Antecedents of Father Involvement

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There is an emerging body of research on the factors that predict positive father involvement. Father involvement is likely affected by multiple interacting systems operating over the life course, including a father's mental health, expectations, family relations, support networks, community and culture, the child's own characteristics, and even public policies.

Paternal depression and aspects of personality have been found to predict the quality of father-infant attachment and interaction. Parenting stress has also been found to be negatively associated with security of father-child relationships, quality of father-infant interactions at four months of age, and father nurtu-rance toward an ill infant.

Related to expectations is the notion of intended-ness, that is, the extent to which a father intended or welcomed the birth of his child. There is some evidence that a father's positive parenting may be strongly associated with whether the pregnancy was intended. Unwanted and mistimed childbearing has been linked to negative children's self-esteem.

Mother-father relationships are very important. A father who has a positive relationship with the mother of his child is likely to be more involved in his child's life. Fathers in positive marriages are more likely to have secure infants, positive attitudes toward their children and their role as a parent, and low levels of parenting stress. The father's relationship with other family members, friends, his partner's family, and with members of his own family of origin are also important. In one study, men who received more emotional support from their work and family relations had more secure infants.

A father's economic status clearly affects his ability to provide adequate child support and may ultimately affect his relationship with both his partner and child. More-educated fathers play with and teach their children more than do less-educated fathers, and fathers' academic achievement is associated with the amount of time spent as primary caregivers. A father's job loss is associated with negative outcomes for the child, and fathers in poor and welfare families, particularly those facing chronic poverty, are less involved in their adolescent children's lives.

Little is known, however, about how child characteristics affect a father's reactions to his child and his investment in the father role. A father's involvement may vary with the child's temperament or gender, for instance. Some fathers may find it trying to engage in responsive and reciprocal interactions with babies who have difficult temperaments; others may interact differently with their sons and daughters.

Public policies have an impact on the amount, frequency, and type of father involvement. For some fathers, child support laws, which are not linked to visitation rights, are a deterrent to child contact. Similarly, parental leave policies make it difficult for a father to take time away from work to take care of his child. Most employers do not offer parental leave, and when it is offered, it is unpaid. This lack of support may create a disincentive for men to be more involved in the care of their children.

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