Men's own psychological and family background, attitudes toward the fathering role, motivation to become involved, and childcare and childrearing knowledge and skills all play a role in determining men's level of involvement with their children. (See Pleck, 1997 for review of demographic correlates of father involvement.)
Men's relationships with their family of origin. The quality of relationship that fathers develop with their own mothers and fathers has been viewed as a possible determinant of fathers' involvement with their own children (Cabrera, Tamis-LeMonda, Bradley, Hofferth, and Lamb, 2000; Parke, 1996). However, evidence in support of this proposition is complex and by no means clear-cut. Two views have guided this inquiry (Russell, 1986; Snarey, 1993). First, from social learning theory (Bandura, 1989) comes a modeling hypothesis that suggests that men model themselves after their fathers, and this modeling process will be enhanced if their fathers were nurturant and accessible. Second, a compensatory or reworking hypothesis argues that fathers tend to compensate or make up for deficiencies in their childhood relationships with their own fathers by becoming better and more involved when they themselves assume this role. There is support for both views. In support of the modeling hypothesis, a number of studies suggest that positive relationships with fathers in childhood are related to higher levels of later father involvement (Cowan and Cowan, 1987, 1992; Sagi, 1982). Hofferth (1999) found that men whose fathers were active participants in rearing them are more involved with their own offspring, take more responsibility, are warmer, and monitor their children more closely than do men reared by less involved fathers. Moreover, fathers parent more like their own fathers than like their mothers (Losh-Hasselbart, 1987). Support for the second hypothesis is also evident in both early (Biller, 1971; Hetherington and Frankie, 1967) and more recent reports (Baruch and Barnett, 1986; Russell, 1986). Baruch and Barnett (1986) found that men who viewed their own relationships with their fathers as negative tended to be more involved with their 5- and 9-year-old children. As researchers have noted (Belsky, 1991; Snarey, 1993), the predictive power of earlier familial relationships is especially evident in single-earner families in which wives are not employed. In these instances, fathers have more discretion in determining their level of involvement with their children. Sagi (1982, p. 214) argues that these two hypotheses "are not mutually exclusive since either process is possible depending on the circumstances." In a qualitative study, Daly (1993) interviewed fathers of young children about the sources of their role models for their own fatherhood identity. Some fathers emulate their own fathers, others compensate, and still others report little influence of their own fathers as mentors or models (see also Hofferth, 1999). However, most of the fathers interviewed by Daly either did not view their fathers as a model or wanted to do better as fathers than their own fathers did. Many fathers in Daly's study opted for a piecemeal approach to defining fathering. Instead of emulating one person, many men tried to piece together an image of fathering from many different sources.
Men thus draw on models from their own generation of contemporary fathers as well as from fathers of earlier eras and past generations. As men become fathers, they struggle to reconcile past and present images and models of fathering behavior with the changed historical circumstances that face modern fathers. Even if they choose to emulate their own fathers, the rapid changes in our society make it difficult for current fathers to apply these lessons from the past in any simple way. A central aspect of learning to be a father is the construction of a set of images that makes sense in the contemporary era. It is clear that the process of intergenerational transmission of parenting is an active one in which the father himself plays a central role in sorting, retaining, and discarding images and guidelines from a variety of sources. There is no simple or single route to developing a father identity; there are many different paths just as there are many different kinds of fathers (Belsky and Pensky, 1988; Jain et al., 1996).
Socialization of boys into the fathering rote. It is not only the specific nature of the relationship a child develops with his parents but the ways in which girls and boys are differentially prepared for parenthood during childhood that determines the ways in which girls and boys enact their parenting roles in adulthood (Parke and Brott, 1999). It is well known that girls and boys are treated differently by parents during socialization (Bem, 1993; Maccoby, 1998), but most of this work focuses on occupational aspirations, activity and object preferences, and modes of relating to others. However, the differential treatment of girls and boys may help shape a boy's expectation about his future fathering role. A variety of strands of evidence supports this view. First, children's household chores are based on gender, with girls engaging in more household duties such as cleaning, ironing, cooking, and childcare, whereas boys take out the garbage and mow the lawn (Goodnow, 1988,1999). Of particular importance is the differential opportunities afforded to girls and boys to learn childcare skills. Cross-cultural evidence (Whiting and Whiting, 1975; Whiting, Edwards, Ember, and Erchak, 1988) as well as evidence from our own culture suggests that boys are given dolls less than girls are and are discouraged from playing with dolls (Langlois and Downs, 1980; Pomerleau, Balduc, Malcuit, and Cossotte, 1990; Rheingold and Cook, 1975). In middle childhood, boys are less likely to be baby-sitters (Maccoby, 1998; Goodnow, 1999). This lack of opportunities for socialization into parenthood makes boys less prepared for fatherhood than girls are for motherhood.
Signs of girls' and boys' differing attitudes toward parenthood are evident very early. By the age of 4 or 5 years, girls interact more with babies than boys do. When asked to care for a baby, boys are more inclined to watch the baby passively, whereas girls actively engage in caregiving. In one study, Berman (1987, 1991) observed 3- to 6-year-old children when either a 1-year-old baby or a goldfish was present. Girls spent more time in the area than boys did when the baby was present, but children of both genders appreciated the goldfish equally often. Older boys spent significantly less time in the area than the younger boys did on baby days, which suggests that as boys get older they become gradually less attracted to babies.
This is all part of what Berman (1987) calls the "social scripts" that girls and boys develop long before they are 5 years old. "It is likely that parenting or caregiving scripts are assembled in a gradual but discontinuous manner throughout childhood, and it is reasonable to believe that these early scripts may be precursors of and contributors to scripts generated in adulthood" (Berman 1987, p. 49). Parenting scripts are in turn related to "self-efficacy," the feeling that we can successfully tackle a certain task. As our sense of self-efficacy in a particular activity increases, the more we are likely to continue investing time and effort in that activity (Bandura, 1997). According to Rose and Halverson (1996), differences in childhood opportunities provided to girls and boys contribute to later differences in parental self-efficiency for men and women.
Men's attitudes, motivation, and skills. Paternal attitudes, motivation, skills and personality are important determinants of father involvement (Jain et al., 1996; Lamb, 1987; Lamb et al., 1987). There has been a considerable body of research concerning the relation between gender-role attitudes and paternal involvement. Gender-role attitudes are usually indexed by scales measuring masculinity, femininity, and androgyny. In spite of the early promise of laboratory studies, which showed a link between men's higher scores on the traditional femininity scale of the Bem Sex Role Inventory and their tendencies to engage in parenting behavior (e.g., interact with a baby), there has been less support for this position in studies of fathers' involvement with their own children. Russell (1983), in his work on shared-caregiving families in Australia, found that these fathers in comparison with fathers in traditional families were higher on femininity. Moreover, compared with those in traditional families, more fathers (and mothers) in the shared-caregiving families were androgynous, fewer mothers were feminine, and fewer fathers were masculine. However, in traditional families, Russell (1983) found no significant link between scores on the Bem Sex Role Inventory and level of father involvement. Kurdek (1998) provided evidence in support of the link between gender-linked attitudes and parental role satisfaction. Fathers' endorsement of instrumental characteristics (assertive, dominant) (a traditional notion of masculinity) in the first year of marriage predicted parenting satisfaction 8 years later, whereas mothers' year 8 parenting satisfaction was predicted by their own year 1 expressiveness (a traditional aspect of femininity). Of interest is the fact that these gender-role self-concepts were the only unique predictors (compared with marital relationships, social support, and child characteristics); even when marital satisfaction was controlled for, these gender-congruent self-concepts were predictive of parenting satisfaction, which suggests that these concepts are uniquely predictive of the child subsystems of the family. Finally, the effects of gender-role concepts on later parenting held across a variety of child variables (age, gender, and frequency of behavior problems). Any strong conclusions are tempered by the fact that others have failed to find links between gender-role attitudes and fathering behavior (De Frain, 1979; Lamb, Frodi, Hwang, Frodi, and Steinberg, 1982). Moreover, the direction of effect is not clear; prior experience may shape gender-role attitudes rather than vice versa.
When the focus is more specifically oriented toward beliefs about parental roles, clearer links between beliefs and behavior are evident. This work has been guided by identity theory, which recognizes that men play a variety of roles as spouse, parent, and worker and that the relative importance men assign to these roles in their formation of a self-identity is a useful predictor of father involvement (Marsiglio, 1995; Rane and McBride, 2000).
Paternal attitudes about parenting relate to measures of father involvement with their 3-month-old infants (Beitel and Parke, 1998). Specifically, fathers' beliefs in the biological basis of gender differences, their perceptions of their caregiving skills, and the extent to which they valued the fathers' role were predictors of fathers' involvement. These attitudinal factors predict when either mothers or fathers were reporters of the level of father involvement. When fathers' reports of their own involvement are used, assessment of their own motivation emerges as a significant predictor as well. Finally, a variety of types of involvement relates to paternal attitudes, including play, caregiving, and indirect care (e.g., packing diaper bag, changing crib linen).
Other studies have found that paternal attitudes are important beyond infancy. Russell (1983) found that Australian men who do not accept the notion of maternal instinct participate in childcare more with their 3- to 6-year-old children. However, Russell found that 51% of mothers and 71% of fathers believed in a "maternal instinct" with regard to childcare. Whereas 60% of the mothers felt that their husbands had the ability to care for children, only 34% of fathers considered themselves capable of taking care of their children. Moreover, most fathers perceived their role as beginning after the baby stage and believed that the father's role is more important later in the child's life, especially during adolescence.
McBride and Rane (1997) found that, consistent with the study by Russell (1983) fathers' attitudes about the importance of father for preschool-age children's development was linked to several indices of father involvement (responsibility, interaction, and accessibility). In addition, their perceived investment in the worker role was inversely related to their workday accessibility and responsibility. Rane and McBride (2000) found that fathers who considered the nurturing role highly central to their sense of self engaged in more interaction and assumed more responsibility behaviors with their children than did fathers who were low on nurturing role centrality. Bonney, Kelley, and Levant (1999) reported similar findings for fathers of preschool-age children; specifically they found that fathers with more liberal gender ideology and who view fathers as critical for child development and as capable of performing childcare as mothers have higher levels of involvement in childcare than do more traditional fathers.
Not only are attitudes important but personality is an important correlate of father involvement as well. Jain et al. (1996) found that in their study of fathers and their male toddlers, progressive fathers (caregivers, playmates and teachers) were less anxious, hostile and irritable than traditional fathers (disengaged or disciplinarian fathers).
In spite of the fact that men are competent caregivers (e.g., Parke and O'Leary, 1976; Parke and Sawin, 1976, 1980), there are wide individual differences among men in either their perceived or their actual level of skill in caregiving. In turn, these variations in skill may be related to the level of father involvement. Some of the most convincing evidence comes from intervention studies that show that skill-oriented training increases the level of father involvement. These studies show that fathers who receive training in caregiving and/or play that presumably increased their skill engage in higher levels of involvement with their infants (Dickie and Gerber, 1980; Palm, 1997; Parke and Beitel, 1986; Parke, Hymel, Power, and Tinsley, 1980; see Fagan and Hawkins, 2000).
Was this article helpful?
Parenting is a challenging task. As a single parent, how can you juggle work, parenting, and possibly college studies single handedly and still manage to be an ideal parent for your child? Read the 65-page eBook Single Parenting Becoming The Best Parent For Your Child to find out how. Loaded with tips, it can inspire, empower, and instruct you to successfully face the challenges of parenthood.