Report Calls Fathers "Not Essential

July 7, 2008 - 7:02 PM

(CNS) - An article in a leading psychology journal reports that the presence of fathers in families raising children is "not essential," and that fathers "may be detrimental to the child and the mother."

The report in the current issue of The American Psychologist, a journal of the American Psychological Association (APA) - recently in hot water over an earlier report that concluded that child sexual abuse did not cause pervasive harm - takes aim at the notion that fathers and two-parent heterosexual marriages are necessary for the psychological health of children.

"[W]e do not believe that the data support the conclusion that fathers are essential to child well-being and that heterosexual marriage is the social context in which responsible fathering is most likely to occur," wrote Drs. Louise B. Silverstein and Carl F. Auerbach, both from Yeshiva University, in an article called "Deconstructing the Essential Father." The report appears in the June 1999 issue of the journal.

In fact, having a father present in a family situation may be detrimental to the child and the mother, said the authors, given what they called the male tendency to consume "resources in terms of gambling, purchasing alcohol, cigarettes, or other nonessential commodities," which "increase[s] women's workload and stress."

The authors "deconstruct" several notions about fatherhood and marriage that they label as "neoconservative," including the importance of male role models on boys, the civilizing effects of marriage on men, and unique paternal contributions to childrearing.

Also, the authors concluded that "divorce does not irretrievably harm the majority of children," and that any harmful effects of divorces are related more to economic factors such as the loss of a father's income, rather than the absence of a father.

The idea that a male role model is important in raising boys is also contested in the report, and the assumption that single mothers have a difficult time raising boys alone is attributed to "the larger cultural context of male dominance and negative attitudes toward women. . . . Within patriarchal culture, boys know that when they become adult men, they will be dominant to every woman, including their mother," according to the article.

The authors also questioned what they called the "privileging" of heterosexual marriage, saying that "one, none, or both" of the adults that have a "consistent relationship" with a child could be male or female, related or not, without significant psychological harm.

"Our goal," the authors concluded, "is to create an ideology that defines the father-child bond as independent of the father-mother relationship."

To achieve the goal of eradicating social customs whereby "fathering is inextricably intertwined with marriage," the authors recommended a "comprehensive family policy that provides paid parental leave, governmentally-financed day care, and economic subsidies for all families with children," including single-parent families and families headed by homosexual parents, as well as de-emphasizing the "sacred status of the mother-child dyad."

Silverstein is a past president of the APA's division of family psychology, and chair of the APA's Feminist Family Therapy Task Force. Auerbach heads Yeshiva University's Robert M. Beren Center for Psychological Intervention.