Academic journal article Fathering

Revisiting Men's Role in Father Involvement: The Importance of Personal Expectations

Academic journal article Fathering

Revisiting Men's Role in Father Involvement: The Importance of Personal Expectations

Article excerpt

Using fathers' and mothers' reports of expectations (measured prenatally) and father involvement (measured postnatally), we examined how both parents influence the likelihood that new fathers would be involved in instrumental (feeding, bathing, and changing the infant) and affective (playing and reading to the infant) caregiving activities. The study employed a longitudinal design with 68 couples participating in both the prenatal (e.g., approximately three months before the infant was born) and postnatal (e.g., between three to six months after the birth of the infant) phases of the study. Results indicate that both parents' expectations are substantial predictors of instrumental involvement (as reported by both fathers and mothers), and that fathers' expectations are stronger than mothers' expectations for predicting affective involvement. Limitations follow.

Keywords: father involvement, expectations, transition to parenthood


Research has documented the importance of mothers' attitudes when predicting fathers' involvement with their children (Allen & Hawkins, 1999; Fagan & Barnett, 2003; McHale & Huston, 1984). Mothers who have traditional attitudes about the division of caregiving responsibilities, for example, are known as "gatekeepers" (Allen & Hawkins, 1999) because their stereotypical attitudes hinder father involvement. While mothers can and sometimes do limit father involvement, it is doubtful that mothers are exclusively responsible when father involvement is minimal (Walker & McGraw, 2000).

This study focuses on personal expectations as another important factor when discussing how both mothers and fathers influence the likelihood of father involvement with their infant children. Since research indicates that the early years of parenthood are representative of future father involvement (Cowan & Cowan, 1998), this study examines the role that personal expectations prior to the birth of a child influence paternal involvement after the child is born.


We have chosen to narrow our focus of father involvement to the thought processes that precede involvement. These thought processes can generally be categorized as gender-role ideologies, or the extent that parents believe they (and others) should adhere to traditional expressions of behavior (e.g., Beitel & Parke, 1998; Bonney, Kelley, & Levant, 1999; McBride & Darragh, 1995). Those who believe men should be involved in the day-to-day caregiving of children, for example, are considered egalitarian or nontraditional in their ideology.

Mixed conclusions have surfaced about the likelihood of father involvement when using gender-role ideology as a predictor variable. There is support for the entire spectrum of possibilities, including (1) "gatekeeping," or that the mother's traditional ideology is an important factor in predicting father involvement (Allen & Hawkins, 1999; Fagan & Barnett, 2003; Hoffman & Moon, 1999; McHale & Huston, 1984), (2) that the father's but not the mother's egalitarian ideology is associated with his involvement (Bulanda, 2004; Wille, 1995), and (3) that neither parent's ideology seems to have an impact on the father's likelihood of involvement (Marsiglio, 1991).

Research has also shown that behavior deviating from one's ideology can create tension within the individual and the marriage (Barclay & Lupton, 1999) and that men (as parents or nonparents) will not participate in domestic labor unless both spouses hold egalitarian ideologies (Greenstein, 1996). Although a recent societal shift in ideology has occurred whereby men and women are encouraged to take equal roles in caregiving responsibilities (Hawkins & Dollahite, 1997; McBride & Darragh, 1995; LaRossa, 1997), fathers still tend to be less involved than mothers with regard to childcare tasks (Pleck, 1985). …

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