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For Your Marriage

Marriage Today covers current trends and research pertaining to marriage and family life in today's world.

How does “boomerang fathering” affect families and children?

In an August 2, 2016 article published on the University of Houston’s website, Marisa Ramirez discusses the results of a study entitled, “Boomerang Fathers in Adolescent Female Depression.” The research was conducted by Daphne Hernandez, University of Houston assistant professor and principal investigator, along with researchers from New York University and Iowa State University. The researchers wanted to see whether or not the presence of a father in the life of an adolescent girl increased or decreased her vulnerability to depressive symptoms. The results showed that adolescent girls who lived in circumstances where their fathers were present part of the time (“boomerang fathering”) experienced less depressive symptoms compared to those adolescent girls whose fathers were completely absent from their lives.

Hernandez explained the findings from previous research on family instability and adolescent depression, which indicated that the ambivalent presence of a father contributed to increased depression in adolescents. However, according to Hernandez’s new research, boomerang fathering decreased depression in female adolescents. Her research showed that there was no significant difference in the depressive symptoms of adolescent girls who lived with their biological fathers from ages 0-18 years old, compared to adolescent girls who lived with boomerang fathers. Additionally, the researchers found that adolescent girls who lived with boomerang fathers had less depressive symptoms by the age of 18, compared to adolescent girls whose fathers were completely absent from their lives.

What are the implications of this research? Hernandez described how the “on and off” presence of a biological father could prevent non-biological father figures from entering into their children’s lives. In other words, in families who have boomerang fathers, typically stepfathers are not present. One possible conclusion is that the lack of a stepparent or non-biological father figure can reduce an adolescent’s vulnerability to stress and depression, and boomerang fathering keeps the father present in an adolescent’s life to an extent, creating some stability for them. The researchers found that the positive effects of boomerang fathers applied only to girls, not boys.

These research findings are significant for marriages and families. The results provide valuable insight for both Church leaders and the culture at large in regard to providing support for families a stable marriage. They show that fathers, even when they are present only some of the time, may still help adolescent girls and reduce their depressive symptoms.

About the author
Currently studying theology and psychology at Saint Vincent College, Alexandra Lahoud is an intern for the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the USCCB.