This Is How Your Father's Mental Health Might Have Affected Yours

Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor By Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex writer and editor. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Washington Post, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.

Image by Rob And Julia Campbell / Stocksy

Many studies tell us how a mother's mental health, stress levels, and behavior can affect her children's health and well-being. But we don't spend a lot of time talking about how a father's mental health and behavior affects their child—when in reality, they're equally important.

New research published in the journal Health Equity demonstrates this point clearly: Researchers analyzed data on over 75,000 children regarding their health, behavior, family, and upbringing, and they found that kids whose fathers had poor mental health were 2.6 times more likely to have poor mental health themselves. Children of fathers with poor mental health were also more likely to have emotional or behavioral problems. Additionally, kids whose fathers had poor overall health were more than three times more likely to have poor overall health as well. 

"The maternal influence on a child is viewed as a 'given,' yet chromosomally a child is half their father," Ana E. Núñez, M.D., Health Equity editor-in-chief and a professor of medicine at Drexel University, said in a news release. "Our better understanding of paternal influence is essential in seeing the whole picture. These researchers' important work has significant implications for fleshing out healthy pediatric development."

Past research has also demonstrated "the intergenerational transmission of positive and negative behaviors between fathers and their children," the researchers explained in the paper on their findings. More father involvement has been linked to many "positive cognitive, developmental, and sociobehavioral child outcomes," including more weight gain in preterm infants, improved breastfeeding rates, better language skills, and higher academic achievement. 

"Engaging fathers in child health may provide a potential opportunity to reduce mental and emotional health problems among children," they write. "In addition to moderating mental and emotional health problems, children with involved, loving fathers are significantly more likely to do well in school, have healthy self-esteem, and exhibit empathy and prosocial behavior compared to children who have uninvolved fathers. Involved fathers, in addition, provide practical support in raising children and serve as models for their development into adulthood and responsible citizens."

If you have a more troubled relationship with your father or any parent, you can still work to heal those wounds. Relationship counselor Margaret Paul, Ph.D., recommends spending time reflecting on what was missing from your childhood and how you can give yourself that missing love, attention, or validation today.

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