Involved dads raise college grads

Involved dads raise college grads, writes W. Bradford Wilcox in The Atlantic. “Young adults who as teens had involved fathers are significantly more likely to graduate from college,” even after controlling for family income, race and ethnicity.

Eighteen percent of teens said their father was not involved in their lives, writes Wilcox. He used “activities as playing a sport, receiving homework help, or talking about a personal problem with their biological, adoptive, or step-father” to divide the rest into groups with somewhat involved, involved, or highly involved fathers.

Compared to teens who reported that their fathers were not involved, teens with involved fathers were 98 percent more likely to graduate from college, and teens with very involved fathers were 105 percent more likely to graduate from college, controlling for respondent’s age, race, ethnicity, level of mother’s education, and household income as a teen.

. . . involved fathers may provide children with homework help, counsel, or knowledge that helps them excel in school. Second, involved fathers may help children steer clear of risky behaviors — from delinquency to teenage pregnancy — that might prevent them from completing college. Third, involved fathers may help foster an authoritative family environment (characterized by an appropriate mix of engagement, affection, and supervision) that is generally conducive to learning. Finally, involved fathers may be more likely to provide financial support to children seeking a college education.

College-educated parents are more likely to marry and stay together and earn a comfortable income, notes Wilcox. Paternal involvement is high. Young adults who’ve grown up in these affluent, intact, father-involved families are “triply advantaged.”

Why dads matter

Dad isn’t dispensable, write Lois M. Collins and Marjorie Cortez in The Atlantic. A third of American children are growing up without their biological father. It’s not just a benign “alternative family.” It’s bad for kids.

More than half of babies of mothers under 30 are born to unmarried parents, they write. Forty percent of married couples divorce.

Father-absent families are four times more likely to be poor, the Census reports.

When couples split, Dad usually moves out. Often a new man comes in. And then leaves. Children in such homes experience an average of more than five “partnership transitions,” one study found.

Most children deal with “family churn” and end up OK, said Andrew J. Cherlin, author of The Marriage-Go-Round and director of John Hopkins’ Population Center. But the more transitions a child endures, the worse off he or she typically is, Cherlin said.

“Dad also helps with impulse control and memory and enhances a child’s ability to respond effectively to new or ambiguous situations, for boys and girls,” said Warren Farrell, author of Father and Child Reunion. Children who are close to their fathers tend to achieve more academically, while kids with absent fathers are more likely to drop out. Fathers are the biggest factor in preventing drug use, Farrell said.

The time a father spends with his child predicts how empathetic a child will become, according to a proposal for a White House Council on Boys and Men.

Children who lack contact with fathers are more likely to be treated for emotional or behavioral problems. Girls with absent or indifferent fathers are more prone to hyperactivity.

When fathers are involved, girls are less likely to become pregnant as teens and boys are less likely to become teen fathers.

Simply improving the job market for young adults, especially men, would do wonders to stabilize families—particularly those just starting out, Cherlin said. Experts have been surprised by the real drop in divorce among the college-educated, who still can get good jobs. He said young people need more job training opportunities and apprenticeships, especially if they’re not college-bound. Making sure tax policy doesn’t discourage marriage and providing a modest earned income tax credit for disadvantaged childless young adults would also encourage formation of stable relationships, he added.

“I didn’t have a dad in the house,” President Obama said as he announced the My Brother’s Keeper initiative to help young black males. “And I was angry about it, even though I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time. I made bad choices. I got high without always thinking about the harm that it could do. I didn’t always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses. Sometimes I sold myself short.”

How parenting can save marriage

Parenting can save marriage, writes Richard V. Reeves in The Atlantic. Marriage used to be the norm for young Americans, he writes. Now it’s the exception.

In 1960, more than 70 percent of all adults were married, including nearly six in ten twentysomethings. Half a century later, just 20 percent of 18-29-year olds were hitched in 2010

A new version of marriage —”egalitarian, committed and focused on children” — is emerging, writes Reeves. “College graduates in the United States are reinventing marriage as a child-rearing machine for a post-feminist society and a knowledge economy. It’s working, too: Their marriages offer more satisfaction, last longer, and produce more successful children.”

. . . engaged, committed parenting is hugely important. Simply engaging with and talking to children has strong effects on their learning; reading bedtime stories accelerates literacy skill acquisition; encouraging physical activity and feeding them balanced meals keeps them healthy, strong and alert.

However, as high-intensity parenting (HIP) couples team up to raise their children, the “marriage gap” is growing.

Less-educated women are ever more likely to be single parents struggling to raise children with little emotional or financial support.

A lack of “marriageable” men is a common explanation. It is clear that the labor market prospects of poorly-educated men are dire. But the language itself betrays inherent conservatism. “Marriageability” here means, principally, breadwinning potential. Nobody ever apparently worries about the “marriageability” of a woman: Presumably she just has to be fertile.

. . . men with children are something more than just potential earners: They are fathers. And what many children in our poorest neighborhoods need most of all is more parenting.

If the mother has the best chance in the labor market, the father can take on the important job of raising the children, Reeves writes. 

I’m old-fashioned. I find this vision depressing.

NBC is premiering two “feel-good sitcoms that examine the healing properties of broken homes, reports the New York Times. “Television executives seem eager to make the case that divorce doesn’t damage children and, in some cases, improves them.”

NBC featured an Olympian with an “alternative lifestyle,” notes PJ Media. At 23, free-style skier David Wise is married and has a child.

Parenting aid is popular — and ineffective

 Close to a billion dollars have been spent to provide relationship counseling to low-income parents writes Tom Bartlett in The Great Mom & Dad Experiment in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The hope is that “better partners make better parents.” 

Couples with babies in tow arrive for dinner one evening at a red brick office building in downtown Oklahoma City.  . . . Seated at one table is a touchingly earnest couple, still in high school, who didn’t plan to have a baby but now want to be the best possible parents. Nearby is a 23-year-old in a baseball cap, pulled low over his eyes, who admits he was dragged here by his girlfriend. There are older couples, too, including a forty-something dad who laughs and says he wants to get fatherhood right this time around. The group is racially mixed: black, white, Asian. Some are married, some not. . . .  They’ve come for the first session of a 13-week program that promises to teach them skills that will strengthen their relationships so that they can provide more stable homes for those babies.

However, it doesn’t work, according to a three-year study of eight programs in different states.

 The programs, the study concluded, did not make couples more likely to stay together or get married. They did not increase the amount of time fathers spent with children. The parents were not more financially stable. Their children were not more emotionally secure.

Family Expectations, which grew out of welfare reform, enjoys broad bipartisan support, writes Bartlett. “Plus it just feels right. Spend time with these couples—the teenage mother with a newborn on her shoulder, the middle-aged dad dangling his keys just beyond his infant’s reach—and you can’t help but root for them and for relationship education.”

Family instability is terrible for kids. But this doesn’t seem to work.

 

Celebrate boys’ boyness – and work with it

Celebrate boys’ boyness – and work with it writes Margaret Wente in Canada’s Globe and Mail.

I sat down with several people who think about this question every day – Jim Power, the principal of Upper Canada College; his colleagues Scott Cowie and Mary Gauthier; and Brad Adams, executive director of the International Boys’ Schools Coalition.

Our culture is deeply uncertain about the value of masculinity, says Brad Adams, executive director of the International Boys’ Schools Coalition.

For a boy, the two most important life questions are: Will I find work that’s significant? And will I be worthy of my parents? When boys themselves are asked what they need, they say: I need purpose. I need to make a difference. I need to know I measure up. I need challenge. Above all, I need a meaningful vocation.

No wonder so many boys are so miserable. The modern world of extended years in school and delayed adulthood cuts them off from what they need most.

Boys also need to imagine themselves as heroes, says Jim Power, the principal of Upper Canada College. To girls, Vimy Ridge is a “horrific” place where many Canadian soldiers died in World War I.  When boys are asked about Vimy Ridge,  they imagine themselves there. “Every boy is thinking to himself: How would I have measured up?”

These days, “boys are often treated as a problem,” Wente writes.

The dominant narrative around difficult boys – at least in the public school system – is that they’re unteachable, unreachable, disruptive and threatening. Many commentators – men as well as women – blame male culture itself for the problems with boys. In their view, what we need to do is destroy the death star of masculinity and all the evil that goes with it. What we need to do is put boys in touch with their emotions and teach them to behave more like girls.

Boys’ schools take another track, celebrating “boyness,” Wente writes.

Several public school systems have launched all-boys’ schools for failing boys. In New York, the Eagle Academy for Young Men is achieving impressive results for minority boys in a tough neighbourhood. These schools demand a lot. Their ethos is: We’ll help you succeed, but we’ll be tough on you, and you must claim responsibility. (By contrast, the attitude of Ontario’s public schools toward difficult boys is: We’ll let you pass if you leave us alone.)

But schools can’t give boys what they really need, Wente writes. They need “men who will guide, instruct, esteem, respect and understand them,” that is, fathers.

Single with children = poverty

A growing class of single mothers is raising kids in poverty, while women who put college and marriage before childbirth have time and money to invest in their children. That’s not really news, but the New York Times puts faces on the problem in Two Classes in America, Divided by ‘I Do’.

Jessica Schairer dropped out of college to have three children with a man who rejected marriage and eventually abandoned her. She earns $25,000 working at a child care center run by Chris Faulkner, a college graduate with a husband and two children.

Estimates vary widely, but scholars have said that changes in marriage patterns — as opposed to changes in individual earnings — may account for as much as 40 percent of the growth in certain measures of inequality.

About 41 percent of births in the United States occur outside marriage, up sharply from 17 percent three decades ago. But equally sharp are the educational divides, according to an analysis by Child Trends, a Washington research group. Less than 10 percent of the births to college-educated women occur outside marriage, while for women with high school degrees or less the figure is nearly 60 percent.

Unwed motherhood “is growing fastest in the lower reaches of the white middle class,” among women with some college but no degree. Meanwhile, married couples are having children later,  divorcing less and spending more time on parenting.

“The people with more education tend to have stable family structures with committed, involved fathers,” (Princeton sociologist Sara) McLanahan said. “The people with less education are more likely to have complex, unstable situations involving men who come and go.”

She said, “I think this process is creating greater gaps in these children’s life chances.”

Jessica Schairer wanted a husband and  “the house and the white picket fence,” and still does. She can’t explain why she stayed with an irresponsible man. “I’m in this position because of decisions I made,” she said.

While the Faulkner boys go on a Boy Scout camping trip with their father, Schairer’s son is watching TV in his bedroom while his exhausted mother collapses on the couch.

Single moms, poor babies

More than half of births to women under 30 are out of wedlock, reports the New York Times, trumpeting the “new normal” in middle America. Including older mothers, 59 percent of babies are born to a married couple.

One group still largely resists the trend: college graduates, who overwhelmingly marry before having children. That is turning family structure into a new class divide, with the economic and social rewards of marriage increasingly reserved for people with the most education.

Marriage is becoming a “luxury good,” says a sociologist.

More Single Moms. So What, responds Katie Rophie in Slate, accusing the Times of condescending to “independent-minded, apparently hard-working women (who) are making decisions and forging families, after thinking clearly about their situation.”

Actually, the story portrays hard-working women who didn’t think clearly about how to avoid their situation.

Family breakdown has high costs for children, writes Heather Mac Donald. It is not merely “refresh[ing] our ideas of family.”

Roiphe concludes that there are no (annoyingly retrograde) studies on “what it will be like for . . . children to live in” the coming world without marriage. Actually, we know already. It’s called the ghetto.

Indeed.

Some 73 percent of black children, 53 percent of Latinos and 29 percent of whites are born out of wedlock. While    92 percent of college-educated women are married when they give birth, that drops to 62 percent of women with “some college” and 43 percent of women with a high school diploma or less, according to Child Trends.

Many unwed parents live together, but two-thirds will split up by the time their child turns 10, researchers estimate. And never-married fathers are much less likely to support their children — financially or emotionally — than divorced dads.

Ten worst fictional fathers

In honor of Father’s Day, Time lists the 10 worst fictional fathers of all time: Darth Vader is only #3.

Father's Day without fathers

It’s Father’s Day. It’s also the fourth anniversary of my father’s death. And it’s my brother David’s birthday. As it happens, June 20 fell on Father’s Day the year he was born.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my father because of my father-in-law’s death last month, also from congestive heart failure.  My husband stayed a few extra days after the funeral to help out the family. When he got home, I asked how things were in Chicago. “Fine, except for the lack of a father,” he said.

Too many kids now lack a father every day. John and I were lucky.

Non-fathers get child-support bills

As paternity testing has soared, more men have learned they’re not the fathers of the kids they’ve been raising. But non-dads may be stuck paying child support for other men’s children, reports the New York Times Magazine.

In most states, judges put the interest of the child above that of the genetic stranger who unwittingly became her father — and that means requiring him to pay child support. Some judges have even rebuked nonbiological fathers for trying to weasel out of their financial obligations. “The laws should discourage adults from treating children they have parented as expendable when their adult relationships fall apart,” Florida’s top court held in a 2007 paternity decision, quoting a law professor. “It is the adults who can and should absorb the pain of betrayal rather than inflict additional betrayal on the involved children.”

That seems unfair to me.