Whatever the extent of their involvement, fathers do appear to influence their children’s development, both directly by means of interaction and indirectly by virtue of their positive and negative impact on the family’s social and emotional climate. Attitudes concerning appropriate levels of emotional involvement vary widely. Thus paternal (father) involvement, whether of a high or low level, can be beneficial or harmful to child development depending on the attitudes and values of the parents. It is very important to recognize intercultural and intracultural diversity when considering parental influence on child development.
Four factors are crucial to understanding variations in the degree of paternal involvement.
- Motivation — the extent to which the father wants to be involved
- Skills and self-confidence — comfort with skill set necessary for working with children
- Support — especially support within the family from the mother
- Institutional practices — what your environment and social structure considers appropriate
Most men prior to the 1970s were encouraged to perform as traditional fathers, which was a relatively restricted role. Many traditional men feel they must restrict or sacrifice their father role in order to be successful breadwinners.
However, some men are uncomfortable with restricting their parenting activities to only providing income for the family, as androgyny theory (Bem, 1975) suggests. And thankfully we see more fathers today trying to create a balance between their breadwinner role and their own need to be involved with their children. Yet some men do continue to ignore the father role because the rewards of activities outside the home are so strong. Other men many be closed out by their family system or traditions, or they may be struggling with internal issues that consume all their energy. More information needs to be available to men so that they can make better decisions about the kind of involvement they want with their children.
Most men develop father behavior that blends both the provider and caretaker roles. The ideal father as described by Heath (1976) is “affectionate, emotionally involved, and willing to play with his children.” This definition has expanded to include being a “mentor and coach of life skills.” We know that fathers make important contributions to the social and intellectual development of their children.
Can you think of ways you see that fathers have enhanced the growth and development of their children in recent decades?