How absence of a loving father can wreck a child’s life: New study shows relationship with both parents is crucial

Finding was part of large-scale analysis of research about the power of parental rejection

Researchers say it should help reduce the incidence of ‘mother blaming’ for trouble children

By Fiona Macrae

Published: 21:18 AEST, 13 June 2012 | Updated: 17:04 AEST, 14 June 2012



Influence: New research has revealed that the love of a father is one of the greatest influences on the personality development of a child

A father’s love is as important to a child’s emotional development as a mother’s, a large-scale study has confirmed.

Examining the cases of more than 10,000 sons and daughters revealed how a cold or distant father can damage a child’s life, sometimes for decades to come.

The review of 36 studies from around the world concluded that his love is at least as important to youngsters as that of their mothers.

Researcher Professor Ronald Rohner said that fatherly love is key to  development and hopes his findings will motivate more men to become involved in caring for their offspring.

‘In the US, Great Britain and Europe, we have assumed for the past 300 years that all children need for normal healthy development is a loving relationship with their mother,’ he said.

‘And that dads are there as support for the mother and to support the  family financially but are not required for the healthy development of the children.

‘But that belief is fundamentally wrong. We have to start getting away from that idea and realise the dad’s influence is as great, and sometimes greater, than the mother’s.’

His conclusions came after he examined data from studies in which  children and adults were asked how loving their parents were.

Questions included if they were made to feel wanted or needed, if their  parents went out of their way to hurt their feelings and if they felt loved.

Those taking part also answered questions about their personality. These ranged from ‘I think about fighting or being mean’ to ‘I think the world is a good, happy place’.

Tallying the results showed that those rejected in childhood felt more anxious and insecure as well as hostile and aggressive.

Many of the problems carried over into adulthood, reported the study  published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review.

Crucially, a father’s love was often just as important as a mother’s. In some cases, it was even more so. One reason for this may be that rejection is more painful when it comes from the parent the child regards as more powerful or respected.

‘Children and adults  everywhere – regardless of race, culture, and gender – tend to respond in exactly the same way when they perceived themselves to be rejected’

Professor Rohner, of the University of Connecticut, US, said rejection in childhood has the most ‘strong and consistent effect on personality and development’.

He added: ‘Children and adults  everywhere – regardless of race, culture, and gender – tend to respond in exactly the same way when they perceived themselves to be rejected.’

Professor Rohner said that children who feel unloved tend to become  anxious and insecure, and this can make them needy. Anger and resentment can lead to them closing themselves off emotionally in an attempt to protect themselves from further hurt.

This may make it hard for them to form relationships. They can suffer from low self-esteem and find it difficult to handle stressful situations.









Teaching the ways of the world: If a child perceives her father as having higher prestige, he may be more influential in her life than the child¿s mother

Professor Rohner added that research shows the same parts of the brain are activated when people feel rejected as when they suffer physical pain.

He added: ‘Unlike physical pain,  however, people can psychologically  relive the emotional pain of rejection over and over for years.’

His research shows a father’s input is particularly important for behaviour and can influence if a child later drinks to excess, takes drugs or suffers  mental health problems.

Norman Wells, of the Family Education Trust, said: ‘This study underlines the importance of intact and stable families where both the father and the mother are committed to bringing up their children together.

‘Successive governments have failed to recognise the fact that men and women are different and that they  parent differently.’

He criticised ministers for ‘pretending that one parent is as good as two, or that two parents of the same sex are as good as two natural parents of the opposite sex’.

This week, the Coalition announced penalties for mothers who fail to allow former partners to maintain a proper relationship with their children, including jail. A right to ‘shared parenting’ following family breakdown will also be enshrined in law.

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One thought on “How absence of a loving father can wreck a child’s life: New study shows relationship with both parents is crucial

  1. My ex partner absconded with my 2 year old daughter in 2012. It took 6 months until my daughter was recovered into my full time care. Since than it has been a rollercoaster of either extreme love for me and wanting to have more children to extreme hate with the most vile allegations and manipulation of DVO”s. I did jail time for contravening the DVO with text messages. This was while the mother was contravening the Federal Court orders and not allowing our daughter to see her Dad for 3 months over Xmas. The messages were all considered low level “can we please stop the conflict and focus on our daughters best interests” however there was 10 contraventions over that 3 months and the Court punished me harshly. During this time I filed 17 contravention of orders by the mother and her legal aid grant was terminated. While the court insisted orders were to be followed by the mother in real terms it did nothing to enforce it. My little girl was a daddy”s girl and we had a extremely close bond. To see her face light up and run into my arms when she was staying with me was my joy. We had agreed on Consent orders in 2013 and while the agreement was she live with the mother the time spent with me was 40% and shared parental responsibility. These consent orders were made at a time when the mother was wanting to recommence the relationship and when I broke this of a few months later the mother pursued a highly conflictual final hearing. This matter was part heard however at the insistance of the mother and the ICL final orders were made while I was in prison restricting all my access and rights. While I now can start the matter again I don”t know if I would survive it. The mother has gone on to have a third child to a third different father. When I met her in 2008 she was a prostitute who at times worked at home while her 5 year old first daughter was there. She also was addicted to dope and exposed her 5 year old to this. I thought I could help her. I have never been so wrong about anything in my life.

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