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Thursday December 20 5:43 PM ET

Dad's Love Influences Child as Much as Mom's Love

By Alan Mozes

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A father's love--or the lack of it--contributes as much to the development of a child's personality and behavior as the love of a mother, according to researchers. In some respects, they add, a father's love is even more influential.

``Probably the most important and most surprising finding of all is that the importance of mother love seems to drop out altogether in some of the analyses we have done,'' said study co-author Dr. Ronald P. Rohner of the University of Connecticut. ``It's pretty remarkable.''

Rohner and his colleague Robert A. Veneziano reviewed almost 100 US and European studies investigating the effects of parenting on the psychology and behavior of children as they grew older. The earliest study was conducted in 1949, and the most recent was completed in 2001.

In the current issue of the Review of General Psychology, the researchers report that the degree of acceptance or rejection a child receives--and perceives--from his or her father appears to affect his or her development as deeply as the presence or absence of a mother's love.

Rohner and Veneziano noted that the withholding of love by either the mother or the father is equally connected to a child's lack of self-esteem, emotional instability, withdrawal, depression and anxiety. And the risk of developing problems with aggression, drug and alcohol abuse, and delinquency was equally related to a child's rejection or acceptance by either parent.

The investigators also found that having the love and nurturing of either parent has an equally positive effect on a child's happiness, well-being and social and academic success from early childhood through young adulthood.

The team further found that in certain instances, the love of a father plays an even more important role than that of the mother. Many studies found a father's love to be the sole determining factor when it came to a child's problems with personality, conduct, delinquency or substance abuse. They said future research is needed to explain this observation.

Rohner told Reuters Health that he doesn't want to suggest that a mother's love is less important than the love of a father. Instead, he said, his research reveals an American cultural bias to overemphasize the role the mother plays in raising her children, at the expense of understanding and appreciating the equally crucial role of the father.

``In certain aspects, father's love seems to have a particularly strong influence,'' he said. ``So it seems clear that we have to move away from mother-bashing: assuming somehow that the mother is completely at fault for all the problems of her kids.... And, hopefully, this information will encourage fathers all over the country to become more involved with their kids.''

SOURCE: Review of General Psychology 2001;5:382-405.

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