What benefits does a child receive from his/her relationship with dad that are notably different from those derived from their relationship with mom?
- Paternal Authority . In a well-functioning family, the very presence of the father embodies authority and discipline, and it is conveyed simply by his daily involvement in family life.
The dominant role of fathers in preventing misconduct and even psychopathology is well-established. Over fifty years ago, this phenomenon was highlighted in the classic studies on the causes of delinquency by Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck of Harvard University. They described in academic terms what many children hear their mothers so often say: “Wait till your father gets home! ” Fathers are needed to provide that paternal authority and discipline, or else mom will have to choose between being primarily an enforcer or primarily a loving nurturer, when the kid requires both. We must accept that each parent has a primary role, even if they will inevitably wear the other hat on lesser occasions.
A major challenge in the face of capitalizing on paternal authority is that our children are a reflection of us, and so they must first see their mother respecting dad’s authority. Otherwise, the kids will begin to use mom to undermine dad, and then dad will eventually gravitate away from family involvement due to alienation or simply to avoid conflict. Outcome: paternal authority is lost and the children suffer for a lifetime.
I know “men’s authority over women” is a trigger-word for many, so let me clarify and qualify:
Allah designated this, not men. Allah who transcends gender and is never biased. What is the wisdom behind this? Perhaps men have a greater capacity for leadership, perhaps women have a greater capacity for humility; likely both and more. However, there is a huge difference between exploring the wisdom and objecting to God. Authority here does not mean a powerless sex-slave who is not allowed to have an opinion. It does not even mean a parent-child dynamic, nor that mom is a robotic arm for dad’s micromanagement at home (will address men’s abuse of authority later). In Islam, absolute authority belongs only to God, but for the sake of social order, God placed some in authority over others and demands compliance for the collective good.
Thus, the Prophet ( ﷺ) said, “Every one of you is a shepherd and is questioned about his flock. The leader of people is a guardian and is questioned about his subjects. A man is the guardian of his family and is questioned about them. A woman is the guardian of her husband’s home and his children and she is questioned about them.” [Bukhārī 6719, Muslim 1829]
Some may argue that shepherd only means responsibility, not leadership. It certainly does mean responsibility, but responsibility cannot be separated from authority. Where is the justice in a person being responsible for something they have no degree of control over?
No joint-enterprise can ever work without authority, or else the arguments will never end, decisions will never be made, and there would be utter stagnation.
Can you imagine presidential debates not ending with elections, but rather until one of the two parties convinces the other? For that reason, Allah placed a mechanism wherein authority / ultimate responsibility rests in someone’s hands. Allah designated that it be the husband, and that he gets interrogated for it. Also, remember that Islam teaches fleeing from leadership, and that those competing for it are least qualified for it. But when it is imposed upon you, do not dare fumble it, for your questioning is not like anyone else’s.
Some may argue that men cannot be trusted with authority, since most are drunk with power. There is some truth to this, but you might as well say they cannot be trusted with money either, since most rich men are corrupt. In fact, one may even claim that men cannot be trusted with women, since most battery cases are men against women and not women against men. See where this is going?
In reality, the problem is not in the presence of authority, but the absence of the greatest safeguard against human transgression and the abuse of authority: the fear of God and the cultivation of conscience. I must admit that this can be scarce in an age when Islam is largely a mere a cultural identity for many, and thus our mothers, sisters, and daughters are oppressed in many Muslim homes before our very eyes. However, whenever and wherever Islam is embraced holistically, we find shining examples that embodied “the best of you are those best to their wives.” [Sunan at-Tirmdihi]
Be certain that if a child does not experience a clear power structure at home that must be conformed to, it is so much harder for those children to grasp even God’s authority in their lives. Why? They were not accustomed to feeling that they must answer for things in life, and restrain themselves from things to avoid unwanted consequences. Consider that 85% of youth in prison had fatherless homes, and 71% of high school dropouts stem from fatherless homes. These kids desperately needed someone to instill in them frustration tolerance, and accustom them to hearing a non-negotiable “no” at times. This is a priceless developmental contribution, and none can effectively provide it like the father figure.
- Paternal Affection . These indispensable expressions of warmth enhance a father’s ability to fulfill his primary role; they offer a constant non-verbal reassurance that dad is not disciplining because he hates me. Paternal affection also has intrinsic benefit for a child, since kids thirst for different kinds of loving care; paternal and maternal. Absentee fathers create an emotional void that leaves youngsters particularly vulnerable. It should be no riddle why 2/3rd of teen pregnancies happen among girls from fatherless homes, girls who sought masculine protective love, while the wolves hunted her for other aims. In boys, their initiation into manhood is obstructed if they feel inadequate and unaccepted around their fathers. To compensate, they are found turning to sports, gangs, and gaming, seeking through them transcendence into something bigger than boyhood.
- Financial Security . Without the father’s presence, children have a 40% chance of growing up in poverty. But have the 60% who escaped poverty survived the tragedy? Far from it, for a sizable portion of financially secure fatherless homes still suffer from emotional hunger. After realizing just how consequential paternal affection is, one can only imagine how much more of a necessity a mother’s mercy and unparalleled compassion can be for a child. Now calculate what securing the finances (escaping the 40%) costed that child when mom’s presence is usually sacrificed for it (in addition to dad already being absent). Should it still then surprise us to hear that 69% of suicide deaths were from fatherless homes?
For this reason, I am just staggered by the whole role-reversal debate. Do people not see what emotional wrecks their kids would be if she worked all day while dad stayed home with the kids? As some Muslim scholars explained, God created the mother *generally* having a greater capacity for mercy, and the father *generally* having a greater capacity for justice, and hence each is tasked accordingly. Or as Dr. Jordan Peterson frequently puts it, even if from an evolutionary-survivalist paradigm, studies consistently show that women are far more agreeable (able to sacrifice self for child) while men are far more conscientious (task-oriented, industrious). The point here is not that women should never work, but that they should never feel their work at home is inferior, or that the father can substitute just as well.