Family Factors

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Individual factors are not the only determinants of father involvement. Family-level variables including maternal attitudes concerning father involvement and the maritial relationship are both family-level factors that require examination.

Maternal attitudes: Mother as gatekeeper. Consistent with a family systems view, maternal attitudes need to be considered as a determinant of paternal participation in childcare. In spite of advances in women's participation in the workplace, many women still feel ambivalent about father involvement in domestic issues (Coltrane, 1996; Dienhart and Daly, 1997). Because in part of the "cult of maternalism" (Duffy, 1988), which stresses the notion that mothers are indispensable, natural, and necessary, many women are reluctant to actively and wholeheartedly involve fathers in the daily routines of caregiving. As Allen and Hawkins (1999, p. 202) suggest, their ambivalence "may be because increased paternal involvement intrudes on a previously held monopoly over the attentive and intuitive responsibilities of family work which if altered may compromise female power and privilege in the home." These maternal attitudes may lead to behavior that in turn limits father involvement and constitutes a form of gatekeeping. A major advance in conceptualization of gatekeeping was made by Allen and Hawkins (1999, p. 200), who defined the term as follows:

Maternal gatekeeping is a collection of beliefs and behaviors that ultimately inhibit a collaboration effort between men and women in families by limiting men's opportunities for learning and growing through caring for home and children.

These investigators identified three conceptual dimensions: mothers reluctance to relinquish responsibility over family matters by setting rigid standards, external validation of a mothering identity, and differentiated conceptions of family roles. In a study of dual-earner families, Allen and Hawkins (1999) found that 21% of the mothers were classified as gatekeepers, who in turn did more hours of family work per week and had less equal divisions of labor than women classified as collaborators. Unfortunately, the scales used to measure gatekeeping included both housework and childcare, although Allen and Hawkins (1999, p. 210) noted that "separating housework and child care into unique measures produced similar results." Nor were the number and the ages of the children specified in these analyses. Other studies of gatekeeping have focused specifically on father involvement in child care.

Beitel and Parke (1998) examined the relation between maternal attitudes and father involvement with 3- to 5-month-old infants. A variety of maternal attitudes concerning father involvement with infants related to the level of father involvement in a sample of over 300 first-time parents. Mothers' judgments about their husbands' motivation and interest in participating in childcare activities, maternal perception of their husbands' childcare skills, and the value that the mother place on father involvement all predicted father involvement. Mothers' beliefs in innate gender differences in female and male abilities to nurture infants and the extent to which mothers viewed themselves as critical or judgmental of the quality of their husbands' caregiving were negatively related to father involvement. As these results suggest, maternal attitudes play a significant role in understanding father involvement, but the type of involvement needs to be considered, because different attitudes related to different types of involvement (e.g., play, role responsibility, indirect care). Moreover, maternal attitudes predicted the level of father involvement even after a variety of factors were controlled for, including amount of maternal outside employment, type of feeding (bottle versus breast), father involvement in birth preparation classes, and family history (parents' recollections of their relationships with their own parents). The general pattern was evident whether maternal or paternal reports of father involvement were used.

Nor are the effects restricted to infancy. Using a sample of parents with preschoolers, McBride and Rane (1997) found that maternal perceptions of their partners' investment in the parental as well as the spousal role were related to father involvement whereas their perceptions of their husbands' investment in the worker role was negatively related to fathers involvement. In fact, mothers' perceptions were the best predictors of total father involvement.

Other evidence suggests that fathers' participation may be more self-determined than these earlier studies suggest. Bonney et al. (1999) found that mothers' attitudes about the degree to which fathers should be involved in childcare were unrelated to fathers' participation in childcare. Instead, they found that fathers' participation appears to influence mothers' beliefs about the fathers' role. Longitudinal studies are needed to more definitively determine the direction of causality in this domain; or perhaps, as Bonney et al. (1999) argue, a transactional perspective best characterizes this relation between maternal attitudes and father involvement in which fathers who are more involved have female partners who develop more positive attitudes about their involvement, which, in turn, increases father level of participation.

Two qualifications to our discussion of gatekeeping are needed. First, the term is gender neutral and fathers as well as mothers engage in gatekeeping activities in other domains of family life (Allen and Hawkins, 1999). Second, gates can open as well as close, and the term needs to be broadened to recognize that parents—mother and fathers—can facilitate as well as inhibit the type and level of domestic involvement of each other. Work on "parental gatekeeping" needs to include gate opening as well as gate closing in order to underscore the dual nature of the inhibitory and facilitory processes that are part of the coparenting enterprise.

Marital relationships and father-child relationships. Models that limit examination of the effects of interaction patterns to only the father-child and the mother-child dyads and the direct effects of one individual on another are inadequate for understanding the impact of social interaction patterns in families (Belsky, 1984; Parke, 1988, 1996; Parke et al., 1979). From a family systems viewpoint, the martial relationship needs to be considered as well.

Several studies in both the United States (Dickie and Matheson, 1984; Pedersen, 1975) and other cultures (e.g., Japan; Durrett, Otaki, and Richards, 1984) support the conclusion that the degree of emotional-social support that fathers provide mothers is related to both indices of maternal caregiving competence as well as measures of the quality of infant-parent attachment. Other evidence suggests that the quality of the marital relationship is related to father-infant interaction patterns (Amato and Keith, 1991; Cummings and O'Reilly, 1997). Moreover, the evidence suggests that the father-child relationship is altered more than the mother-child relationship by the quality of the marriage. For example, Belsky, Gilstrap, and Rovine (1984) found that father's overall engagement of the infant was reliably and positively related to overall marital engagement when the infant was 1, 3, and 9 months of age, whereas maternal engagement was related to the marital relationship when the infant was only 1 month of age. In a second study, mother-infant, father-infant, and husband-wife interactions were observed during three separate naturalistic home observations when infants were 1, 3, and 9 months old (Belsky and Volling, 1986). As in the previous study by Belsky et al. (1984), in this second study there was a greater degree of relation between fathering and marital interaction than between mothering and marital interaction (see also Belsky, Youngblade, Rovine, and Volling, 1991).

Other evidence is consistent with the finding that spousal support is a stronger correlate of competence in fathers than in mothers (Dickie and Matheson, 1984). The level of emotional and cognitive support successfully discriminated high- and low-competent fathers but failed to do so in the case of mothers. This suggests that spousal support is more critical for adequate parenting on the part of fathers than on the part of mothers. In a short-term longitudinal study of the antecedents of father involvement, Feldman, Nash, and Aschenbrenner (1983) measured a variety of factors, including the marital relationship during the third trimester of the wives' pregnancies and again at 6 months postpartum. Marital relations predicted father involvement in caregiving, playfulness, and satisfaction with fatherhood. As Feldman et al. (1983, p. 1634) noted, "In our upper to middle class, highly educated sample, the quality of the marital dyad, whether reported by the husband or wife, is the most consistently powerful predictor of paternal involvement and satisfaction." Lamb and Elster (1985) addressed a similar question in a sample of adolescent mothers and their male partners. Using an observational scheme similar to that of Belsky et al. (1984), they observed mother, father, and infant at home in an unstructured context. Father-infant interaction positively related to the level of mother-father engagement. By contrast, mother-infant interaction was unrelated to measures of mother-father engagement.

Other studies (Coley and Chase-Lansdale, 1999; Levy-Shiff and Israelashvili, 1988; Volling and Belsky, 1991) report similar relations between marital satisfaction and father participation in childcare. However, both the identity of the reporter (mother versus father) and the quality versus quantity of father involvement need to be considered (NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2000). Fathers' perceptions of marital quality were related to paternal sensitivity (quality), whereas mothers' perceptions of marital quality were related to paternal engagement in caregiving activities (quantity) (NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2000).

Recently attention has focused on the impact of marital conflict on parenting, including father behavior and children's outcomes. Two perspectives concerning the link between marital conflict and children's adaptation can be distinguished. According to a direct-effects model, direct exposure to marital conflict influences children's behavior, whereas the indirect model suggests that the impact of marital conflict on children is indirectly mediated by changes in the parent-child relationship (Cummings and O'Reilly, 1997; Fincham, 1998; Grych andFincham, 2001). Several decades of investigation have amassed considerable evidence that indicates that dimensions of marital functioning are related to aspects of children's long-term overall adjustment and immediate coping responses in the face of interparental conflict (Cummings and O'Reilly, 1997). A range of studies suggests that marital discord and conflict are linked to a variety of child outcomes, including antisocial behavior, internalizing and externalizing behavior problems, and changes in cognition, emotions, and physiology in response to exposure to marital conflict (Erel and Burman, 1995). Although less empirical work has been directed specifically toward examination of the "carryover" of exposure to marital conflict to the quality of children's relationships with significant others such as peers and siblings, a body of literature is beginning to emerge that indicates that exposure to marital discord is associated with poor social competence and problematic peer relationships (Katz and Gottman, 1994; Kerig, 1996).

Marital discord can have an indirect influence on children's adjustment through changes in the quality of parenting (Fauber and Long, 1991). Affective change in the quality of the parent-child relationship, lack of emotional availability, or adoption of less optimal parenting styles has each been implicated as a potential mechanism through which marital discord disrupts parenting processes. Several studies (Katz and Kahen, 1993; Cowan, Cowan, Schulz, and Heming, 1994) have found evidence that marital conflict is linked with poor parenting, which, in turn, is related to poor social adjustment of the children. Other work has focused on the specific processes by which the marital relationship itself directly influences children's immediate functioning and long-term adjustment. Several aspects of parental conflict appear to be relatively consistently associated with poor outcomes for children. More frequent interparental conflict and more intense or violent forms of conflict have been found to be particularly disturbing to children and likely to be associated with externalizing and internalizing difficulties (Cummings and O'Reilly, 1997), and poor peer relationships (Parke, Kim et al., 2001). Conflict that was child related in content was more likely than conflict involving other content to be associated with behavior problems in children (Grych and Fincham, 1993).

Other studies suggest that resolution of conflict reduces children's negative reactions to exposure to interadult anger and conflict. Exposure to unresolved conflict, for example, has been found to be associated with negative affect and poor coping responses in children (Cummings, Ballard, El-Sheikh, and Lake, 1991). In addition, the manner in which conflict is resolved may also influence children's adjustment. Katz and Gottman (1993), for example, found that couples who exhibited a hostile style of resolving conflict had children who tended to be described by teachers as exhibiting antisocial characteristics. When husbands were angry and emotionally distant while resolving marital conflict, their children were described by teachers as anxious and socially withdrawn.

Conflict is inevitable in most parental relationships and is not detrimental to family relationships and children's functioning under all circumstances. In particular, disagreements that are extremely intense and involve threat to the child are likely to be more disturbing to the child. In contrast, when conflict is expressed constructively, is moderate in degree, is expressed in the context of a warm and supportive family environment, and shows evidence of resolution, children may learn valuable lessons regarding how to negotiate conflict and resolve disagreements (Davies and Cummings, 1994).

Together these findings suggest that successful paternal parenting is more dependent on a supportive marital relationship than maternal parenting is. A number of factors may aid in explaining this relation. First, there is prior evidence that the father's level of participation is, in part, determined by the extent to which the mother permits participation (Beitel and Parke, 1998; Allen and Hawkins, 1999). Second, because the paternal role is less well articulated and defined than the maternal role, spousal support may serve to help crystallize the boundaries of appropriate role behavior. Third, men have fewer opportunities to acquire and practice skills that are central to caregiving activities during socialization and therefore may benefit more than mothers from informational (i.e., cognitive) support (Parke, 1996; Parke and Brott, 1999).

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