History and Background of Father Involvement

Interest in fathers and their role in their children's development have sustained researchers' attention off and on since the 1970s. Sociodemo-graphic, cultural, economic, and historical changes— women's increasing labor force participation; increased nonparental care for children; increases in nonmarital childbearing and cohabitation; and father absence in some families and increased father presence in others—have greatly affected how families or ganize themselves. These changes have led to different family structures and different expectations and beliefs about the roles of fathers and mothers. The ''ideal'' father had undergone an evolution from the colonial father, to the distant breadwinner, to the modern involved dad, to the father as co-parent. For example, in the second half of the nineteenth century, fathers in the United States left their small farms and businesses to seek employment away from home in an emerging industrial economy. While fathers were away from home, mothers were solely responsible for rearing their children. This breadwinning and nurturing dichotomy of parental roles defined parental involvement and was associated with fathers' absence and mothers' caretaking. Thus, father-child interactions were considered unimportant for children's development.

These changes in parental roles and expectations can be linked to four trends: women's increasing labor force participation, the absence of many men from some families, the increased involvement of other fathers in their children's lives, and the increased cultural diversity of American families. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, a new ideal of ''co-parent'' is emerging in which the gender division of labor in domestic and breadwinning responsibilities is less clear. Co-parents must share financial and car-egiving tasks and responsibilities equally, and their roles are gender-free.

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