When it comes to fathers’ participation in children’s activities, I can definitely say that my children are some of the lucky ones. My children’s father always has been involved actively in their care. He and I attempt to attend as many doctor’s appointments, school activities, and family events together as we can. Certainly, practicality sometimes gets the best of us, and we cannot both attend every event because of random work obligations that are absolutely unavoidable or because our children are not meant to participate (e.g., having our children at their parent-teacher conference) and someone has to be with them. For these events, we try to pick which one of us is most suited for the activity being considered. For example, I am much more likely to attend parent-teacher conferences, whereas he is much more likely to attend the latest after school activity.
In general, research seems to suggest that fathers are becoming more involved in their children’s lives. For example, the amount of time that fathers spend being involved with, taking responsibility for, and engaging in the care of their children has increased over the past three decades (Cabrera, Tamis-LeMonda, Bradley, Hofferth, & Lamb, 2000; Renk et al., 2003). Nonetheless, fathers still tend to spend about two-fifths the amount of time that mothers do interacting with their children and about two-thirds the amount of time that mothers do being accessible to their children (Pleck, 1997). Certainly, there is great variation across fathers. Averages suggest, however, that fathers are less involved with their children than mothers in caregiving activities but tend to spend more time in play activities than mothers (Renk et al., 2003). In part, the amount of time that fathers spend interacting with their children is related strongly to the type of employment that fathers have and the number of hours that they work outside the home (Yeung, Sandberg, Davis-Kean, & Hofferth, 2001). Nonetheless, there are likely other reasons as well that contribute to fathers not participating in children’s activities, even though research suggests that fathers are critically important to their children’s development (e.g., Phares, 1992, 1996).
So, what are some of the other factors that may predict how involved fathers are with their children? Cabrera, Fitzgerald, Bradley, and Roggman (2007) suggest that many factors should be considered, including fathers’ relationships with their own parents, their psychological symptoms, their demographic and personality characteristics, the characteristics of their children’s mother, and the characteristics of their children. Other contextual factors also may be important. For example, some fathers indicate that cultural norms make them feel reluctant to be involved in caregiving activities (McBride & Darragh, 1995), as it is just expected that mothers engage in these activities. Such experiences may prompt fathers to experience anxiety, particularly if they have few role models for caring for their children (Daley, 1993). Further, studies suggest that mothers have been examined more closely in research (Phares, 1992) and are more likely to be asked to participate in therapeutic interventions with their children (Duhig, Phares, & Birkeland, 2002). Instead, both mothers and fathers should be asked to participate in such endeavors, as both mothers and fathers have valuable information to share about their children (e.g., Duhig, Renk, Epstein, & Phares, 2000). As a result, researchers and mental health professionals should be willing to make accommodations (e.g., offering Saturday or evening appointments) so that both mothers and fathers can participate. Such accommodations can help fathers to feel welcome and respected as the important individuals that they are.
Cabrera, N., Fitzgerald, H., Bradley, R., & Roggman, L. (2007). Modeling the dynamics of paternal influences on children over the life course. Applied Developmental Science, 11, 185-190.
Cabrera, N. J., Tamis-LeMonda, C. S., Bradley, R. H., Hofferth, S., & Lamb, M. E. (2000). Fatherhood in the twenty-first century. Child Development, 71, 127-136.
Daley, K. (1993). Reshaping fatherhood: Finding the models. Journal of Family Issues, 14, 510-530.
Duhig, A. M., Phares, V., & Birkeland, R. W. (2002). Involvement of fathers in therapy: A survey of clinicians. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 33, 389-395.
Duhig, A. M., Renk, K., Epstein, M. K., & Phares, V. (2000). Interparental agreement on internalizing, externalizing, and total behavior problems: A meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 7, 435-453.
McBride, B. A., & Darragh, J. (1995). Interpreting the data on father involvement: Implications for parenting programs for men. Families in Society, 76, 490-497.
Phares, V. (1992). Where’s Poppa?: The relative lack of attention to the role of fathers in child and adolescent psychopathology. American Psychologist, 47, 656-664.
Phares, V. (1995). Fathers’ and mothers’ participation in research. Adolescence, 30, 593-602.
Phares, V. (1996). Fathers and developmental psychopathology. New York: Wiley & Sons.
Pleck, J. H. (1997). Paternal involvement: Levels, sources, and consequences. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), The role of the father in child development (pp. 66-103). New York: Wiley.
Renk, K., Roberts, R., Roddenberry, A., Luick, M., Hillhouse, S., Meehan, C., Oliveros, A., & Phares, V. (2003). Mothers, fathers, gender role, and time parents spend with their children. Sex Roles, 48, 305-315.
Yeung, W. J., Sandberg, J. F., Davis-Kean, P. E., & Hofferth, S. L. (2001). Children’s time with fathers in intact families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63, 136-154.