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What’s Dad’s Most Important Role? You Might Be Surprised

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson


How would you rank these contributions of fathers to their families? Which would you put first?

  • Financial support
  • Values and morals
  • Discipline
  • Emotional support

Go ahead. Rank these four contributions right now.

A new survey by the Pew Research Trust, reflecting the views of over 1000 Americans found these contributions to the family ranked in ways that might surprise you or your own parents:

  1. Values and morals
  2. Emotional support
  3. Discipline
  4. Financial support

Well over half of those surveyed (58%) put communicating values and morals at the top of the list. Financial support was thought to be “extremely important” by a significantly smaller group (41%).

This valuing of fathers’ roles is essentially the same as the ranking given by survey participants to roles of mothers: morals and emotional support are at the top and financial support is least important.

Furthermore, when asked which of these roles was only “somewhat or not important” only 5% of participants thought that skipping out on morals and values was okay, while 13% found that not providing adequate financial support was acceptable.

These findings held whether the respondent was a man or a woman.

So what does this mean? It seems to mean that love and care are more important than things, even when thinking of fathers and their children. It seems to mean that guiding children in growing up knowing right from wrong and in feeling good about themselves is a job for dads as much as for moms. I think this is good news.

Of course, children need financial support and children who live in uncertain economic circumstances suffer setbacks other kids don’t. Money is important. But it’s not the only important thing or even the most important thing.

Love is free. And Americans agree that children need love.


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.