Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Determinants of Fathering during the Child's Second and Third Years of Life: A Developmental Analysis

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Determinants of Fathering during the Child's Second and Third Years of Life: A Developmental Analysis

Article excerpt

To further the understanding of the determinants of fathering, the parenting of 64 fathers of firstborn male toddlers was observed at home at four ages across the second and third years of life (15, 21, 27, and 33 months). Four qualitative measures of fathering were derived from the observational data. Hierarchical linear regression models were used to assess the association(s) between these fathering behaviors and variables representing three broad domains of influence on parenting (parent characteristics, social-contextual factors, and child characteristics), as well as social economic status. Consistent with Belsky's model of the determinants of parenting, the characteristics of fathers were most predictive of both average levels of fathering and change in fathering. Measures of the social-contextual domain also proved influential, although child characteristics did not.

Fathers, at least when residing in the home, are more involved in the rearing of their young children than a generation or two ago. Although most fathers do not take as active a role in the parenting process as most mothers, the gap between men's and women's participation in child-rearing appears to be shrinking. As a result, today's fathers report feeling closer and more intimate with their children than their own fathers were with them (Daly, 1993; Marsiglio, 1993). Not surprisingly, social attitudes toward fathers and fathering also have shifted. Men are viewed as more than just the providers of material resources for their families; they now, perhaps more than ever before, are acknowledged as important to the intellectual and emotional well-being of their offspring. In fact, research supports the notion that fathers can enhance their children's social, emotional, and cognitive development (for a review, see Parke, 1995).

What is it about fathering and the father-child relationship that is important? Studies examining mother-child interactions have focused on aspects of parenting such as sensitivity, intrusiveness, and detachment, as well as the overall quality of the mother-child relationship.

In contrast, work done on fathering largely has been concerned with the quantity of time spent on parenting tasks relative to mothers (Crouter, Perry-Jenkins, Huston, & McHale, 1987; Lamb, 1981) or has focused on contrasts between mothers' and fathers' parenting styles and attitudes (Belsky, Gilstrap, & Rovine, 1984; McBride & Mills, 1993; Parke, 1981). These studies show that fathers spend a larger portion of their parentchild interactions engaged in physical play, whereas mothers devote a larger proportion of their time with the child in basic care (e.g., feeding, bathing).

Much research on fathering is based on reports of paternal involvement by fathers themselves or their spouses, rather than on more objective observational methods. Work that has relied on naturalist observations of fathering has been carried out principally during the child's infancy (Belsky, Rovine, & Fish, 1989; Yogman, 1987) or has examined fathering behaviors at a single point in time, rather than longitudinally (Easterbrooks & Goldberg, 1984; Levy-Shiff & Israelashvili, 1988; Radin, 1981). In the current investigation, we seek to extend research on fathering by relying on a multimethod data collection strategy implemented across four points in time during the toddler years (i.e., the second and third years of life). One reason we chose this developmental period was because we expected that as children, especially the firstborn sons who are the exclusive participants in this study, moved out of infancy, their fathers would become increasingly involved in their lives. Four ages of measurement make it possible to model change in fathering and possibly identify some predictors of this change.

Fathers can engage their children's attention and respond or not respond to their children's bids for attention or need for parental involvement in numerous ways, both positive and negative. …

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