The Fatherhood Factor
How Raising Children Changes MenBecoming a father is one of the most defining benchmarks in a man’s life. In their research, University of California-Berkeley Psychology Professors Phil Cowan, Ph.D., and Carolyn Cowan, Ph.D., found that when asked how important each aspect of life felt over a two-year study period, childless men surveyed showed a significant increase in the “partner/lover” aspect. But young fathers squeezed that facet into a smaller life space to accommodate the significant increase in the “parent” element.
Here are a few highlights from what relevant studies by Oregon State University, in Corvallis, the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and Switzerland’s University of Zurich say about how fatherhood changes men.
Confidence and Pride
Having a close relationship with our child helps build mutual confidence and self-esteem. Turning a child’s tears into laughter and feeling proud when he does well confirms that we’re on our way to being a successful father. Albeit briefly, a child may even share our tastes in culture, entertainment and other areas before mapping his own individuality, but some common attitudes and interests will remain.
Patience and Humor
When something goes wrong, we can take it seriously and try to change things, or roll with it and laugh. Doing the latter can increase compassion for our own and others’ mistakes.
Early on, it may be nearly impossible to differentiate the needs of our child and partner from our own. In reality, needs are to varying degrees in opposition, thus imposing frustrations and sorrows and forcing mutual adaptation, according to the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry think tank. Parents should consider various points of view and develop contingency plans.
Return to Childhood
Rearing kids presents the opportunity to reread favorite childhood books and disappear back into imaginative worlds.
A.A. Milne (author of the Winnie the Pooh books) and J.K. Rowling (of Harry Potter fame) first wrote for their kids. We may also be inspired to play an instrument or take up an art form learned as a child while encouraging our children in their music or art lessons.
Raising kids produces a heightened awareness of others’ perspectives, reports University of Delaware researcher Rob Palkovitz, Ph.D. Many guys admit that they were somewhat selfish and self-centered before having kids, because having people depend on you and putting their needs before yours doesn’t come naturally. (Palkovitz notes that marriage alone doesn’t trigger this realization.)
Becoming a father prompts a hard look at one’s fundamental beliefs and values. Our view of what seemed harmless when we were younger, like not caring about money or possessions and potentially harmful lifestyle choices, changes completely when there’s a family to support. We see the world differently. Our health and well-being are no longer just personal concerns; they’re integral to our family.
Interestingly, more mature new fathers—having had more time to hone their philosophy of life—report less of a need for fresh soul-searching than younger fathers.