raised without their fathers can attest to the irreplaceablity of their fathers, and the suffering they experienced as a result of living apart from them.”
Brooks added, “We as a society need to do a better job of educating the next generation of men and women about why marriage is the best environment for raising children, and about the critical roles that both fathers and mothers play in healthy child development.”
Copyright © 2010. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.