Shared Parenting Information Group (SPIG) UK
- promoting responsible shared parenting after separation and divorce -
What do children need from their fathers? (review)
Cynthia Milligan and Alan Dowie (1998)
Centre for Theology and Public Issues, The University of Edinburgh; 1998; 79 pps (A5); 9.95 pounds sterling
This is a fascinating report of the views of children and adults about how children perceive their fathers and what they want from them.
This qualitative research, whilst lacking something in the presentation, warrants being taken seriously. It flags up important issues which need to be considered for further research and the report has wide implications for those involved in the formulation of policies connected with parenting and the family and provides a better understanding of the role of fathers. The report also contains a review of recent literature on the subject and there are many poignant quotations from those who took part in the study.
The project, which was funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, was inspired by the International Year of the Family and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and a major catalyst was the statistic (obviously startling to the authors) that two years after separation nearly half of fathers have lost touch with their children.
Interviews with adults from groups which had particular concerns for children and families focused on:
Interviews with children revealed that what they needed from their fathers was:
- the importance for a child of the relationship between their father and mother
- children need the presence of their fathers
- what children need from their fathers presence
- the impact of fathers who were not present
- children's needs differ with gender, age and stage
Interviews with adults recalling their own fathers were less clear. There was ambivalence about the role of fathers, and the qualities assigned to 'good' fathers were considered by the researchers not to be gender specific (a point with which the reviewer does not agree). There was disagreement about the gender differences between the needs of sons and daughters, but there was agreement on the need for fathers to assume an active role in the home - although some would consider it preferable for him not to be present if he 'failed' to assume this role. Some adults felt that the quality of relationship between the parents is at least as important as whatever else children might need from their fathers.
- a role model
- quality time
- supportive behaviour
- expressions of love
- physical contact
Throughout the report the accent is on relationships. Our individualistic society has in many ways lost the art of relating - particularly in conflict. For those who advocate the current 'disposable parent' society there is the challenging statement:
'... children need from their fathers and mothers together a balanced, complementary, and stable relationship, and this is no less the case for partners who are separated from each other.'
The report concludes with some proposals for the future:
The need for further research is highlighted in the areas of quality time, supportive behaviour, and setting boundaries.
- There is a clear need to encourage men to play a constructive role in parenting their children
- The government needs to recognise the impact of legislation on children and families
- The government needs to be aware of the deleterious effect on family relationships of the enormously long hours worked by British fathers of young children
- Paternal leave, enabling fathers to take time off work when the family needs him (not just at child birth) is seen as desirable.
- Putting fathers and mothers on an equal footing
- Encouraging men into jobs in nurseries, children's centres and primary schools - so that this stage of life is not so exclusively a woman's realm
- Inclusion of parenting in the school curriculum and development of interpersonal skills
There is also a suggestion that there is a need for the media needs to portray men as active parents rather than men behaving badly.
Centre for Theology and Public Issues - tell them you heard about it here!
University of Edinburgh
Edinburgh EH1 2LU
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