There is a quiet revolution happening in our towns and cities and across countries. Fathers are spending more time looking after their children.
It used to be traditional that fathers went to work and mothers cared for their children, and this view of fathers seems to be still considered as the norm. They go out for most of the day; they come home and have food; they read the newspaper or watch television; they may go out again or they may go to bed. During the 1980s and 1990s in particular, the amount of time fathers spent with their children could be a little as a total of 15 minutes to 2 hours a week depending on their work.
Perhaps it is time to challenge this stereotype. Despite the unfortunate economic situation, I consider that fathers in general have made a conscious decision to be more visible in the lives of their children. They no longer wish to remain on the sidelines. They are prepared to get their hands dirty – literally with the day-to-day care and comfort of their small person.
We have a generation of children whose care is shared between parents and grandparents. In the UK especially, child care by professionals is very expensive. Often families have to make decisions about the care of their children which makes the most financial and emotional sense. Fathers are as skilled as mothers in looking after their children. They may balk at doing the housework, cooking and other general domestic chores, but they certainly know what their children need.
Often it is lack of practice that creates the imbalance. If the mother is usually the main care-giver, then she does this task including household chores until it becomes automatic and seamless. If the father has to step in for one reason or another, then his access to practice time is limited.
When a male parent works away or has left the family home, the children feel the loss keenly. It is similar to bereavement. Some children cannot overcome that sense of abandonment. Despite the current pattern of lone parent families, there is a much needed space for a father or father figure. Children need role models; without them they grow up rudderless. They do not understand the different gender roles or behaviours. There may be resentment for the mother who remains with them as if it is her fault that the father is no longer there with them. Confusion is a common experience during the maturation process. Who they are or what they will become are questions older children ask of themselves. How they will fare as parents especially where the role models are absent or out of contact are crucial to their emotional well being.
One parent role is no more important than the other. The vital aspect of parenting is to offer your children the best start in life. That includes setting appropriate boundaries, demonstrating appropriate behaviour and giving love and affection freely without question despite arguments and challenges. Being a parent is a demanding and thankless task but it is one most fathers in particular take on willingly.
The Fatherhood Institute: the UK’s fatherhood think-tank
Spending more time with children
Younger men’s aspirations are different to previous generations.
- Fathers are spending more time with their children: in the late 1990s, fathers of children under 5 were spending an average two hours a day on child-related activities, compared to less than a quarter of an hour per day in the mid 1970s.
- Fathers’ time spent with their children accounts for one third of total parental childcare time.
- Where mothers work, one third cite fathers as the main child carer while they are at work.
- Some fathers sacrifice their own career ambitions in order to spend more time with their children at a certain point in their lives.
“The value of the father as a child carer is vastly underrated. I do spend quite a lot of time with him, and I think I am equally capable as his mother at looking after him.”
Hatter, W et al., (2002) Dads on Dads: Needs and Expectations at Home and at Work. Manchester: EOC.
‘Estimates of the amount of time parents spend with their children have varied widely particularly as a result of the different operational definitions of parental time involvement …..’ Mothers, fathers, gender role and time parents spend with their children Renk, Roberts, Roddenberry, Luick et al. Sex Roles Vol. 48 2003.
Objective: This study examined parenting patterns in a sample of low-income couples and the impact of those patterns on young children’s cognitive outcomes. Design. Interactions between 237 mothers, fathers, and their 2-year-old children were examined among co-resident mothers and fathers or father figures who participated in the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project’s Father and Child Interaction During Toddlerhood Study (FACITS). Scores on 6 parenting scales were entered into K-means cluster analyses to determine whether different parenting patterns emerged by gender. Analyses of covariance were used to examine how the behaviour of each parent alone and both parents jointly was associated with child cognitive outcomes concurrently and 1 year later.
Results: Mothers and fathers exhibited similar parenting patterns, with Highly Supportive (43% of mothers, 34% of fathers), Somewhat Supportive (35%, 43%), Detached (8%, 15%), and Negative (14%, 8%) clusters emerging for both genders.
However, differences emerged between the Detached and Negative mother and father clusters, with higher detachment among detached mothers and higher negativity among negative fathers.
For mothers at both time points and fathers at 36 months, children with Highly Supportive parents had higher Bayley Mental Development Index (MDI) scores than children in the 2 non-Supportive clusters, controlling for parent demographics and income. Children with 2 Supportive parents scored higher on the Bayley MDI than all other children, whereas those with no Supportive parents were particularly disadvantaged. Having at least 1 Supportive mother or father benefited children’s cognitive development over having none.
Conclusions: Children who have at least 1 Supportive parent score higher on cognitive assessments, regardless of parent gender, than those with none; studies on parenting and child development should consider mother and father behaviour in concert.
Is One Good Parent Good Enough? Patterns of Mother and Father Parenting and Child Cognitive Outcomes at 24 and 36 Months
*The BSID were first published by Nancy Bayley in The Bayley Scales of Infant Development (1969) and in a second edition (1993). The scales have been used extensively worldwide to assess the development of infants. The test is given on an individual basis and takes 45-60 minutes to complete. It is administered by examiners who are experienced clinicians specifically trained in BSID test procedures. The examiner presents a series of test materials to the child and observes the child’s responses and behaviours. The test contains items designed to identify young children at risk for developmental delay – BSID evaluates individuals along three scales:
- Mental scale: This part of the evaluation, which yields a score called the mental development index, evaluates several types of abilities: sensory/perceptual acuities, discriminations, and response; acquisition of object constancy; memory learning and problem solving; vocalization and beginning of verbal communication; basis of abstract thinking; habituation; mental mapping; complex language; and mathematical concept formation.
- Motor scale: This part of the BSID assesses the degree of body control, large muscle coordination, finer manipulative skills of the hands and fingers, dynamic movement, postural imitation, and the ability to recognize objects by sense of touch (stereo gnosis).
- Behaviour rating scale: This scale provides information that can be used to supplement information gained from the mental and motor scales. This 30-item scale rates the child’s relevant behaviours and measures attention/arousal, orientation/engagement, emotional regulation, and motor quality.
The BSID are known to have high reliability and validity. The mental and motor scales have high correlation coefficients (.83 and .77 respectively) for test-retest reliability.