Statistical data unequivocally proves that involved fathers have a positive impact on a child’s well-being. However, society and the law undervalue their importance. In this research article I will be:
– exploring whether fathers are confident in their role as a dad.
– analyzing the reasons discouraging fathers to claim an equal role in childcare.
This article has been compiled after researching findings of recent reports and studies and evaluating the longstanding gendered roles. Four men, who have been parents for a while, were also interviewed to gain their insights. These include (in alphabetical order) Hakim Malik, father to 2 daughters, Inaya, 6 years old and Daanya, 3 years old; Inam Abdullah, father to son, Raaif, 3 years old; Jazib Ahmed, father to 2 sons and 1 daughter, Mekail, 8 years old, Abaan, 6 years old and Zaynah, 3 years old; and Talha Asif, father to 1 son and 2 daughters, Alina, 5 years old, Hadi, 3 years old and Amal, 9 months old.
Maslow’s hierarchy is often displayed as a pyramid, with the representation of needs in a gradation. Needs at the bottom of the pyramid are basic physical requirements including the need for food, water, sleep, and warmth. Once these lower-level needs have been met, people can move on to the next level of needs, which are for safety and security.
In light of Maslow’s hierarchy, parenting can then be segmented. Providing adequate food for the family is primal to meet the basic physiological needs of a child. Food is frequently associated with feelings of love, security, and well-being. This implies that to meet the lowest level needs, parents need to ensure a continuous stream of resources to provide for their child.
Over the years the cost of living has significantly increased which is encouraging both the parents to get involved in paid labor and add a second income. Research indicates that wives who are employed outside the home contribute more to homemaking chores than do their husbands and that individual incomes strongly influence the division of labor in the home. A study found that “the more a husband earns and the less money a wife makes, the less the husband’s share in domestic work (including looking after the child)”. Therefore, oftentimes it has been observed that it is the mother who is attending to the basic level needs of their children.
As we progress beyond the physiological, safety, and security needs, the levels become complex. These include the need to gain respect and appreciation of others and achieve one’s full potential. It has been found that (as opposed to mothers) fathers play a critical role in meeting these needs.
Commenting on this, Jazib Ahmed says, “one of the main goals of parenting is to make your child independent. It is not your job to provide them with everything, but it is your job to teach them everything so they can provide for themselves”.
Agreeing with this, Talha Asif says, “fathers are better equipped to provide guidance to their children and to act as a friend and a mentor to them. Mothers often, don’t have the patience, since they need to attend to household chores as well. My children have always come to me for advice, or to seek a solution to a problem.”
He further adds that the efforts a father puts in, may not be visible in the early years of a child unlike the instant gratification provided by mothers (in terms of meeting hunger needs, or the need to be loved). He says that “the results start showing when the child turns 5. By that time a child’s moral compass and sense of awareness start to function, which becomes evident especially among a group of children.”
Fathers then agreeably have a significant impact on a child’s upbringing. This has also been substantiated by multiple pieces of research and studies that highlight how involved fathers not only benefit their child but themselves as well.
However, fathers are unable to express confidence in their parenting.
In a survey conducted in 2017, 63% of fathers expressed that they spend too little time with their kids, compared with 35% of mothers who said the same. In addition, fathers are also less positive about their own parenting abilities than are mothers. Just 39% of fathers said in 2015 that they were doing a “very good job” raising their children, compared with 51% of mothers.
An involved father, Hakim Malik says that “mothers do a better job at parenting since generally they are better at multitasking and putting their kids’ needs in front of their own”.
Inam Abdullah, concurs, and says, “If I were to pick the one parent who does a better job, I’d choose mothers”.
Talha Asif also adds that “mothers are unmatched in their role since they have a higher resilience level. Men are unable to maintain discipline like women. Mothers have stronger instinct, high patience level and are better multi-taskers”.
Despite understanding the importance of their role in their children’s lives, why are fathers not confident enough to participate and claim an equal role in childcare?
The reasons can be broadly categorized.
1. Maternal Gate-keeping
Just like mothers need acceptance and emotional support, fathers do as well. However, many a time, women unintentionally discourage men from parenting, just because they see it as not ‘fit’ to their parenting style. Because mothering is their realm, some women micromanage fathers and expect them to do things their way, said Marsha Kline Pruett, a professor at Smith College and a co-author of the new book “Partnership Parenting,” with her husband, child psychiatrist Dr. Kyle Pruett.
This phenomenon is known as ‘maternal gatekeeping’. Maternal gatekeeping refers to mothers acting in ways to discourage or promote father-child interactions. It includes a mother’s protective beliefs about how much and whether a father should be involved in their children’s lives.
Jazib Ahmed nods at the idea, and says that when it comes to children his wife is a “control freak”.
According to Sarah M. Allen and Alan J. Hawkins, mothers control the father’s household responsibilities and/or interactions with their children because of 3 reasons:
– Reluctance to hand over responsibility to another family member. Mothers may show hesitation in handing over a child’s responsibilities because fathers may not exhibit the confidence to assume responsibilities. Taking care of children in short episodes does not make men as competent as women to carry the invisible load of parenting. It is also hard and undervalued work and men often feel relief once handing the child back to the mother.
Talha Asif supports this by saying that, “If I had so much to do (including household chores and taking care of children), I will look for an excuse to escape from the tasks”.
– High standards mothers set for the execution of tasks and how to interact with children.
– External validation of a mothering identity. Culturally, mothers face immense pressures, most of which make them feel as though they could and should be better moms, no matter how well their children are doing.
“Gatekeeping really seems to depend on how much a woman internalizes societal standards about being a good mom,” Schoppe-Sullivan said. “The more you care about (being viewed as a good mom), the less likely you are to give up control over that domain.”
The strength of the marital relationship also contributes to this phenomenon. The way in which a mother uses gatekeeping to marginalize a father’s role can be much more conscious and deliberate in a dysfunctional family, especially with a highly controlling mother at the helm or one in which marital tensions run high. Men then withdraw to protect themselves.
The more gatekeeping from mom, the less parental involvement from dad.
“Just by saying maternal gatekeeping exists doesn’t mean all the responsibility should be on women to manage men. But it still serves as an impediment to the quality of the relationship between fathers and their children … and is part of the very complicated puzzle of how gender plays out in families,” said Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, a professor of human sciences and psychology at Ohio State University who has studied maternal gatekeeping.
2. Work-Life Balance
Despite overall increasing gender equality, a survey of 20 countries found that both men and women named financial provision as the primary responsibility of fathers. In essence, this makes employment the minimum requirement for father involvement and in more traditional settings, the only requirement.
In times of today, when the lines of gendered roles are diminishing, young couples may attempt to establish equal divisions of domestic work. However, it has been observed that after the child is born, parents slowly end up taking on more traditional roles of parenting.
One of the major factors, contributing to this is the disparity in parental leave.
Out of the 195 countries around the world, more than 120 countries provide paid maternity leave and health benefits by law. On the contrary, there are 92 countries where there is no national policy that allows fathers to take paid time off work to care for their newborns. This discrepancy involuntarily compels mothers to establish patterns of primary health care, while the father’s attempts at care slowly wane when his performance is seen as not on par with the mother’s.
Granting paternity leave has been proven to prevent this slide into gendered parenting and promote more equality in child-rearing. Fathers who take any paternity leave at all are much more likely to change diapers, feed the baby, and get up in the night with the child than fathers who do not. Conversely, it was also found that fathers who work longer hours report a decrease in these activities.
Apart from the labor laws, there are also stigmas surrounding extended leave that influence men differently than women. Many are reluctant to use paternity leave for fear of being seen as uncommitted and unmanly. In addition, perceptions about paternity leave are also linked to lower performance evaluations, increased risks of being demoted or downsized, and reduced pay and rewards. Men also fear potential career consequences: specifically, fathers who are seen by bosses and coworkers as engaging in higher than average levels of childcare are subject to more workplace harassment and more general mistreatment as compared to their low-caregiving or childless counterparts. Finally, men who interrupt their employment for family reasons earn significantly less after returning to work.
Besides the discrepancy in parental leaves, maintaining a balance between work and family is a challenge for many working fathers. About half of working dads (52%) said in 2015 that it is very or somewhat difficult to balance work and family life. And about three-in-ten working dads (29%) said they “always feel rushed”. This may be because most fathers face a lot of pressure to provide financially for the family. About three-fourths of adults (76%) said in a 2017 survey that men face a lot of pressure to support their families financially.
Men with more traditional views of the provisional father role tend to work longer hours and experience greater amounts of work-family conflict.
Hakim Malik says, “maintaining a work-life balance is essential for fathers in order to be present for their kids, but often times it is impossible to achieve. I think the biggest hindrance is from the work front. So for instance, if there are both male and female colleagues in a team, the male counterparts would be expected to stay back post-normal working hours since culturally they are not expected to go home and complete essential household chores such as cooking, cleaning, etc.”
Inam Abdullah agrees and says that a work-life balance is difficult to maintain “possibly because of the environment or culture at the office”.
3. Institutional Sexism
According to a study, by Children North East, there are prevalent subconscious practices that disregard the needs of men and fail to recognize the role of fathers.
Joy Higginson, director of Children North East says that “Fathers are important for families, yet almost all formal support to parents is offered only to mothers – with deep-seated sexism in social and health services actively discriminating against men”.
Fathers are fearful of how they are viewed as a subordinate parent and how that view is generally reinforced by the family courts. Many fathers feel that they are viewed as second-class parents, who may be granted limited “access” to the lives of their children, even where they previously shared parenting responsibilities with their partner.
This bias is evident in cases where the immediate family is not involved. When a father becomes a sole parent as a widower, and it is our brother, our uncle, or our cousin, we do not immediately assume that a father cannot be a good parent because in this case, he is our relative. It would seem that it is only when we are angry or in a conflict, that powerful current societal norms rise to the surface and push fathers back to a secondary or lesser role as a parent.
Despite being capable providers, husbands, and fathers (within the context of a family), men have been inaccurately portrayed and encouraged by the media. According to recent shows (especially American sitcoms), the father of the family is shown to be a man-child; a little more than children, mentally speaking, unable to evaluate or think critically about anything beyond the basic drives (sex, food, and entertainment). A classic example is that of Homer Simpson whose “personality is one of frequent immaturity, frequent stupidity, dim witness, selfishness, laziness, and explosive anger”. With the representation of such a negative stereotype, the responsibility of a child can then not be assigned to an irresponsible adult.
4. Lack of Tools for Measuring a Father’s Involvement
Over the past 50 years, there has been nearly a threefold increase in the time fathers spend with their children.
Agreeing with this trend Hakim Malik says, “I think gradually the boundaries between a father’s roles and those of a mother’s are becoming more blurred. Regardless of the role a father plays, I think the end goal is the same for everyone, which is, making sure their kids are happy, healthy, and safe.”
It can easily be declared that compared to the previous decades, the involvement of fathers is at an all-time high at the moment. The roles of fathers have shifted from a focus on being a “breadwinner” to involvement in childcare, emotional nurturance, and co-parenting.
Commenting further, Hakim says, “I think the expectations from fathers are evolving. There are often situations where the expectations are greater than what I manage to accomplish in which case the efforts do go unrecognized or unappreciated”.
The prevailing model of father involvement introduced over 30 years ago posited that father involvement consists of 3 main components: accessibility (availability to spend time with the child), engagement (father’s direct interaction with his children), and responsibility (planning, monitoring, and supervising roles). Although it was researched that the 3 components are equally important, the ease of measuring the engagement of fathers with their children took precedence and revealed a misleading picture. So if a father reads to their child every night, he would be considered involved, as opposed to a father who may be working 2-shifts in a day to meet his financial needs. The aspect of availability was then ignored.
This approach was critiqued, and a new father involvement model was developed. This model of father involvement consists of 3 domains – positive engagement activities, warmth and responsiveness, and control as well as 2 auxiliary domains – indirect care and process responsibility. This added depth to fatherhood models by proposing that father involvement is generated by motivation, skills, self-confidence, social supports, and the absence of institutional barriers. However, the study of this model faces a number of challenges, including the shift in gender roles in modern families.
There is then a need to develop multidimensional measures of father involvement that also take into consideration the evolving gender dynamics. Such all-encompassing measurement tools will be able to provide an accurate representation of the involvement of fathers and reveal how much engagement has an impact.
Fathers tend to do things differently, Dr. Kyle Pruett said, but not in ways that are worse for the children. Fathers do not mother, they father.
Commenting on this, Jazib Ahmed says that, “both the parents should be all-rounders. Fathers should know a mother’s role and vice versa, so either parent can better adapt in situations where the other parent is absent”.
While it has been established that fathers have a significant impact on the upbringing of their children, fathers are still not confident about their parenting skills. Factors that have been preventing fathers to actively get involved include discouragement from the mother’s end (maternal gatekeeping), work-life imbalance, subconscious practices that disregard the needs of men and fail to recognize the role of fathers, and inadequate measures to evaluate the involvement of fathers and its effects.
About Ayesha Jazib
Ayesha Jazib is the Editor in Chief of Reflect – a She Empowers You blog. She is an advocate of mindful empowerment and believes that great power lies in molding situations to work to our advantage. An MBA graduate, Ayesha began her career in the Energy Sector but soon realized her passion for writing and proceeded to work for a number of publications including Expert Parenting and Pregnancy and Arabian Gazette. She played a pivotal role during the development of The Aga Khan University Hospital’s Website as the Content Lead and worked as the Content Writer for their Marketing Department. She has also been affiliated with the Department of Surgery at the Aga Khan University, where she authored the proceedings of the Annual Surgical Conference 2019.
To see more, view all posts by Ayesha Jazib here.