With statistics indicating that roughly half of all marriages end in divorce, it is not surprisingly that half of all children in the United States will grow up with their father’s living elsewhere. Those statistics include all children, not just those of divorced parents, as recent studies by Penn State University sociologists and demographers Valarie King and Paul Amato (highlighted in a June 16, 2010 article in USA Today) point out.
Interestingly, the study found that fathers who pay child support and were divorced from the children’s mothers were far more likely to stay involved in their children’s lives than those fathers who never married their children’s moms. The “non-resident” father, as the study suggests, is becoming increasingly active compared to the non-resident father of a generation ago: in 1976, 18% of non-resident fathers saw their kids at least weekly, while in 2002, 31% saw their kids weekly; meanwhile, the number of fathers with no weekly contact fell from 37% in 1976 to 29% in 2002.
The role of fathers in their children’s lives, particularly the lives of boys, has been well-publicized and is often cited as a contributing factor to delinquency, educational achievement, and substance abuse. That 29% of children still have no weekly contact with their fathers is disturbing, but the number is moving in the right direction.
Ultimately, a non-resident father’s tendency to stay involved is influenced by his relationship with the child’s mother. Fortunately, technology is offering fathers more opportunities to stay connected to their children, even if they can not see them every day, and the ability to bypass (or at least minimize) a contentious interaction with the child’s mother. There is no substitute for personal contact between a father and his child, but in an age where kids text, twitter, Facebook, and Skype from their cell phones, it is becoming easier for a non-resident parent to keep in touch and stay involved in the child’s life without having to go through the custodial parent.
It took 26 years to achieve an 8% decrease in the number of fathers who did not see their children on a weekly basis. During that time, we have seen a considerable evolution in family law and the emphasis on the father in raising children. It will be interesting to see whether in the eight years since the statistics were compiled that the proliferation and incorporation of technology into our every day lives brings about a sharp increase in the number of fathers in contact with their children.
Opinions and studies will vary as to what constitutes a contact between a father and child, but in terms of whether the non-resident father is involved in that child’s life is not decided by a clinician, the child’s mother (or her lawyer), but by the child.