Paternal Versus Maternal Involvement With Children

There are overall differences in the quantity of involvement for mothers and fathers, and there are important stylistic or qualitative differences as well. Not all forms of father involvement are conceptually equivalent (Barnett and Baruch, 1987; Lamb, Pleck, and Levine, 1985; Palkovitz, 1997; Parke, 2000; Radin, 1993). The most influential scheme was offered by Lamb and his colleagues (Lamb, 1987; Lamb et al., 1985), who suggested three components: interaction, availability, and responsibility (Lamb, Pleck, Charnov, and Levine, 1987, p. 125):

Interaction refers to the father's direct contact with his child through caregiving and shared activities. Availability is a related concept concerning the child's potential availability for interaction, by virtue of being present or accessible to the child whether or not direct interaction is occurring. Responsibility refers to the role the father takes in ascertaining that the child is taken care of and arranging for resources to be available for the child.

As several authors (e.g., McBride, 1989; Palkovitz, 1997; Parke, 1995, 2000) note, the focus of research on fathers has been primarily on face-to-face parent-child interaction. To a large degree this emphasis reflects the common assumption that parental influence takes place directly through face-to-face contact or indirectly through the impact of the interaction on another family member. Similarly, the availability issue has been addressed, but largely through the research on father absence as a consequence of either divorce or unwed parenthood (Garfinkel, McLanahan, Meyer, and Seltzer, 1998; McLanahan and Sandefur, 1994; Mott, 1994). Less is known about the determinants or the consequences of availability of fathers among residential fathers. Only recently have researchers and theorists begun to recognize the "managerial" function of parents (the "responsibility" notion of Lamb et al., 1987) and to appreciate the impact of variations in how this managerial function influences the child development (Hartup, 1979; Parke, 1978; Parke and O'Neil, 2000). The term managerial refers to the ways in which parents organize and arrange the child's home environment and set limits on the range of the home setting to which the child has access and the opportunities for social contact with playmates and socializing agents outside the family (Parke, Killian, Dennis, Flyr, McDowell, Simpkins, Kim, and Wild, in press). The managerial role may be just as important as the parent's role as stimulator, because the amount of time that children spend interacting with the inanimate environment far exceeds their social interaction time (White, Kaban, Shapiro, and Attonucci, 1976).

Mothers and fathers differ in their degree of responsibility for management of family tasks. From their children's infancy through middle childhood, mothers are more likely to assume the managerial role than fathers. In the child's infancy, this means setting boundaries for play (Power and Parke, 1982), taking the child to the doctor, or arranging daycare. Russell and Russell (1987) found that, in the child's middle childhood, mothers continue to assume more managerial responsibility (e.g., directing the child to have a bath, to eat a meal, or to put away toys). Nor is the managerial role restricted to family activities, but rather includes initiating and arranging children's access to peers and playmates (Ladd, Profilet, and Hart, 1992; Mounts, 2000; Parke and Bhavnagri, 1989; Parke, Killian et al., in press). In addition, parents function as supervisors or overseers of children's interactions with agemates, especially with younger children. Both mothers and fathers are equally capable of this type of supervisory behavior, as shown in laboratory studies (Bhavnagri and Parke, 1991) and in home contexts, but fathers are less likely than mothers to perform this supervisory role (Bhavnagri and Parke, 1991; Ladd et al., 1992). Moreover, the effects are similar whether mother or father supervised the play of the two children; in home contexts fathers are less likely than mothers to engage in this type of supervisory behavior (Bhavnagri and Parke, 1991; Ladd et al., 1992). These activities may vary by ethnicity. Toth and Xu (1999) reported that African American and Hispanic fathers are more likely to report monitoring and supervising than European American fathers, but still do less than mothers. Coltrane (1996, p. 175) made the following observation:

In most families, husbands notice less about what needs to be done, wait to be asked to do various chores and require explicit directions if they are to complete the tasks successfully... most couples continue to characterize husbands' contributions to housework or child care as "helping" their wives.

Radin (1993) also suggests that absolute and relative involvement needs to be distinguished because prior work (e.g., Pleck, 1985) argues that these two indices are independent and may affect both children's and adults' views of role distributions in different ways.

It is important to distinguish among domains of involvement, as fathers and mothers vary in their distribution of time across different child and household activities. Several distinctions have been made in the prior literature, including personal care activities, involvement in play, leisure and affiliative activities with children (Beitel and Parke, 1998; Radin, 1993). More recently, Yeung, Sandberg, Davis-Kean, and Hofferth (2001) have expanded the domain list to include not just personal care and play but achievement-related activities (e.g., homework, reading), household activities (e.g., housework, shopping), social activities (e.g., conversation, social events), and other activities (e.g., time in school, sleep). As noted in the next subsection, both the amount of time that fathers spend on these different activities and the determinants of involvement in these domains vary across fathers. Finally, recent estimates of father involvement have usefully distinguished between weekdays and weekends because both the types activities and levels of father involvement vary as a function of the time period being assessed (Yeung et al., 2001).

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