Academic journal article Family Relations

Increasing Fathers' Involvement in Child Care with a Couple-Focused Intervention during the Transition to Parenthood

Academic journal article Family Relations

Increasing Fathers' Involvement in Child Care with a Couple-Focused Intervention during the Transition to Parenthood

Article excerpt


In this article, we report the results of an evaluation study of a program for couples during the transition to parenthood on father involvement in child care. One-hundred-twenty couples were assigned to 1 of the 3 groups: a treatment group that received the Welcome Baby new-parent, home-visiting program focused on infant development and health, supplemented with the self-guided Marriage Moments program focused on strengthening couple relationships; a comparison group that received just the Welcome Baby program; or a control group. The study revealed that the treatment group fathers were more involved in child care than control group fathers, and this finding was replicated in a second evaluation study. Family life educators must be open to the possibility that they may miss a primary intervention target, yet hit a secondary one.

Key Words: family life education, father involvement, program evaluation, transition to parenthood.

In this article, we report the results of a study evaluating the effects of an intervention delivered during the transition to parenthood on father involvement. The intervention was designed primarily to strengthen couple relationship outcomes but failed to produce such effects. On the other hand, we did find a treatment effect on a secondary target outcome of father involvement in child care. That is, we missed our primary target but hit a secondary target. Before describing the study and our findings, we briefly review the literatures on father involvement and child well-being, coparenting, and evaluation research of interventions designed to increase father involvement, as well as couple-focused transition-to-parenthood programs.

Fathering and Child Weil-Being

Father sensitivity to infant needs has been correlated with infant secure attachment (Notaro & Volling, 1999) and toddler ability to regulate negative feelings (Davidov & Grusec, 2006). Father sensitivity, warmth, and playful interaction further influence toddler and preschooler cognitive and language outcomes independent of the effect of mothering (Black, Dubowitz, & Starr, 1999; Tamis-LeMonda, Shannon, Cabrera, & Lamb, 2004). There is also evidence that the father-child relationship and the mother-child relationship provide unique relational settings for children's development (Ryan, Martin, & Brooks-Gunn, 2006; Stoltz, Barber, & Olsen, 2005).

School-aged children whose fathers are positively involved in their lives have greater self-control, better life skills, more social competence, and higher self-esteem scores (Amato, 1987). In adolescence, father presence and time spent with adolescent sons are significantly associated with sons' school achievement (Ramirez-Valles, Zimmerman, & Juarez, 2002) and adolescent perceptions of life satisfaction and happiness (Flouri & Buchanan, 2003). In sum, positive paternal involvement influences multiple domains of children's lives from birth through adolescence.

The Relationship Between Coparenting and Father Involvement

Recent research on family processes has discovered that coparenting processes (also known as parenting alliance) serve as a less-studied link between marriage and parenting practices. Coparenting refers to the quality of the coordination (i.e., undermining or encouraging) between partners in their parenting roles (Schoppe-Sullivan, Mangelsdorf, Brown, & Sokolowski, 2006). Some issues central to coparenting include the division of child care, future dreams for one's child, and parenting beliefs (Van Egeren & Hawkins, 2004).

Early research on the association between father involvement and marital quality highlighted the correlation between prior assessments of marital satisfaction and later reports of father participation in child care. McBride and Rane (1998) discovered, however, that items specific to the distinct coparenting relationship more strongly affect men's parenting practices than more global measures of marital quality. …

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