One in 4 children in the United States grows up in a single parent household. Of these, at least 80 percent are headed by single mothers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  Parenting programs, courses that seek to improve one's parenting skills, are available on a variety of topics including: general parenting, child development, communicating more effectively, co-parenting, and how to discipline or manage behavior— to name a few.

With these circumstances, it's understandable that the majority of parenting programs offered by community organizations, schools, and government programs target mothers.  Unfortunately, that leads some people to make an over-generalization that fathers are willingly absent in the lives of their child, especially in lower socioeconomic groups.

Often it isn't easy for fathers to get involved in these programs. Catherine Panter-Brick, a Professor of Anthropology, Health, and Global Affairs at Yale University, found seven major barriers in parenting programs which fail to "maximize benefits to children from their fathers" in her most recent research, "Parenting programs sideline fathers with long-term costs for children." These include cultural, institutional, professional, operational, content, resource and policy biases.

There are fathers who would like to be more involved in their child's upbringing. Most parenting programs do not make a substantial effort to pull these fathers in, keep them engaged, or overcome barriers for them to attend the parenting program. For example, recruitment and marketing of programs may use language or imagery that fathers don't self-identify with or think of as beneficial to them. Also, program facilitators may be uncomfortable with and untrained in navigating the relationship between nonresident fathers and the mothers of their children. In some cases, reaching out to the father as well may be necessary to get paternal participation in the program being offered.

In other instances, the times of the meetings may prevent a father from attending especially if he is the primary breadwinner who works during the day. These fathers may be hesitant to attend mixed parenting workshops for fear of revealing inadequacies to mothers attending the session. This sends fathers a message that they are not important.

Fathers interact in a unique way with children, according to Michael Lamb, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge. His book, the Role of Fathers in Child Development and other research indicates that fathers play differently with children than mothers opting often for rough and tumble play. Moreover, fathers are more likely to encourage children to try new things and manage risks. Older research on risk taking and establishing of limits shows that a father or father figure helps children learn to manage their impulses and emotions.  For all children, fathers provide a role models on how men interact, and contribute in valuable ways in society.  Clearly, fathers are important in the lives of children, and we need parenting programs to support them in those roles.

Fathers are important in the development and raising of children, but that doesn't mean other family structures do not work. Fostering and empowering men in their role as fathers can only improve the well-being and adjustment of our future generations.

Fathers, if you are looking for resources:

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