Fathers Don’t Push Them Away

Fathers: Don’t Push Them Away

Much of the public discussion concerning fathers these days is how to get them to be more involved in the lives of their children.  Certainly, our society drastically has changed its perception of fathers over the past two decades, now regularly changing diapers, becoming more involved in school, and otherwise engaging directly in the family home life.

Part of the reason for this change has been the changing role of mothers from the stereotypical housewife to the working mother trying to balance the needs of home and job.  By necessity, the fathers’ role needed to change.

Change is easier said than done.  Research shows that the reality continues to be that mothers continue to take on the primary role of directing childcare.  Fathers continue to report that they feel marginalized in this process, while women report that they wish the father of their children were more involved in the process.  What’s going on here?

An article in the New York Times (Nov. 3, 2009, p.C5) indicates new research at several universities, which provide insight concerning fathers.  Overall, even with the stated desire by society over the past 20 years that it is in children’s best interest to have fathers more involved, the reality is that we often unwittingly push fathers away.  Mothers, for example, often micromanage fathers’ interactions and dealings with their children because parenting is often seen as their “turf.”  However, parents need to support each other in parenting, especially in a divorce situation.

Partnership Parenting

New research reinforces what most people, instinctively, already know.  The forthcoming book by Marsha Kline Pruett (a professor at Smith College) and her husband Dr. Kyle Pruett, demonstrates that a mother’s support of the father turns out to be a critical factor in his involvement with the children (their book is called “Partnership Parenting“).  In addition, Sara S. McLanahan (a professor at Princeton University), states that the key factor is “the better the couple gets along, the better it is for the child.”  Professor McLanahan found in her Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study that couples who scored the highest in positive relationship traits like willingness to compromise, expressive affection or love for his or her partner, encouraging or helping partners to do things important to them, and having an absence of insults and criticism, were also the same families where the father was significantly more engaged with the children.

Although uninvolved fathers have often been accused of not living up to their responsibilities, Professor Philip A. Cowan of the University of California, Berkeley, believes the research now shows that society often sends subtle messages that fathers are less important to their children than mothers.  He has stated: “the walls in family resource centers are pink, there are women’s magazines in the waiting room, the mother’s name is on the files, and the home visitor asks for the mother if the father answers the door.”  “It’s like fathers are not there.”

Another recent study has found that, while father only parenting groups can be quite effective in helping fathers parent at a higher level, the best parenting classes involve both parents.  The research has shown that these group sessions assist parents in having less parental stress that each party is generally happier as a result and that these parents (often divorced) could figure out parenting together and be more accepting of different ways of parenting.  As Dr. Pruett has stated, fathers do not mother, they father.  “Dads tend to discipline differently, use humor more, and use play differently.  Fathers want to show kids what is going on outside of the mother’s arms, to get their kids ready for the outside world.”

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