The Role of Fathers in Children's Lives: A View from Urban India

By Sriram, Rajalakshmi | Childhood Education, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

The Role of Fathers in Children's Lives: A View from Urban India


Sriram, Rajalakshmi, Childhood Education


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The perceptions and practices associated with fathering are changing rapidly in India. Traditional Indian notions endorsed the father s role as a provider, protector, teacher, and moral guardian to children (Kane, 1974; Krishnan, 1998). Within the patriarchal family system in India, everyday care of young children remained primarily the mother's responsibility. Fathers maintained a distant, authoritative role, rather than an affective one (Kakar, 1981). After revisiting earlier writings, Roopnaraine and Suppal (2003) conclude that Indian fathers are more centrally involved and capable of responding to children than previously asserted. With more middle-class women entering the workforce and the Indian constitution and worldwide media promoting gender equality, the demand for a man who has the knowledge, attitude, and skills to share co-parenting responsibilities is growing in dual-earner families (Bharat, 2002; Datta & Maheshwari, 1997; Rajadhyaksha & Smita, 2004). Children and women now have higher expectations of men in terms of warmth, care, understanding, and support; and many fathers also endorse the importance of these traits (Kumari, 2008; Sriram, Karnik, & Ali, 2002).

Beginning in the mid-1990s, the changing roles for men made their way into popular magazines with such articles as "Can Fathers Be Better Mothers?" or "A Father's Touch" that describe how supportive spouses and fathers can promote children's achievement, self-confidence, professional values, and more (Bhatia, 1996; Parsuram, 1996). Due to changing socialization processes, the child has emerged as a focal point in parents' lives. Parents, particularly in the middle class, are extremely concerned about ensuring a successful and secure future for their children, with an eye toward upward mobility in a globally competitive society. They are extremely conscious of their parental role to ensure the best for their children (Datta, 2007; Gore, 2003; Sinha, 2003; Sriram, 2003). Therefore, there is much pressure and demand on positive participation of men/fathers in all aspects of family life.

This article presents an overview of the nature and extent of fathers' involvement in their children's lives in middle-class families, drawing from published work and integration of presentations and graduate research projects. It further highlights a few voluntary initiatives undertaken to promote fathers' involvement, in the absence of strong policy directives or large-scale programs for father involvement. The article concludes with practical suggestions for teachers and practitioners to promote father involvement in the school system in multiple ways.

ROLE OF FATHERS IN INDIA: RESEARCH REPORTS

Fatherhood and fathering as an area of research has just begun to receive attention. Results from available studies have been reported in terms of fatherhood ideals, the nature and extent of father involvement, and difficulties and barriers faced by fathers.

Fathering Ideals

Most fathers in the urban contexts of western India (Mumbai, Baroda, and Jaipur) today expect an ideal father to be aware of and address their children's needs, and to be a friend, teacher, and guide to their children (Saraff & Srivastava, 2008). In addition, fathers think it is their duty to create a conducive environment for their children's growth, address their children's health needs, support both present and future security of their children, and maintain healthy loving and close relationships with their children. Research studies with Indian fathers report a host of positive fathering ideals, such as guiding children's education, becoming more open and expressive, adopting less strict discipline measures, assigning more importance to children and to their fathering role, prioritizing communication with their children, and engaging children in extracurricular activities (Mathur & Mathur, 2006; Sandhu, 2008; Sriram, 2003, 2008). …

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