Academic journal article Fathering

A Qualitative Analysis of Fathers' Experiences of Parental Time after Separation and Divorce

Academic journal article Fathering

A Qualitative Analysis of Fathers' Experiences of Parental Time after Separation and Divorce

Article excerpt

Research suggests that a lack of father involvement in divorced families may have negative effects on fathers, mothers, and their children. However, past research has often failed to include men's perspectives of the factors that influence their parental role after separation or divorce. Despite the fact a majority of fathers experience a decrease in child access following separation; research has often overlooked the significance of parental time to fathers' experiences of parenting after separation and divorce. This study is an analysis of interviews completed with men regarding their desire to remain involved with their children after separation or divorce. Emerging from the analysis was the overall tension experienced when desires for time with their children conflict with the time available to fathers. The results feature participants' descriptions of this tension, as well as, the ways they navigated this tension in their efforts to maintain involvement following separation and divorce.

Keywords: father involvement, separation, divorce, social time


Through interactions with others and our experiences of the world in which we live and act, we have developed multiple metaphors to describe our experiences of time (e.g., "time flies," "time stands still," "time is money"), suggesting time is a phenomenon experienced with great diversity and difference. Considering our seemingly subjective experiences of time, it is surprising that social science has often been limited in its approach to time as a quantitative measure, frequently employing time diaries to record the amount of time individuals and families spend on various activities (Daly, 1996; Daly & Beaton, 2005). A focus solely on quantifiable time is perhaps one of the greatest limitations of past research on father involvement after separation and divorce as measurements of father involvement too often have been based on the frequency of contact nonresident fathers have with their children (Amato & Gilbreth, 1999; Hawkins & Palkovitz, 1999). Although frequency of interactions is a component of understanding father involvement after divorce, such research fails to address the influence social interactions and organizations have in shaping fathers' subjective experiences of time with their children after separation and divorce.

More recently, social science researchers interested in a post-modern view of time have begun to consider concepts of "social time," and the ways cultural and social contexts impact our experiences of family time. For example, regarding their study of social time in single-mother families, Hodgson, Dienhart, and Daly (2001) write, "Time in families is accordingly, experienced subjectively and is subject to numerous social interactions. It is more subtle and laden with nuance and meanings than concrete, linear clock time" (p. 3). From a post-modem position, time is viewed as being subjective and influenced by our social interactions. Furthermore, Daly (1996) suggests that a post-modern view encourages us to view our perception of time as being shaped by the characteristics of the actors (e.g., men, fathers), their reasons for interaction (e.g., responsibility, personal desire), and their definitions and interpretations of the situation (e.g., unjust, limited). Considering the apparent influence that time has in shaping our relationships and identities, it is curious that fathers' experiences of time with their children after separation and divorce appear to have been largely overlooked in social science research.

Understanding more about fathers' subjective experience of time with their children after separation and divorce is important when one considers some of the reported effects of father involvement post separation and divorce for all family members. For example, Fabricius (2003) found that when children do not live with their fathers for a substantial amount of time after divorce, their relationship with their fathers suffered. …

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