Academic journal article Fathering

Responsiveness in Father-Child Relationships: The Experience of Fathers

Academic journal article Fathering

Responsiveness in Father-Child Relationships: The Experience of Fathers

Article excerpt

Qualitative interviews with 215 fathers describe the emergent and responsive nature of the father-child relationship and its consequent influence on fathers themselves. Using a social constructionist or dialogic model of relationships, we highlight the importance of understanding the experience of fathers as they are actively engaged in responsive, relational, and interactional activities with their children. Fathers' descriptions of responsiveness highlight father-child interaction "in the moment," attention to children's expression of needs, and the influence of fathers' own sets of priorities and values. A critical element of responsiveness to children is that it requires shared time between fathers and their children. Responsiveness within the father-child relationship facilitates children's development and also provides fathers with opportunities to develop and understand themselves differently. The current study contributes to understanding men's development and the fathering experience by specifically exploring the influence on men of engaging in fathering, of attending to their children and experiencing their own responsiveness.

Keywords: fathering, father-child interaction, development, qualitative research

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Current research suggests the health, psychological, and relational benefits of father involvement for fathers, mothers and children (Allen & Daly, 2007; WHO, 2007). While the effects of father involvement are being documented, the processes by which these potential benefits are enacted are less clearly understood. Palkovitz (2007) argues that it is difficult to theorize and operationalize father involvement as broadly defined. He encourages researchers to "focus attention on conceptualizing and measuring components of father-child relationships that capture the essence of affective climate, behavioral style, and relational synchrony" (p. 194, italics in original). A conceptualization of parent-child relationships as bidirectional has been made (Kuczynski, 2003) which implicates both child and father influences as playing key roles in socialization, the construction of meaning and developmental changes over time. Our intent with the current analysis is to examine one component of relational synchrony by considering how these mutual influences are exerted within father-child relationships and specifically attending to how fathers respond to their children's cues. In exploring fathers' perceptions and descriptions of parenting, we are interested in how children guide and shape fathering activity as well as the interactional nature of children's influence and fathers' responses. Although we recognize the importance of mothers and other partners in shaping the systemic nature of family relationships, our diverse sample of fathers--many who were not living with the mother of the child--lead us to focus on the dyadic, bi-directional nature of the relationship.

In this study, we are referring to "responsiveness" as most closely aligned with what Palkovitz refers to as relational synchrony and described in the literature as interactions that are finely tuned into each other's signals, are developmentally appropriate, utilize strategies such as scaffolding, and build on emerging interests (Harrist & Waugh, 2002; Palkovitz, 2007). Parental responsiveness, generally examined as maternal responsiveness or maternal sensitivity, has been conceptualized within several different frameworks of supportive parenting (Landry, Smith, & Swank, 2006) including attachment (Ainsworth, 1973), sociocultural (Vygotsky, 1978), and socialization (Maccoby & Martin, 1983) models of child development. Descriptive and empirical studies have demonstrated the value of broadly-defined responsive parenting in enhancing child development (Landry et al.), with multiple aspects of maternal responsiveness implicated, including mothers' contingent responses, affective support and warmth, joint attention with their child, and language that is matched to that of their child (Warren & Brady, 2007). …

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