Academic journal article Fathering

Mental Models for Parenting: Correlates of Metaparenting among Fathers of Young Children

Academic journal article Fathering

Mental Models for Parenting: Correlates of Metaparenting among Fathers of Young Children

Article excerpt

The present study explored the antecedents and correlates of metaparenting, defined as mental plans for parenting across five subscales: responding, preventing, monitoring, mentoring, and modeling. Cross sectional data on a diverse sample of 74 fathers were drawn from a larger longitudinal project that interviewed men four times over the first two years of their children's lives. A structural equation model revealed that fathers' reports of positive parenting role models and intelligence were found to be related to working models of parenting as measured by the five components of metaparenting. Most importantly, higher levels of metaparenting were associated with authoritative parenting and less abuse potential. Results provided preliminary evidence for the importance of a mental model of parenting among fathers.

Keywords: fathers, metaparenting, role models, working models


As cultural ideals about parenting have changed over the last century, the role of the father in the American family has shifted dramatically. In concert with altering ideas of male identity and masculinity, a growing number of fathers are moving beyond the role of the household breadwinner and embracing the idea of being a more emotionally involved co-parent (Cabrera, Tamis-LeMonda, Bradley, Hofferth, & Lamb, 2000; LaRossa, 1988; Parke, 1995). Over the past few decades, modern fathers have become increasingly involved in their children's lives (Pleck & Masciadrelli, 2004) as they have taken on additional childcare responsibilities (Yeung, Sandberg, Davis-Kean, & Hofferth, 2001). In turn, research has shifted from concentrating solely on the mother/child dyad to examining fathers' contributions to children's development (Lamb, 2000). The variability in how men parent is best understood in the context of men's past experiences, what constitutes paternal identity, and how fathers view themselves in their parenting roles (Parke). A more developed conceptualization of how fathers construct their paternal identities and plan parenting strategies will likely contribute to further understanding how fathering impacts child development. The present study investigated factors influencing paternal identity formation, focusing on father absence during childhood and positive parenting role models in the development of working models of parenting (referred to as metaparenting), and their subsequent impact on parenting practices.

Paternal Identity Development

A man's "identity as father" is affected by his internalized expectations about how a father should behave as a parent and the prominence of that role in his identity hierarchy (Maurer, Pleck, & Rane, 2003). For men, a hierarchy contains roles such as father, employee, husband, son, teammate, and church member. A father will have as many identities as roles that he plays in life (Rane & McBride, 2000). The order of the hierarchy changes over time as some roles are added, some removed, and others shift in importance. These changes are due to the salience of paternal identity in different domains over time (Ihinger-Tallman, Pasley, & Buehler, 1993).

For example, when a man becomes a father, it is likely that roles which impact parenting to a lesser degree (e.g. team member and son) will diminish in gratification as he focuses more of his time and energy towards roles more directly related to parenting (e.g. father, spouse, and employee). His ideas about fatherhood dictate how roles more influential to parenting behavior align themselves in the hierarchy. For example, some fathers feel that breadwinning is most important, others endorse the need to support their spouse in her parenting roles, whereas some embrace fully the major responsibilities of fathering (Maurer et al., 2003). Roles that remain prominent across time and contexts imply an importance to paternal identity and result in more dedication of time and energy towards the parenting role (Ihinger-Tallman et al. …

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