There are many myths in our society, but few that have as much of an impact on family life as myths about fathers. Times are changing just as the cultural ideas about fatherhood and fathers’ roles are changing. When it comes to decisions about child custody when a marriage ends and both parties need to figure out how they will take on their responsibilities as parents, fathers are standing a much better chance of getting joint custody and sharing parenting responsibilities.
A story in the Washington Post, Five Myths about Fatherhood, takes a look at some of the ideas that the culture holds about fathers that are just not true. It begins with the news of the U.S. Supreme Court striking down a law that treated unwed mothers and fathers differently when granting citizenship to their children, because the requirements for fathers was more stringent than those for the mothers. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her majority opinion, wrote that the law which had been struck down was based on gender stereotypes and violated equal protection. Ginsburg noted that the law implied “that unwed fathers cared little about, indeed are strangers to their children.”
These kinds of ideas that are, in some way, ingrained into our cultural fabric. We think it is about time to debunk those myths, once and for all.
Myth 1: Men can become fathers at any age, without risk to the child
We have all heard some version of this myth – the virile 80-year-old who can father a perfectly healthy baby. As it turns out, a man’s fertility declines as he ages, even if the pace is slower than for a woman. When the father is older, there is a greater risk of genetic conditions and abnormalities.
Myth 2: Fathers don’t feel pressure to “have it all”
Both fathers and mothers feel the pressure of providing for their families while balancing family responsibilities. Per the Post, fathers also get penalized for requesting workplace flexibility so they can care for their children – with lower wages, poorer performance evaluations and fewer promotions.
Myth 3: Fathers are dispensable
Fathers play vital roles in their children’s development. Research shows infants whose fathers were involved during pregnancy are less likely to be born prematurely or with low birth weight, and the death rate of infants whose fathers were not around during pregnancy is nearly four times that of infants whose fathers were present. Children with involved fathers have higher IQs, fewer behavior problems, they are less likely to smoke or suffer depression or other psychiatric problems later. Children whose fathers talk to them are more likely to have advanced language skills, too.
Myth 4: Father’s don’t connect with children the way mothers do
This is a particularly insidious myth, because it assumes that the maternal instinct is inherent, and the paternal instinct needs to be learned. All new parents need guidance, of course, but the idea that fathers need to be taught to connect with their children is dangerous. (It is dangerous, for mothers, too, who often experience stress and feelings of failure if they suffer with post-partum depression, or do not connect in the “right” way to their children.)
The Post piece explains, however, that “In one study, men who were exposed to their newborn children for only 60 minutes were able to recognize their infants by simply touching their hands. Fathers also quickly learn to distinguish their baby’s cry from that of other children.” Fathers can and do connect every day. It’s science.
Furthermore, fathers also experience hormonal changes during pregnancy such as a drop in testosterone, which the author says might reflect a shift from mate-seeking to nurturing.
Myth 5: Fathers tend to be disciplinarians
While fathers have a reputation for being firmer and more direct, mothers are still responsible for the majority of child care, and they are usually the ones who enforce discipline. Dads, on the other hand, get to be the “fun” parent: the ones who play with their children, or take them out for different experiences.
All of these myths contribute to conflict for parents who divorce
While the majority of states are starting to recognize the benefits of co-parenting (as opposed to the traditional model of one custodial parent, and one visiting parent), these types of myths can make it difficult for parents to engage in healthy ways with their children. If people continue to believe in them – even if, intellectually, they know they are not true – it will have a negative impact on how the children are raised. There are still judges who think the children should live primarily with the mother. There are still friends and loved ones who believe that fathers cannot contribute equally to the raising of the children. And there are still fathers who feel overwhelmed by their new roles, but think they do not have the right to take an active part in their children’s development.
Fathers who are eager to play their role in the care and nurturing of their children can ask for and receive joint custody of their children in the divorce, and fathers who were never married to their child’s mothers can assert their fatherhood rights and petition the court for parenting time once they have established paternity. A competent Nashville family law attorney can help you to navigate the challenging process of child custody.
Are you a parent in the Nashville area who is looking for a skilled divorce lawyer? We are available to consult with you about your divorce and child custody case. Please call 615-391-4200 or use our contact form to reserve an in-person or video consultation with the dedicated legal team at Miller Upshaw Family Law, PLLC.
Karla C. Miller has devoted her entire career to the practice of family law in Tennessee. She attended Auburn University and Nashville School of Law, and upon graduation in 1996, she opened her own law firm and has been assisting families throughout Tennessee since then. Learn more about Karla C. Miller here.