The evidence that dads matter is well advanced. From smartphone addiction in Korean college students to the development of advanced brain function in US pre-schoolers, a wealth of research points to a range of outcomes fathers have on children.
But while the importance of fatherhood has been extensively investigated, it’s only now that researchers are looking at how to break down entrenched expectations around fatherhood and help support fathers in their role.
New research into The University of Queensland’s Triple P - Positive Parenting Program recently investigated the issues fathers consider important when it comes to parenting and incorporated changes to program delivery based on this knowledge.
Given social changes around gender and parenting issues - particularly in middle to upper income countries - it would seem obvious that dads these days would be more interested in playing an active role in parenting.
However, little research had previously been conducted into what fathers perceived as important when it comes to the support they need for their role.
“In the past, the view seems to have been that fathers were reluctant to engage in parenting programs but this study shows that when fathers’ concerns are actively raised during participation to encourage their involvement, gender differences disappear,’’ Triple P founder Professor Sanders said.
“Fathers and mothers recorded similar levels of completion of the program, which was high, and similar levels of satisfaction.’’
US-based research suggests that the current generation approaching fatherhood - men aged from 18 to early 30s - have much more egalitarian attitudes about family, career and gender roles inside marriage than previous generations.
But these men typically struggle to achieve those goals once children arrive.
Researchers have speculated social structures such as workplace policies have not kept pace with changing expectations at home and are affecting the way both parents perceive their roles.
A study by the University of Queensland’s Janeen Baxter, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Children and Families over the Life Course, analysed data from the Australian Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey.
It showed that when their first child is born, both men and women adopt more traditionally gendered attitudes towards mothering, as well as about who does housework and caregiving.
The study also found that both parents were also more likely to agree that a working mother is less able than a stay-at-home mother to establish a bond with her child and appeared to confirm that gendered expectations about parenthood change across the life course.
However, the Triple P research, a randomised controlled trial of a version of Group Triple P for fathers in New Zealand, showed that when men are treated as active participants in the parenting process, rather than being assumed to be there to play a supporting role, they are just as likely as their partner to actively participate in group sessions.
Men are also just as likely to benefit and so are their children.
Study authors Tenille Frank, Louise Keown and Matt Sanders said that following the trial, both parents were more likely to report significantly fewer child behaviour problems and increased use of positive parenting practices.
There was also less conflict between parents about child rearing, mothers felt more confident and also reported that their partners’ parenting practices improved.
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For enquiries on the Triple P Program, please contact founder, Professor Matt Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org.