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July 1997

The Father's Role During Infancy: Factors That Influence Maternal Expectations

Author Affiliations

From the Division of General Pediatrics, Department of Pediatrics, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Md. Dr Grant is now with the Department of Paediatrics, University of Auckland School of Medicine, Auckland, New Zealand.

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1997;151(7):705-711. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1997.02170440067012

Objective:  To describe factors that influence maternal expectations of the father's role during infancy.

Research Design:  Cross-sectional survey.

Setting:  Postpartum obstetric ward of an inner-city teaching hospital.

Subjects:  Mothers who were residents in the innercity communities that surround the hospital and who were recently delivered of a newborn.

Selection Procedure:  Consecutive sampling from March to May 1992.

Measurements:  Through structured maternal interviews, the father's expected role was measured in terms of accessibility, engagement in child care tasks, and decision-making responsibility. Influences included demographics, the mother's desire for the father's involvement, and her perceptions of his motivation, prenatal support, and ability to parent.

Results:  Of 226 eligible mothers, 197 (87%) were interviewed. Expectations varied widely. Concerning accessibility, 48% and 18% of the mothers expected to see the father daily and less than weekly, respectively. Concerning engagement, 81% of the mothers expected some paternal involvement; the average mother assumed that the father would participate in one third of child care tasks. Concerning decision-making responsibility, 34% of the mothers expected to share all decisions; 30% expected to share none. In all areas, expectations were positively associated with the mother's desires, the strength of the parents' relationship, and the mother's perceptions of the father's motivation and ability to parent and the father's prenatal involvement (all, P<.001). Expected accessibility and engagement were greater for fathers who worked; expected engagement and decision-making responsibility were greater for fathers without children from other relationships (all, P<.03).

Conclusions:  The maternal desire for the father's participation, the strength of the parents' relationship, the mother's perception of the father as a parent, and the father's prenatal involvement are all consistently associated with the maternal expectations of the father's role. The demographic characteristics of either parent are not as strongly or consistently associated with the maternal expectations.Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1997;151:705-711