“Children benefit when fathers are involved in family life; religion encourages men to be more involved in family life,” Dr. Richard Petts said at the Heritage Foundation’s recent conference, Religious Practice and the Family: What the Research Says.
Dr. Petts, an assistant professor of sociology at Ball State University, spoke on the impact of paternal religiosity on child development. Unfortunately, Dr. Petts noted at the conference, “No studies have yet examined how [the] father’s religiosity may affect the lives of young children.” Still, Dr. Petts finds it worthwhile to ask: Does a father’s religiosity affect early childhood behavior? How do fathers’ religious beliefs and affiliation influence early childhood behavior? Do fathers keep going to church later on in a child’s life as they do when the child is young? Dr. Petts’ research was conducted largely on unmarried families from urban areas—a key subset of families to examine.
“The research we do have suggests that parental religiosity may be associated with positive outcomes for children,” Dr. Petts said. Religion “prepares men for the responsibilities of fatherhood, encourages men to be more involved in family life, and instills denominational values.” According to Dr. Petts, churches give support to fathers “that can help them give guidance and support to their children,” and “encourage fathers to be involved with family life.”
Going to church doesn’t just improve family life generally, though. “Religion may enhance co-parental relationship,” Dr. Petts said, by “strengthening the relationship between the father and the mother.” He added: “We know that religious fathers are more likely to be married and less likely to get divorced than non-religious fathers.” Dr. Petts argued that when a co-parental relationship is “enhanced,” it “reduc[es] problem behavior” in children. Meanwhile, even with a decent co-parental relationship, “being raised by a father with no religious affiliation increases risk of displaying … problem behaviors” such as fighting, stealing, and bullying. Dr. Petts argued that it isn’t necessarily which religion that matters; any religion will do to help reduce the risk of raising violent children. “Mothers’ religious participation is only beneficial for children when fathers are also religious,” he added.
Dr. Petts concluded by listing some of the many benefits religion offers to fathers. Religion helps fathers by “enhancing interaction with children; reinforcing mothers’ religious values; and strengthening relationships with mothers.” Religion brings “stronger parental bonds, [and] consistent family values,” Dr. Petts said. “Religious communities may be an important source of support for fathers.”
Allie Winegar Duzett is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.