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Here’s how dads are vital to their children’s well-being — before those children exist

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Healthy, engaged fathers can literally change their kids' futures.

Fathers are vital for their children — before those children even exist.

I’m not going to lie, by my fifth pregnancy I was super sick of hearing about all the things that might potentially destroy my baby’s life in the future. From eating lunchmeat to allowing myself to feel stress — even just for a minute! — it began to seem like every aspect of living life carried hidden dangers for the child I was carrying. In fact, I’m 100 percent sure that the endless lists of what to avoid caused more stress than anything … ironic, since stress was one of the things to avoid.

No one ever had a list for my husband, though. He wasn’t warned not to drink, eat shellfish, or be stressed before, during, or after any of my pregnancies. It annoyed me, but it was understandable. After all, we all know that it’s really the woman’s healthy and lifestyle that effect future offspring the most, right?

I AM SO HAPPY TO REPORT THIS! According to Fatherly, researchers have found that a father’s health and habits have just as much impact on the genetic information passed onto children as the mother’s:

While we tend to blame mothers for ruining the genetic information in their eggs with drugs and alcohol, until recently we had little concept of how fathers’ vices might impact their sperm. We now know that the decisions a man makes before conception can have lifelong impacts on his kids. Studies suggest that men who drink before conception are more likely to have sons who abuse alcohol, and that poor dietary choices in men can lead to negative pregnancy outcomes. At least one study suggests that men who are stressed before conception may predispose their offspring to high blood sugar.

So, ladies, feel free to take a hard pass when your husband suggests you be designated driver while you’re trying to conceive — you now have the freedom to explain why, in fact, neither of you should be drinking (you’re welcome). But keep in mind that it’s not all about refraining from certain things … these findings mean that the better both of your choices are before you have a baby, the better your chances will be to pass on all the good genes to your future kids. So get your husband on board with exercise, healthy eating, and stress-management techniques well before you see those little blue lines!

Of course, genes aren’t the only thing fathers give to their children. In fact, both boys and girls depend heavily on their father’s influence as they develop social and relationship skills. Broadly speaking, “boys lean on their fathers more than anyone else as they develop social skills,” and those boys with uninvolved or absent fathers struggle to form relationships as they mature, sometimes leaving them socially ostracized and lonely.

Girls, on the other hand, depend on their father’s influence more in the realm of romantic relationships:

“Numerous past studies find a link between low quality fathering and daughters’ sexual outcomes, including early and risky sexual behavior,” Danielle DelPriore, who has studied how dads impact risky sex, told Fatherly. “A father who is cold or disengaged may change daughters’ social environments and sexual psychology in ways that promote unrestricted sexual behavior.”

There are multiple theories about why this is the case — one is the idea that single moms simply aren’t capable of the same level of parental oversight kids get in two-parent homes. DelPriore suggests that girls with uninvolved or absent fathers learned early that they shouldn’t expect men to commit to long-term relationships, so they settle for casual, risker flings. I’m willing to bet it’s a combination of these factors, plus others.

It’s important that dads know how vital they really are to their children’s health and happiness. It can be hard on them when their kids always cry for Mom, so make sure your husband knows exactly how much his presence and engagement means — both in the moment and in the long run. It can literally make the difference between a safe, secure future for your children and an unstable future marked by risky choices.

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