Fathers' Involvement in Child Health Care: Associations with Prenatal Involvement, Parents' Beliefs, and Maternal Gatekeeping

By Zvara, Bharathi J.; Schoppe-Sullivan, Sarah J. et al. | Family Relations, October 2013 | Go to article overview

Fathers' Involvement in Child Health Care: Associations with Prenatal Involvement, Parents' Beliefs, and Maternal Gatekeeping


Zvara, Bharathi J., Schoppe-Sullivan, Sarah J., Dush, Claire Kamp, Family Relations


Using data from 182 dual-earner couples experiencing the transition to parenthood, this study examined associations between prenatal involvement, gender-role beliefs, and maternal gatekeeping and new fathers' involvement in child health care. Results indicated that prenatal father involvement was associated with fathers' direct engagement in child health care and perceived influence in child health-related decision making. Fathers also demonstrated greater direct engagement in child health care when mothers held more nontraditional beliefs about gender roles. Moreover, when mothers were more encouraging of fathers' involvement in childrearing, fathers felt more influential in child health-related decision making, whereas when mothers engaged in greater gateclosing behavior, fathers with more traditional gender-role beliefs felt less influential in child health-related decision making. This study suggests that fathers' prenatal involvement, mothers' beliefs, and maternal gatekeeping may play a role in the development of new fathers' involvement in child health care at the transition to parenthood.

Key Words: father involvement, child health, prenatal involvement, gender role beliefs, coparenting. maternal gatekeeping.

Fathers' involvement in their child's health and health care has been identified by health professionals and scholars alike as a key direction for empirical research (Coleman & Garfield, 2004; Garfield & Isacco, 2012). Although greater father involvement in multiple aspects of children's lives is associated with better social, emotional, and physical health for children (Carr & Springer, 2010), relatively little research has explored fathers' involvement in child health care, and especially factors that may influence the extent of fathers' involvement (Isacco & Garfield, 2010). However, when new fathers are more involved in child health care, children experience not only better health but also more positive father-child relationships (Levy-Shifif, Hoffman, Mogilner, Levinger, & Mogilner, 1990). Thus, understanding why some new fathers are more involved than others in their child's health care is imperative.

Using data from a community sample of first-time parents, this study examined the role of three factors in new fathers' involvement in child health care: prenatal involvement, beliefs about gender roles, and maternal gatekeeping. Two facets of fathers' involvement in child health care were studied: fathers' direct engagement in child health care (i.e., taking child to the doctor, staying home when the child is ill) and fathers' perceptions of influence in child health-related decision-making. Unlike most existing research, which has relied on mothers' reports of fathers' behavior, this study used fathers' reports of their own involvement, which have more consistent predictive validity than mother reports of father involvement (Hernandez & Coley, 2007).

Father Involvement and Child Health

There is little consistency in the ways in which "father involvement" in child health has been conceptualized and studied. Some research has included very general measures of father involvement in the child's life and examined indirect associations with child health via maternal behavior. For instance, using data from the Millennium Cohort Study in the United Kingdom, Kiernan and Pickett (2006) reported that mothers were more likely to continue to smoke during pregnancy and less likely to initiate breastfeeding when they were less closely connected to their child's father (i.e., cohabiting with their child's father or single vs. married). In another study, Teitler (2001) tested associations between father involvement (e.g., whether the father's name was on the child's birth certificate, fathers' provision of financial support during pregnancy) and health outcomes using data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study in the United States. Results revealed that when fathers were more involved, mothers were more likely to have sought prenatal care and to have refrained from unhealthy behaviors while pregnant. …

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