...And Give Mom a Break

Reports that mother alone is not to blame for her children's problems. Other factors affecting children; Psychology professors Vicky Phares and Bruce Compas found most studies blame mothers; Overlooking fathers' roles; More.

By PT Staff, published on November 1, 1992 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

When something goes wrong with a child, the world is quick to blame it onmom. Society has traditionally assumed that mothers are the root of kids' behavioral and emotional problems.

Yes, a mother's mental instability will likely make a mark on her children, but so will other factors. Childhood temperament, marital divorce and strife, and exposure to stress and adversity also contibute to child psycho-patholgy. And, according to a team of psychologists there's one more big factor that belongs on the list: fathers. After all, they're parents too.

Truth is, report Vicky Phares, Ph.D., and Bruce Compas, Ph.D., few studies have examined the role fathers play in child psychopathology. By contrast, hundreds of studies link moms to 72 different disorders in their kids.

To get a handle on things, Phares and Compas reviewed 577 studies, conducted between 1984 and 1991, that related parental characteristics to psychopathology in kids. Half looked at mothers alone. Only one percent looked at fathers alone, they report in Psychological Bulletin, (Vol. III, No. 3).

Why the death of father studies? Researchers, like other people, assume that moms are at home with the kids and that fathers are more difficult to recruit for studies. But Phares finds that most fathers don't mind participating at all. And most moms are in the labor force, like most dads.

Also, many studies focus on depression, thought to be more common among women. As a result, depressed dads, along with fathers having predominantly male disorders, are overlooked.

Phares also faults "theory driven research." Researchers are following Freudian and sexist theories that say mothers are responsible for kids' psychopathology. Researchers who are always looking at moms will always find them the cause.

So entrenched is the concept of mother blame that when kids develop behavior problems, mothers are apt to blame themselves-and fathers join in the chorus.

Substantial research in the area of developmental psychology points to the importance of the father's role in a child's upbringing-and to a host of other largely unexplored factors-genetics, family systems, siblings, and other societal and stress-related problems.