Academic journal article Fathering

To Parent or Provide? the Effect of the Provider Role on Low-Income Men's Decisions about Fatherhood and Paternal Engagement

Academic journal article Fathering

To Parent or Provide? the Effect of the Provider Role on Low-Income Men's Decisions about Fatherhood and Paternal Engagement

Article excerpt

Results of a qualitative study of low-income men's experience with the provider role are reported here. This study explored how 47 low-income men construct, express, and negotiate their identities as fathers and providers, and perceived barriers presented by the provider role. Overall, fathers consistently expressed the need to redefine the provider role in to include social and emotional components. Additionally, fathers articulated the many barriers and social pressures they experience as a result of the provider role, and how these barriers create an environment that is detrimental to their attempts at being a father, and how this could lead to their disengagement from the lives of their children.

Keywords: fathering, low income, providing, identity

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Over the past thirty years, social scientists have invested a substantial amount of money, time, and energy into learning more about how fathers interact and invest in their children and how this interaction and investment effects outcomes for fathers, children, and families as a whole (Braver & Griffin, 2000; Doucet, 2004; Eggebeen & Knoester, 2001; Lamb, 2000; Marsiglio, Roy, and Fox, 2005; Roy, 2004). Historically seen exclusively as occupying the distant economic provider role for their families, today's men are now encouraged and expected to take on the role of caregivers (Kramer & Thompson, 2005) by participating in childbearing, and be more nurturing and emotionally involved in the lives of their children in order to be considered a "good dad" (Pleck, 2010). However, with both the conduct and cultural of fatherhood changing over time, often at different rates, many fathers are left in a situation where they must learn how to parent and provide within a unique context. For example, if what is expected of fathers differs from fathers' behaviors, their performances may be evaluated negatively by themselves and by others. Some researchers suggest that fathers also face increasingly ill-defined and ambiguous roles within families (Cherlin, 2004; Marsiglio, Amato, Day, & Lamb, 2000), further complicating expectations for fathers. In the absence of clear social scripts, men may look to dominant cultural models to make meaning of their roles.

This has led researchers to suggest that society is "moving toward a social ideal of father as co-parent" (Craig, 2006, p. 261). However, in recent years there has been an increase in scholarship surrounding the debate over whether or not the cultural expectations of fatherhood align with the actual conduct of men in their role as fathers. Although men's roles in the family have undergone a drastic change in the past thirty years, with cultural expectations of them as the sole provider diminishing, their involvement in the caregiving aspect of parenting still pales in comparison to that of women in their role as mothers. While there are numerous reasons for this, including the gender wage gap, shortfalls in legislative policy, and outdated workplace cultures, the strong persistence of traditional cultural understandings of fatherhood and motherhood also play a key role.

Although research regarding the extent to which the culture of fatherhood has changed is limited, evidence exists that these men face a range of judgments and negative circumstances (Martin & Mahoney, 2005). For instance, Brescoll and Uhlmann (2005) noted that prescribed gender roles tend to dictate how men and women not only respond to others' expectations and behaviors but how they behave as well. Additionally, research has also shown that people respond negatively to both men and women who do not conform to traditional gender role expectations (Prentice & Carranza, 2002).

The current study is designed to contribute to the growing literature on fatherhood, paternal investment, the provider role, and the changing culture of fatherhood. The significance of this study is that children of low-income men usually receive less attention from their fathers, and are at greater risk for negative outcomes (family violence, criminality, depression, academic failure, etc. …

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