Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Toward Disentangling Fathering and Mothering: An Assessment of Relative Importance

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Toward Disentangling Fathering and Mothering: An Assessment of Relative Importance

Article excerpt

This study employed dominance analysis to assess the relative importance of maternal and paternal support, behavioral control, and psychological control in explaining depression, antisocial behavior, and social initiative within 644 adolescents. We noted the lack of replicated findings concerning differential effects of mothers and fathers and employed an approach that considered mothers' and fathers' overlapping predictive abilities in determining their relative importance. Results lend support to the overall parental framework and additionally suggest (a) mothers' behavioral control is relatively more important than fathers' in explaining sons' subsequent antisocial behavior, (b) fathers' support is relatively more important than mothers' support in explaining subsequent youth social initiative, and (c) mothering and fathering tend to have a cross-gendered effect on early adolescents' depression.

Key Words: adolescent functioning, family methodology, fathering, mothering, parent-child relations.

Over the past two decades, scholars have increasingly turned their attention toward the role of fathers in families and the effects of father involvement on children's outcomes. Given that the majority of the early parenting studies were based solely on measures of mothers' behaviors, some fathering researchers argue that it is inappropriate to apply this mother template to fathering (Day & Mackey, 1989). Drawing on Freud, Darwin, and Bowlby, some researchers suggest that men and women are biologically designed for different parenting roles, that fathering is fundamentally different from mothering, and that the effects of fathering and mothering behaviors cannot be explained by the same model (Blankenhorn, 1995; Mackey, 1985; Popenoe, 1996). For example, Day and Mackey suggest that the roles of fathers and mothers are "different and complementary" (p. 402) and should not be evaluated by the same standard. Consequently, a variety of fathering theories have been developed.

Fathering theories that have been developed to aid the field in moving beyond mother-only research frequently remain untested or are tested only on fathers. Thus, we once studied primarily mothers and called their behaviors "parenting" without considering whether we had accurately portrayed fathers, but we now often study only fathers and call their behaviors "fathering" without considering whether the effects of those behaviors are similar when enacted by mothers.

This article is guided by the premise that both fathering theories (i.e., theories that specify paternal characteristics, behaviors, roles, or attributes that benefit their offspring) and parenting frameworks, whether stemming from fundamental evolutionary, biological, or developmental theories, must be tested on mothers and fathers together, in a manner that evaluates the extent to which the theories are supported for mothers as well as the extent to which they are supported for fathers, taking into account rather than controlling away the contribution of the other parent.

Previous studies that have included both mothering and fathering measures have produced contradictory findings that, taken collectively, have not demonstrated replicated patterns of mother and father differential effects (see Amato, 1998). To address this issue, we consider mothering and fathering jointly, and introduce a relatively new methodology that considers both the shared and the unique predictive abilities of maternal and paternal measures to evaluate the relative importance of mothering and fathering dimensions in predicting important youth outcomes. This approach allows us to identify potential areas in which each is particularly important. Before discussing various approaches to disentangling mothering and fathering, and the studies that have utilized them, we justify the selection of the three parenting dimensions that are the focus of the selected approach.


Three key parental dimensions have received widespread attention in socialization research: support, behavioral control, and psychological control (Barber, 1996, 1997; Gray & Steinberg, 1999; Steinberg, 1990). …

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