Perceptions of Father Involvement Patterns in Teenage-Mother Families: Predictors and Links to Mothers' Psychological Adjustment*

Article excerpt

Abstract:

Based on adolescent mothers' reports, longitudinal patterns of involvement of young, unmarried biological fathers (n = 77) in teenage-mother families using cluster analytic techniques were examined. Approximately one third of fathers maintained high levels of involvement over time, another third demonstrated low involvement at both time points, and the final third started out highly involved at Wave 1 but decreased to low levels of involvement by Wave 2. Multinomial logistic analyses suggest that mothers' positive relationships with both the father and his family predict a greater likelihood of initiated and sustained high father involvement. In contrast, stronger support from the maternal grandmother is related to decreasing father involvement over time, and coresidence with the grandmother is related to sustained low father involvement. Whereas a decreasing pattern of father involvement was significantly associated with increased maternal parenting stress over time, the patterns of father involvement were unrelated to changes in young mothers' levels of depressive symptoms and mastery.

Key Words: father involvement, mother-father relationships, poverty, psychological adjustment, teenage mothers.

The involvement of fathers with their children is a topic of growing concern among policymakers and the public. As the link between father absence and poverty has become clearer, this concern has been targeted particularly at unmarried, nonresident fathers and low-income families. The welfare reform bill of 1996 (the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act) made this concern explicit, including in the primary provisions' demands that mothers in the welfare system comply with paternity establishment and child support enforcement efforts, and that states increase efforts to encourage marriage among low-income parents (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, n.d.). These policy levers are intended to increase the financial and possibly emotional connection of poor fathers and their children.

However, experts in the field concur that the knowledge base is slim concerning why unmarried fathers become or remain involved in their children's lives and how father involvement influences young mothers' well-being. Extant research suggests that fathers' skills and access to resources increase the likelihood and consistency of paternal involvement (e.g., King, Harris, & Heard, 2004; Landale & Oropesa, 2001; Rangarajan & Gleason, 1998). This work also suggests that family relationships and dynamics between mothers and fathers as well as their extended families are central processes through which young unmarried parents negotiate their new family roles (Anderson, 1993; Kaplan, 1997). Here, we focus on numerous aspects of the family contexts of unmarried teenage mothers and fathers in predicting fathers' patterns of involvement over time with their young children.

Defining Father Involvement

Prior to reviewing research on family relationships, we focus on the construct of father involvement between unmarried father and teenage-mother families. Research and theory on father involvement has pointed to the centrality of a multicomponent conception of parenting that incorporates financial, behavioral, and emotional aspects of paternal involvement (Amato, 1998; Coley, 2001; Doherty, Kouneski, & Erickson, 1996; Lamb, Pleck, Charnov, & Levin, 1987). Research shows that nonresidential fathers tend to bundle their parenting support: Fathers who provide financially for their nonresidential child are also likely to visit, engage in caretaking activities, and take responsibility for parenting decisions (Coley & Chase-Lansdale, 1999; Greene & Moore, 2000). These central aspects of father involvement, which focus on children's basic needs, cut across demographic and cultural boundaries.

Patterns of Father Involvement Among Young Unmarried Families

Within the population of teenage-mother families, the prevalence of nonmarital births and nonresidential fatherhood continues to rise. …