Fathers and Family Variation

One of the clear advances of the past decade is recognition of the importance of individual differences in children; one of the next advances will be the recognition of individual differences among families and fathers. Recognition of individual variability across families implies the necessity of expanding sampling procedures. In spite of demands for a greater awareness of family diversity, the range of family types that are studied is still relatively narrow. Although progress has been made in describing interaction patterns of fathers and children in different cultures (Bornstein, 1991; Demo et al., 2000; Ishii-Kuntz, 2000; Roopnarine and Carter, 1992) and in different ethnic groups and social classes in the United States (Deutsch, 1999; Gadsen, 1999; Leyendecker and Lamb, 1999; Parke Coltrane et al., in press), this work represents only a beginning, and much more detailed descriptive, as well as process-oriented work, is necessary if we are to achieve a balanced and nuanced understanding of how cultural beliefs and practices influence fathering behaviors. Another form of diversity that warrants more attention is structural variation. In view of the high rates of single mothers and divorced families, caution is necessary in generalizing from intact families to single-parent households (Amato and Booth, 1997; McLanahan and Sandefur, 1994). Moreover, although much of the work is based on survey methods and the amount of observationally based interactional work of fathers in families of different structures remains limited, recent work (e.g., Hetherington and Clingempeel, 1992; Hetherington and Stanley-Hagan, 1999, in Vol. 3 of this Handbook) is beginning to correct this situation. Finally, recent work on gay and lesbian families has raised provocative issues for the field of fatherhood research. As Patterson and her colleagues (Patterson, 1995, in Vol. 3 of this Handbook; Patterson and Chan, 1997) have suggested, children in families of same-gender parents develop adequately in terms of social-emotional adjustment. As Parke (2002, p. 78) has argued, "Our focus on the gender of the parent may too narrow; instead, it could be helpful to recast the issue and ask whether it is the extent to which exposure to males and/or females is critical or whether it is exposure to the interactive style typically associated with either mother or father that matters." Perhaps the style of parenting and the gender of the parent who enacts the style can be viewed as partially independent. More attention to the kinds of parenting styles evident in same-gender parental households will help us address the uniqueness of father and mother roles in the family and help provide needed clarity on the important issue of how essential opposite-gender parental dyads are for children's development (Parke, 2002; Silverstein and Auerbach, 1999).

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