Academic journal article Fathering

African American Fathering in Violent Neighborhoods: What Role Does Spirituality Play?

Academic journal article Fathering

African American Fathering in Violent Neighborhoods: What Role Does Spirituality Play?

Article excerpt

The salience of spirituality in African American family life is well documented. However, less is known about the role of spirituality in the parenting styles and practices of African American fathers generally or among those fathers rearing children in under-resourced, high-violence neighborhoods. African American families are disproportionately represented in communities characterized by violence, crime, and drug activity. This study explores how fathers residing in these neighborhoods rear their preschool sons and daughters and how spirituality relates to their fathering practices and styles. Study participants included 61 African American fathers of preschoolers attending Head Start. Findings revealed that, regardless of their child's sex, highly spiritual fathers were more likely to use proactive parenting practices to decrease their child's exposure to violence. Further, highly spiritual fathers were significantly more likely to use an authoritative parenting style and less likely to use a permissive style with their sons than fathers who reported spirituality as less important. Implications for future research are discussed.

Keywords: African American fathers, spirituality, parenting practices, parenting styles, preschoolers, high-violence neighborhoods, Head Start

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African American families are disproportionately represented in neighborhoods characterized by high levels of violence, crime, drug activity, joblessness, and poverty (Chase-Lansdale & Gordon, 1996; Duncan, Brooks-Gunn, & Klebanov, 1994; Sampson, Raudenbush, & Earls, 1997; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [USDHHS], 2000). Living in under-resourced, high-violence communities is an especially challenging and demanding context for African American parents to meet the needs of their families. Because of the constant threats to one's safety in these neighborhoods--drug dealers and gang members on the streets, drive-by shootings--mothers and fathers must use multiple strategies to protect themselves and their families while also providing for, socializing, and nurturing their children. In recent years, researchers have begun to study how African American mothers protect their children in communities characterized by high rates of poverty and violence (Garbarino, Kostelny, & Dubrow, 1991; Hill, Hawkins, Raposo, & Cart, 1995; Jarrett, Jefferson, & Roach, 2000; Mohr, Fantuzzo, & Abdul-Kabir, 2001; Randolph, Koblinsky, & Roberts, 1998); however, few researchers have focused on low-income African American fathering in these contexts or the ways in which fathers keep their children safe from harm.

To examine African American fathering in high-violence neighborhoods, this study draws upon Darling and Steinberg's (1993) integrative parenting model and Ogbu's (1981) cultural ecological perspective. Darling and Steinberg recognize three salient aspectsof parenting: "the goals toward which socialization is directed; the parenting practices used by parents to help children reach those goals; and the parenting style, or emotional climate, within which socialization occurs" (p. 488). Ogbu's cultural ecological perspective suggests parents socialize children to develop the skills and qualities necessary to be competent in their roles as adults in a particular culture; thus, childrearing goals, practices, and styles can only be understood within the context inwhich they occur. Unfortunately, many of the existing studies of under-resourced African American fathers have tended to "decontextualize" their familial experience and often portray these men as deficient in parenting (Coles, 2001; Fagan, 2000; Spencer, 1990). Few researchers have studied the specific ways in which low-income African American fathers parent their children--in terms of their socialization goals, practices, and parenting style--and few studies have situated these men within a context that essentializes their specific cultural milieu. …

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