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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, August 29 2019

Fathers and families

There’s nothing better than God’s original design for the family -- a loving father and mother, along with an extended family, rearing their children to follow in His ways.

“Fatherlessness is the most harmful demographic trend of this generation,” warns social historian David Blankenhorn. “It is the leading cause of declining child well-being in this society. It is also the engine driving our most urgent social problems, from crime to adolescent pregnancy to child sex abuse to domestic violence against women” (Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem, 1995, p. 1). Rising divorce rates and increasing numbers of children born out of wedlock are major contributing causes to this unfortunate development.

New studies have shown that fathers, who normally are not given as much credit as mothers in child rearing, actually play a vital role in the upbringing of children and their future success. Amazingly, this research reinforces the same principles written in the Bible thousands of years ago! The Bible describes the ideal father as actively and tenderly engaged in his children’s rearing and education. “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

“By eight weeks,” Dr. Pruett explains, “infants can anticipate differences in maternal and paternal handling styles … When infants were approached by their mother, they slowed and regulated their heart and respiratory rates, relaxed their shoulders, and lowered their eyelids (Ahh … Mom). When the father approached, the infant’s heart and respiratory rates quickened, shoulders hunched up, and eyes widened and brightened (Dad’s here … party time!)” ( Fatherneed: Why Father Care Is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child, 2000, p. 25).

Child studies show that this kind of rough-and-tumble play fathers tend to engage in with their children develops social and emotional experiences that prepare them for school. For instance, they learn to be confident, to take turns and to become leaders. “Kids who learn these early social skills from their fathers do better with peers,” says Dr. Ross Parke, professor of psychology and author of ‘Fatherhood’ (quoted by Culbreth, p. 72B). Mothers normally give care and comfort, while fathers focus more on teaching children about the world around them. Fathers also play a critical role by helping the child safely and securely separate from the intense maternal dependency of infancy.

Conversely, the lack of a father figure tends to leave children more passive and fearful. Child research indicates it’s the closeness felt by the child to the father that is most predictably associated with a positive life outcome 25 years later. “Children who feel a closeness to their fathers are twice as likely to enter college or find stable employment after high school, 75 percent less likely to have a teen birth, 80 percent less likely to spend time in jail, and half as likely to experience multiple depression symptoms” (Pruett, p. 38).

Fathers can also affect how well their children progress in school, which subjects they prefer and even the kind of occupation they choose. For example, women who were high achievers, such as Margaret Thatcher and Indira Ghandhi, former prime ministers of Britain and India, both mention they were highly influenced and encouraged by their fathers in their academic and political careers.

Another important role in which the father excels is teaching children about spiritual and moral values. When the father is a good role model of morality, children respect both of their parents more. If the father establishes rules that are fair and a level playing field in which the children can flourish, they tend to be more obedient. But when the mother sets the rules, children tend to defy them more. “Father deprivation is directly linked to difficulties in a child’s self-control” (Pruett, pp. 48, 51).

When God united Adam and Eve, the first two human beings, in marriage, He told them to multiply and fill the earth. God had carefully designed the family unit so children would be reared between two parents who would act as opposite (masculine and feminine) poles. The child would be in the middle of this union, with each parent exerting his or her unique influence so the child is reared to have a balanced and full personality.

A well known prophecy in Malachi emphasises how concerned God is with preserving families: “And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:6).

It’s interesting that in the Scripture above, it is the hearts of the fathers that must first turn to the children, before the children’s hearts are then turned toward their fathers.