Father Involvement In Parenting: What We Know And What We Need To Know

544640a8eb21ebfb263665df9a879399-originaHow to Bust the Status Quo
By James Brown. Over the last few decades, Western societal views on fatherhood have shifted from favoring a more emotionally detached, authoritarian figure, to one whose role is more involved in the nurturing of children. Society now expects the modern father to be more caring and emotionally available to his children.

This is reflected in the attitudes of an increasing number of fathers, who report the desire to be more involved in the lives of their children and reject the idea of being relegated to the traditional role of provider only. Men want to spend more time with their children, and are looking to share the responsibility of child-rearing more equally with mothers. Common activities that today’s fathers often reported engaging in with their children include care giving, play or social activities, guidance or teaching, and emotional support.
Fathers who are more involved with their kids, particularly through play, contribute to the development of children who are often better able to regulate their own emotions and possess better social skills and self-control. Fathers' involvement in child-rearing can have a large impact on the long-term development of children, and has been found to predict positive outcomes for children in later life. Well-adjusted adults tend to come from families where the father was involved in their upbringing. Children from homes with a supportive father tend to perform better academically, and this has also been correlated with lower rates of depression, reduced behavioral problems, and lower rates of substance abuse issues. Father involvement should be considered a protective factor for children that aids in the development of resilience and mitigates certain psychological and social risks in adulthood.
Given the positive outcomes of father involvement, research has endeavored to establish what factors predict the level of fathers' involvement with their children. First, the characteristics of the child, such as gender and birth order, have an influence on the level of fathers’ involvement. The positive attributes of the child, such as the child having a good temperament, also lead to greater involvement of the father. Second, characteristics of the mother influence the level of fathers' involvement. Fathers tend to be more involved with children if the mother is educated, involves herself with the children, is employed outside the home, or is older than the father. Marital (or relationship) harmony is also likely to lead to increased levels of involvement on the part of the father. Lastly, characteristics of fathers themselves, such as age, engagement in employment, and higher education, as well as knowledge, attitudes, and skills in parenting, predict the level of involvement with their children. 
Barriers to fathers’ involvement in parenting are often reported to be workload, time pressures, and the pressures of earning an income. Relative family size itself impacts fathers' involvement, with fathers of larger families are often less involved with their children, perhaps due to increased financial pressure. Other characteristics including psychological well-being, attitudes regarding paternal relationships with children, religious activity, and use of social support also come to bear on fathers' level of involvement in parenting. 

"For any policy to effect change, it must influence shifts in attitudes within homes, where decisions regarding parenting are actually occurring."
However, despite what we know about the importance of fathers’ engagement in parenting, we need to explore further how to enable men to shift the delegation of responsibilities so they can better share the burdens of family care with their partners. Many Western countries have embarked on social policy changes to increase fathers’ participation in childcare, such as paid parenting leave.

The Scandinavian region boasts some of the most progressive social policies designed to bring about a more egalitarian model of parenting, and to increase fathers’ involvement in shared parenting. Sweden in particular has probably the best paid parenting scheme in the world. The Swedish policy recognizes both parents as having equal and important roles in child development, while also supporting the dual-income model, allowing for both partners to pursue their career aspirations. While the merits of this scheme should be applauded, there has not been a rapid uptake by fathers, with research finding that 90% of fathers are only using a very small proportion of what they are entitled to. Swedish mothers are the main constituency taking advantage of this leave, and are still predominantly seen as the primary carers for their infants. Scotland has had a similar experience, where paid parental leave legislation has been in place since 2015, yet follow-up studies have found only one in 10 fathers are participating in the scheme. Investigations into the uptake of paid parental leave by fathers across a number of countries has indicated that social and company attitudes, the financial circumstances of parents, and the prevailing model of mothers as primary carer, are the main influencing factors. 
Workplace legislation is one very important step towards a shared model of parenting, but societal change in attitudes towards the involvement of fathers in the lives of their children still has a long way to go. Legislation doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and for any policy to effect change it must influence shifts in attitudes within the homes, where decisions regarding parenting are actually occurring. Conversations between couples regarding their decision to have children, and how they intend to provide care for their children while also tending to their individual aspirations and needs, are pivotal. We need to better understand these conversations, and how we might assist parents in making what might feel like groundbreaking changes to the way they share the roles of parenting and providing. If these decision-making processes are steeped in gender stereotypes and role expectations, the status quo will continue and any well-intended legislation will languish. 
5cb7b6c26fce7c457308be515fcaf893-originaJames Brown is a Clinical Psychologist and Lecturer in the School of Psychology and Counselling at the University of Southern Queensland. Currently James is completing his PhD in fathers involvement in parenting. James is a father of four children and enjoys family time, music, cooking, and travel. One of these days he hopes to fit a regular game of golf in to his schedule
Posted by Jared Cline on Jun 20, 2017 8:57 AM America/New_York

Blog Post Comments

Log in to post a comment.

Thanks MARC for your support in sharing my post. 
  • Posted Tue 20 Jun 2017 07:01 PM EDT


What gender equality topic do you most want to learn more about in 2019? Anything we left out? Let us know.

Business case
Mentoring and sponsorship
Paternity leave and fatherhood
Masculinity and gender
Actions to take