Academic journal article Fathering

Understanding Positive Father-Child Interaction: Children's, Fathers', and Mothers' Contributions

Academic journal article Fathering

Understanding Positive Father-Child Interaction: Children's, Fathers', and Mothers' Contributions

Article excerpt

Guided by a systemic ecological framework for father involvement, we investigate children's, mothers', and fathers' contributions to observed father-child interaction. Analyses of 586 married resident fathers, their wives, and a target first-grade child (participants in the NICHD Study of Early Child Care) demonstrate that an additive model of father involvement accounts for the quality of father-child interaction better than a model which focuses on only one component of the system. Father parenting beliefs', child language skills, child social skills, maternal employment, and dyadic mother-child interaction quality each additively and significantly contribute to positive father-child interaction. Father average income and education levels relate to dyadic interaction, but individual and family characteristics account for their effects. Moderational analyses resulted in a significant interaction between father parenting beliefs and child social skills, providing preliminary support for the systemic ecological assumption that father-child interaction is better understood in a model that is not only additive but also interactive.

Keywords: fathers, father-child interaction, father-child relations, mother-child relations

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Based on a systemic ecological perspective, Doherty and his colleagues posit that a complex mix of factors occurring inside and outside families affect father involvement (Doherty, Kouneski, & Erickson, 1998). They further argue that no one group of characteristics in isolation can adequately predict father involvement. It is only through the interrelations of individual, family, and sociodemographic factors across time that one can clearly understand father involvement.

Although many researchers recognize the importance of studying father involvement through a systemic ecological lens, it is rare to find data that can assess the additive effect of the sociodemographic, individual, and dyadic characteristics proposed in an ecological model. As a result, many researchers must focus on only one or two components of this complex model. However, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver NICHD funded, multi-region, longitudinal Study of Early Child Care includes data assessing all such components of a systemic ecological approach to father involvement. Therefore, using data from the Study of Early Child Care, and guided by Doherty et al.'s model, we explore what sociodemographic, individual, and dyadic factors work in tandem to predict father-child interaction at first grade. We further explore potential moderating factors of this association.

Systemic Ecological Approach to Father-Child Interaction

Doherty and his colleagues (1998) propose that father involvement is best understood using a systemic ecological lens which combines family systems theory with sensitivity to ecological and temporal influences on father involvement. Family systems theory makes three important propositions about family functioning. First, a family is a unit of organized, interdependent individuals. The individuals are best understood in the context of this whole unit, where the functioning of the individuals is related not only to the individuals themselves, but also to the complex system of behaviors within and between members of the system. Thus, if we want to understand father-child interaction, we must consider not only fathers' contributions, but also children's and mothers' contributions to father involvement in the same family context. We employ this theoretical approach by assessing the associations between father-child interaction and individual father, child, and mother characteristics in the same family system.

Second, the family system is not only composed of organized interdependent individuals. It is also composed of interdependent subsystems such as the parental marriage and parent-child relationships. Thus, father involvement is best considered not only in the context of interdependent individual family members, but also in the context of interdependent family subsystems. …

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