Former U.S. president George Washington once said, "All I am I owe to my mother." But a new study suggests it was his father who may have had more of an influence on his development.
Researchers at the University of Connecticut compiled data from more than 500 studies in an attempt to answer the question of whether the acceptance, or rejection, by either a mother or a father has the biggest influence on a child's personality development.
They found that while most children receive the same levels of acceptance or rejection from each parent, it was one parent's rejection that had the most significant impact on a child. The research found that a father's rejection often had a greater impact than a mother's.
In another part of their study, the researchers looked at the potential development impacts of that rejection.
They analyzed data from 36 studies, and found that children who feel rejection from their parents tend to feel more anxious and insecure, and also tend to be more hostile or aggressive toward others.
The sting of childhood rejection also carries forward into adulthood. Adults who experienced rejection as children tend to find it more difficult to establish trusting and secure intimate relationships.
The researchers note that an international team of psychologists has already developed a theory about why a father's rejection may have a greater impact on development. Children, the psychologists say, may pay closer attention to the parent they perceive to have the most power or prestige in the relationship. Therefore, if the child perceives his or her father more power, his words and actions may have greater impact.
Meanwhile, the team of psychologists is working on the International Father Acceptance Rejection Project, conducting further research into the relationship between a father's rejection and a child's personality development.
Study co-author Ronald Rohner said the findings carry an important message, and that is the importance of a father's love to a child's development. Rohner also said a better understanding of a father's influence on personality development may help end so-called "mother blaming."
"The great emphasis on mothers and mothering in America has led to an inappropriate tendency to blame mothers for children's behaviour problems and maladjustment when, in fact, fathers are often more implicated than mothers in the development of problems such as these," Rohner said in a statement.
The study was published in the May 2012 edition of Personality and Social Psychology Review, a journal of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.
Be a better dad
The findings correspond with the release of a new book on fatherhood by former United States ambassador to Bermuda, Gregory W. Slayton.
In "Be a Better Dad Today: 10 Tools Every Father Needs," Slayton offers advice on fatherhood based on interviews with dads on all five continents.
"I started to see that there were a lot of things that dads did, effective fathers, whether we were in Canada or Japan or Africa or Europe," Slayton told CTV News Channel in an interview earlier this week. "And that's what became the 10 tools that every father needs."
Slayton, a father of four, said parenthood was especially challenging for him, having grown up without a father.
And he admits that his guidelines for being a better father aren't simple. But as with anything you build, including the relationship with your children, "you need tools."
Those tools include putting family first, even when work takes up so much of a parent's life.
"What that does mean is that when we're home we're deliberate about putting down the newspaper, turning off the game on the TV…spending a few minutes a day with each member of our family," Slayton said.
While that may seem obvious, some of Slayton's rules are less so, including the directive to be "all-in" when it comes to marriage.
"All-in marriage is simply the fact that one of the best gifts we can give our children is a stable, secure home," he said. "And the way to do that is to really love the children's mom."
His book acknowledges that relationships fail, and includes advice for single fathers and blended families.
But his advice comes down to what he believes dads are most obligated to give their children: advice they can carry with them into the future.
"We all think about what we're going to give to our kids: money, houses, boats, whatever it might be," Slayton said.
"But the reality is those things don't have a big impact on the happiness of the kids later in life. What does have a big impact is are we as dads, and moms, able to transfer to our children a set of ethical and moral values that's going to help them navigate the tricky complexity of life?"