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Fathers' Qualitative and Quantitative Involvement: An Investigation of Attachment, Play, and Social Interactions.

Interest in the roles fathers play in raising their young children has gained increasing attention from researchers, practitioners, and families alike. This interest is due, in part, to the re-entry of women into the work force, which prompted some social theorists to assume that fathers would increase their involvement in caregiving tasks and, therefore, fathers should now be a more important component in children's development. When the data came in, however, it was clear that fathers were not adjusting their levels of commitment to child care and nurturance in proportion to the number of hours that mothers were employed away from home (Hardesty & Bokemeiser, 1989; Hochschild, 1989; Lamb, 1978; McBride & Darragh, 1995; Rexroat & Shehan, 1987; Shelton, 1990). Although mothers are still responsible for most of the care and task domains associated with child-rearing, the question remains: In what contexts do fathers and children form their relationships during the first few years of life? The absence of theory and the inconsistencies in the empirical data for father involvement have left large gaps in our knowledge of this important relationship (LaRossa, Gordon, Wilson, Bairan, & Jaret, 1991; Pleck, 1997). Therefore, the purpose of this study was to investigate father-child relationships by recording fathers' level of involvement and by examining the quality of this relationship through observations of father-child attachment behaviors, play interactions, and social interactions.

The current popularly held view of fatherhood assumes that shared parenting is the solution to the problems faced by mothers who are simultaneously employed and responsible for their children, and enlightened fathers would increase their participation in child-rearing were it not for the constraints of their work (Daley, 1993). The father-involvement literature does not make a distinction between level of involvement and the quality of paternal involvement (Barnett & Baruch, 1988; Hardesty & Bokemeirer, 1989; Rexroat & Shehan, 1987). It is assumed that if the obstacles facing fathers were removed, the impact of their increased involvement would be positive for fathers, mothers, and their children. Some possible obstacles for fathers' level of involvement that have been identified are fathers' socialization, mothers acting as gatekeepers to fathers' involvement, and the lack of role models for fathers (Daley, 1993; DeLuccie, 1994; Krampe & Fairweather, 1993; McBride & Darragh, 1995). These factors for involvement suggest that fathers' participation in child care and the consequences of their participation are more complex than simply increasing the time fathers spend with their children (Shelton, 1990). What is clear is that there are a number of substantial obstacles for fathers who would like to have the realistic option to be an active participant or share equally in the responsibilities for their children. Therefore, researchers need to examine fathers' level and quality of involvement to determine potential positive and/or negative effects on child outcomes.

First, this article will discuss the current knowledge about the obstacles fathers experience during their child's first few years of life. Understandably, there is a spectrum of influences that affect father involvement from external socioeconomic to historical factors; however, for the purpose of this study, the focus will remain on more immediate familial and social contexts. Second, this article will examine the level of fathers' involvement and the quality of father-child relationships during the first two years of life.



Society rewards male behavior that encourages a consolidation and development of men's position in the public sphere of work. The image of the father as good provider remains deeply entrenched, whether or not this role is currently being actualized (Billet, 1993; Parke, 1996a). The energy men devote to a work role enhances the self professionally and financially while also providing the family with social status and financial support (Lewis & O'Brien, 1987). Consequently, men's instrumental socialization doesn't prepare them to become parents while they are growing up. McBride and Darragh (1995) found that men who demonstrated low levels of involvement report that cultural norms create reluctancy for them to become involved in child-rearing activities. In addition, not having been socialized to become nurturing caretakers of young children, many fathers may be unaware of the demands and functions of an actively involved parent.

Even for couples who try to avoid traditional gender roles, a time of stress such as the birth of a child can set into place a series of events that make it difficult if not impossible for mothers and fathers not to move toward gender-specified roles (Sroufe, Cooper, Ganie, & Dehart, 1996). This conventional role division is bolstered by the biological fact that only the woman can bear children, the sociological fact that relatives and friends generally expect the woman to provide most of the infant care, and the economic fact that the man's salary is usually higher than the woman's (Sroufe et al., 1996). Therefore, for the first few years of a child's life, mothers tend to take the lead in child-care responsibilities, setting in motion the patterning of role division that remains in place throughout childhood and possibly into adolescence (Phares, 1993).


Although researchers have substantiated that the marital relationship affects father-child interactions (Belsky, 1984), few studies have examined the ways in which mothers' personal and role characteristics may affect father-child relations (DeLuccie, 1994). Part of mothers' primary caregiving role entails monitoring and controlling the amount and type of access others have with their children. Mothers may, overtly or covertly, limit the amount of time fathers participate in child-care activities due to women's "expertise" in this domain. Women have historically been labeled the primary caregiver, and even with their entry into the work force, giving over responsibility to their husbands may create feelings of guilt (Lamb, 1989). Increased paternal involvement may obstruct some crucial power dynamic within the family.

Lamb (1989) suggests mothers may believe that fathers' increased involvement creates more rather than less work for them, which results in their being hesitant to encourage fathers' participation. McBride and Darragh's (1995) findings demonstrate that mothers reported being a potential hindrance to their husband's increased involvement. These mothers indicated that they created the schedule for child-care tasks and were often hesitant to relinquish their parental control. However, mothers who value fathers' parental influence tend to be more likely to encourage this relationship. Deluccie (1994) found that mothers' satisfaction with and beliefs concerning the importance of father involvement play both direct and indirect roles in reliably explaining a large proportion of the variation in paternal involvement.


A third effect on father involvement is a lack of a defined fathering role. Russell and Radojevic's (1992) review on fathering draws attention to the lack of exposure for men to appropriate paternal role models to explain the slow degree of change in men's behavior. The absence of preparation for fatherhood and its consequences has been well documented. However, there is little research that examines how role models influence the continuous formulation of the fathering identity in the absence of preparatory experiences and opportunities to practice nurturing skills (Daley, 1993). If we expect men to meet the changing societal expectations for fatherhood, we must explore issues related to the lack of appropriate parenting models (McBride & Darragh, 1995).

Daley (1993) found that in the absence of strong and relevant role models, men appeared to express a fundamental anxiety, which created obstacles about how to enact a parenting role and the behaviors associated with that role. These fathers had difficulty providing examples of exemplary fathers whose actions they might emulate. When the men did offer information regarding qualities of fathering models, the information was fragmented and disjointed. Without a clear sense of direction from the traditions of the past, they were in a position of sorting through the good and bad examples of fathering behavior among their contemporaries (Daley, 1993).

Without clear guidelines for selection, there were a variety of inconsistencies that emerged for these fathers as they sought to reshape fatherhood into a form different from the previous generation. For example, although the men in this study typically held their fathers accountable for not spending more time with them when they were growing up, they were usually willing to excuse their own absenteeism on the basis of their own work demands.


The question remains, is the level of paternal involvement the factor that should be examined, or is there a greater need to understand the quality of paternal involvement? Many researchers have found a lack of relationship between the quantity and quality of fathering behaviors (Easterbrook & Goldberg, 1984; Feldman, Nash, & Aschenbrenner, 1983; Grossman, Pollack, & Golding, 1988). The amount of time parents spend with their child, on the surface, does not suggest, in and of itself, an impact on child development outcomes (Hawkins & Eggebeen, 1991). It is, then, untenable to assume a linear connection between how much time fathers spend with their children and how useful or salient that time is to these dyads. The role of fatherhood is multiply determined, and the quality of fathers' behaviors needs to be examined to obtain an understanding of paternal involvement (Parke, 1996b). However, past research has not typically looked at involvement from this perspective.

There are two primary bodies of research dealing with the potential direct contributions of fathers to their children's early development. Although these two literatures are interrelated in that the second is an outgrowth of the first, they differ fundamentally with respect to basic assumptions about the potency of fathers' contributions to children's psychological development. The first of these literatures concentrates on comparisons between fathers' and mothers' amount of interactions. Contributors to this literature often focus on mothers as primary care providers and consequently primary attachment figures. Attachment is viewed as an enduring relationship formed during the first 12 months via quality, sensitive caregiving and social interactions. By the same token, fathers are viewed as breadwinner and support agent for the mother (e.g., Bowlby, 1969, 1988). Good fathers are expected to provide support to their wives, who, in turn, can provide good child-care. Bowlby has been criticized repeatedly for ignoring the direct contribution of fathers and focusing solely on the mother and child attachment relationship.

The second body of research focuses on contributions of fathers within the domain of physical, high-energy play that is more characteristic of fathers' interactions with children than mothers' interactions with children (Lamb, 1977). For example, some researchers (Bridges, Connell, & Belsky, 1988; Lamb, 1981; MacDonald & Parke, 1986) suggest fathers' major role is that of playmate. Through this playmate role, fathers have been found to increase children's sense of autonomy that is often seen as an important milestone marking psychological growth (MacDonald & Parke, 1986). These findings are surprisingly robust with similar patterns being observed with different age groups and across situations. To date, few studies (Belsky, 1984; Lamb, 1977) have tried to examine these two bodies of research simultaneously. Therefore, the question remains: how salient is the father's role as playmate compared to his role as an attachment figure? Or, can play interactions (as opposed to caregiving and social interactions) be a vehicle from which a healthy attachment can be formed?


The basic premise advanced in this study is the need to examine both the amount of time fathers spend with their children, and to examine the nature of relationships fathers develop with their children.

In order to examine the level and quality of fathers' involvement and compare that involvement with mothers', only intact families were used for this investigation. This allowed fathers and mothers in this group relatively equal opportunity to develop a relationship with their child. The goals for this study were: one, to examine fathers' and mothers' level of involvement; two, to examine father-child and mother-child attachment relationships via play interactions and social interactions, and three, to investigate similarities and differences between father-child and mother-child play interactions and social interactions.



A convenience sample of 27 fathers and 27 mothers and their children from a middle-class population provided the information analyzed for this study (24 Caucasian families, two African-American families, and one Eastern Indian family). Participants were recruited through newspaper advertisements and through local child-care centers in a university community in Alabama. This sample consisted of 14 families with children ages 12 to 16 months and 13 families with children ages 22 to 26 months. Fourteen children were male, and 13 children were female. Two children were adopted. In addition, 14 children were first-born, and 13 children were later-born. Mothers had a mean age of 31.95 years (sd = 5.14) and a mean education level of 16.9 (sd = 2.85); fathers had a mean age of 35.54 years (sd = 6.37) and a mean education level of 17.17 (sd = 3.0). To minimize the role of environmental and social stresses in this study, only couples who were living together in a marriage-like commitment prior to the pregnancy diagnosis and whose delivery histories were uncomplicated were recruited. Families were compensated for their participation.


During an introductory visit to the home, the Principal Investigator conducted a structured interview with the parents. During the interview, each parent was given a Parent-Child Caregiving Questionnaire with a series of standard questions involving (1) basic demographic information and (2) estimates of their own level of child-care involvement.


Each family was then invited to a play laboratory that involved a standard laboratory assessment. Each parent-child dyad was observed in a separate laboratory visit, creating two visits per child. The visits were counter-balanced so that, for half of the participants, fathers went first, and, for the other half, mothers went first. This was done to reduce the likelihood of an ordering effect. First, a standardized Strange Situation procedure (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978) was conducted in order to observe the child's exploration and play behaviors in the presence and absence of their fathers and mothers. This procedure was conducted first because the novelty of the situation (anxiety about being observed) is beneficial for observing how children use their care provider as a source of comfort.

Next, three play segments were conducted. During the first segment the child was invited to play alone with a set of age-appropriate toys for 10 minutes while the parent sat close by (i.e., play alone). Children were usually relaxed by this time, and if not, snacks were provided and a break was taken until all parties agreed to continue.

Two play segments with parents were introduced at the end, beginning with a 10-minute free play period with the parent participating (i.e., joint free play). Next, each parent-child dyad was presented with a toy set that represented picnic activities or a circus (i.e., joint pretend play), and the parents were provided instructions about attending a circus or picnic with their child; this play period lasted for five minutes. This last structured play segment was arranged so that if parents were still nervous, then having a task to accomplish would help to focus their attention. All laboratory assessments were videotaped.



The Parent-Child Caregiving Questionnaire addresses the level of involvement and division of labor between the parents concerning their child. This instrument was developed for this study. Respondents were asked to report on their level of parental involvement for general time with their child, amount of time providing basic needs for their child, and amount of time in playful interactions.


Attachment. The Strange Situation consisted of eight brief episodes in which the parent leaves the child and returns. These episodes are presented in a standard order for all participants. The sequence of episodes was presumed to increase the level of distress for most infants from episode to episode (Ainsworth et al., 1978). The differences in patterns of behavior yielded a classification of the parent-child attachment relationship as either secure or insecure. Standardized security ratings were used based on Ainsworth et al.'s (1978) coding procedure. Coders were professionally trained for three months in conducting and coding the Strange Situation. A parent-child dyad was considered secure when the child was able to engage in active play when the caregiver was present, the parent provided comfort to their children when distressed, and the child was readily calmed down and able to return to play. A parent-child dyad was coded as insecure if they displayed a patterning of avoidant, resistant, and/or disorganized behavior while interacting (see Ainsworth et al., 1978). Using this procedure, each parent-child relationship was rated categorically, that is rated as either secure or insecure. When ambiguity exists dyads are given a secondary rating. Therefore, some dyads could have had a first rating as secure and a secondary rating as insecure or vice versa. No dyads in this group had contrary first and second ratings.

Attachment classifications have been shown to remain the same over a six-month period provided family circumstances remain stable. However, the quality of attachment (i.e., secure or insecure) is considered a measure of the relationship and not a trait of the child (Bowlby, 1982; Main & Weston, 1981). Therefore, security or its absence is considered to reflect the history of interactions characterizing the dyad (see Fox, Kimmerly, & Schafer, 1991). Quality of attachment is predictive of behavioral differences in other contexts (e.g., social interactions with peers) up to five years later. This suggests support for the validity and reliability of the attachment classification criterion (Vaughn & Waters, 1990).

Playmate Measure. Play quality was assessed using Belsky and Most's (1981) categories of functional and symbolic play. The videotapes were coded in 15-second intervals for the highest level of play observed within a given time-sampling frame. Vondra and Belsky (1991) note that the coding procedure involves the time sampling of the most competent play observed during each 15-second period; therefore, the play scores are not considered a frequency count of each play type. The play alone, joint free play, and joint pretend play segments were classified into one of fourteen categories of play defined by Vondra and Belsky (1991), ranging from mouthing to complex pretend acts, whereby higher play scores indicated higher play competency (see Vondra & Belsky, 1991). The highest level of play scored for the alone play segment, joint free play segment, and joint pretend play segment was used for analyses. Vondra & Belsky (1991) reported that this measure captures meaningful behavior variation relevant to the construct of play quality. Play quality scores tended to remain stable over time but did vary across contexts (i.e., in the presence of the father versus mother) for 12- to 13-month old children.

Social Interaction Measure. The videotaped parent-child play sequence was observed for social interactions using a modified version of the Prelinguistic Infant-Parent Communicative Interaction Code (Baird, Haas, McCormick, Carruth, & Turner, 1992). A social interaction was defined as an active and mutually reciprocated exchange between the parent and child. Three adult-interaction variables were coded from the second five minutes of free play with the parent and the five-minute pretend play segment (broken into 15-second time periods): response contingency, directiveness, and facilitation. During the same two five-minute periods, two child variables were coded: social initiation and participation. Capsule definitions of the coded behaviors are provided in Table 1. Baird et al. (1992) collected preliminary reliability data with a population ranging in age from birth to 31 months and replication reliability data with a population ranging from 18 to 36 months that suggest this instrument meets appropriate reliability criteria for research and clinical use. To date, this measure has only been used on mother-child interactions.

Table 1 Definitions of Parent and Child Interaction Categories
Parent interaction Definition

Response contingency The parent starts, stops, or changes his/her
 behavior within one second in response to
 the infant's focus of attention, change of
 emotional state, or overt behavior.

Directiveness The parent attempts to lead the pace,
 content, and/or form of infant's play.

Facilitation The parent allows for or follows the
 infant's attention behavior and allows the
 infant's withdrawal behavior for the entire
 coding segment.

Child interaction

Initiation Following a three-second pause in social
 interaction and with no adult prompt, the
 infant initiates or reinitiates social

Participation The infant engages in either neutral or
 positive social interaction.


Two observers independently coded the videotapes for the Ainsworth's (1978) Strange Situation procedure in order to determine intercoder reliability. To prevent coder contamination, observers coded the videotapes independently. Each observer coded 20 percent (i.e., a random selection) of the videotapes. Comparing the primary coder's scores with those of the principal investigator assessed reliability. Observers received a coder agreement of .80.

Next, two observers independently coded the videotapes for playmate variables. Again, both observers coded 20 percent of the tapes to obtain inter-observer reliability. For play quality, Kappa scores were computed to attain the level of reliability; across the first 12 levels of play, the Kappa scores ranged from .79 to .93; the median value was .86. Play levels 13 and 14 were not used in the calculation of Kappa scores because there were less than four instances in which each of these complex play behaviors was observed.

Finally, Kappas were computed for the social quality scores. The Kappas for each of the six interaction variables ranged from .53 to 1.00; the median value was .77. Even though some of the Kappa scores were low, all of these measures had high percentage levels of agreement ranging from .80 to 1.00.



Preliminary analyses for the child variables were conducted to examine possible mean differences for gender of child, birth order, and age of child effects. To examine these effects, t-tests were conducted using attachment scores, playmate scores, and social interactions. There were no gender of child or birth order effects discovered. In addition, no age effects were found for attachment relationship scores with either fathers or mothers. Therefore, age of child did not need to be controlled for in subsequent analyses using these data sets.

For the playmate variable, fathers were able to raise infants' play scores to levels similar to those of toddlers. That is, no age effects were found for the father playmate variables. Possibly a ceiling effect occurs for the toddlers so that infants play at higher levels with fathers, but toddlers' scores cannot be elevated. However, a different picture occurs when the same children are in the presence of their mother. Age effects were found with mothers for all three play scores. Toddlers played at higher levels alone [t (23) = -2.06, p [is less than] .05], during joint free play [t (23) = -3.58, p [is less than] .01], and during joint pretend play [t (23) = -3.00, p [is less than] .01] than did infants with their mothers.

Age trends were found for social interactions with fathers and mothers. Toddlers scored higher for social initiations during joint pretend play with their fathers [t (21) = -4.30, p [is less than] .001]. Toddlers also had higher social participation scores while interacting with their fathers during joint free play It (21) = -3.72, p [is less than] .001] and joint pretend play [t (21) = -5.01, p [is less than] .001] than the infant group. Similar findings were observed for mother-child social interactions. Toddlers initiated more social interactions towards their mothers during joint free play [t (1,23) = -1.99, p [is less than] .05] and joint pretend play [t (23) = -2.23, p [is less than] .05] and participated more often during joint pretend play [t (23) = -2.93,p [is less than] .01].

Due to the above age effects, ANCOVAs were used to control for children's age in subsequent analyses for the playmate variables and children's social interaction variables. T-tests were used in all other analyses.


Across the three major categories of self-reported time spent interacting with children, fathers had significantly lower scores than mothers (see Table 2). Fathers reported lower amounts of time in general with their children [t (22) = 5.04, p [is less than] .001], lower amounts of time providing child-care [t (22) = 5.11, p [is less than] .001], and time engaged in play activities [t (22) = 3.20, p [is less than] .01] than mothers. The level of involvement for average hours each day spent with their child was M = 4.66, sd = 1.33 for fathers and M = 7.94, sd = 3.35 for mothers.

Table 2

Mean Scores and Standard Deviations for Fathers and Mothers: Level of Involvement
Variables Fathers Mothers Sig.

Level of

Total time 4.66 7.94 p<.001
 (1.33) (3.35)
Time caregiving 2.19 5.95 p<.001
 (1.80) (3.58)
Time playing 1.93 3.06 p<.01
 (0.96) (1.85)


A total of 17 father-child relationships were rated as secure, seven were rated as insecure, and three were not rated because the Strange Situations were interrupted due to children's needs. Nineteen mother-child relationships were rated as secure, five were rated as insecure, and three sessions were not coded. Analyses were then conducted to examine the salience of play contexts versus social contexts for attachment relationships with fathers versus mothers. Therefore, within groups comparisons were made between parent-child secure and parent-child insecure relationships.

Attachment Relationships and the Importance of Play with Fathers. During joint pretend play, children securely attached to their fathers played at significantly higher levels than did children insecurely attached to their fathers [t (21) = -2.04, p [is less than] .05]. The average level of play quality for children with secure relationships with their fathers was M = 8.47, sd = 2.77, and for children with insecure relationships with their fathers was M = 6.13, sd = 2.30. There were no differences for attachment security between children's play levels with their mothers. This suggests a possible connection between the quality of father-child relationships and play interactions.

Attachment Relationships and the Importance of Social Interactions with Mothers. When t-tests were conducted on each of the parent social interaction variables, only Fathers' facilitation during joint free play differed across groups. Fathers with insecure relationships with their children were significantly more facilitating It (21) = -2.20, p [is less than] .05] of their children's behaviors (see discussion).

For mothers, response contingency during joint free play and facilitation during joint pretend play differed across groups. Mothers with secure attachment relationships with their children were significantly more responsive to their children's behavior It (22) = 2.11, p [is less than] .05] while engaged in joint free play. During the joint pretend play segment, mothers of securely attached children were more facilitative than mothers with insecure children [t (22) = 4.56, p [is less than] .05], suggesting social interactions are connected to mother-child attachment quality.

Next children's social interactions were examined controlling for their age. There were no relationship differences for children interacting with their fathers, further suggesting that father-child attachments are formed through play interactions rather than social interactions. However, children who experienced secure relationships with their mothers seemed to be more interested in being involved socially with their mothers. These children initiated more social interactions to their mothers during joint free play [F (1,22) = 6.91, p [is less than] .05] and participated in social interactions at higher rates during joint free play [F (1,22) = 9.67, p [is less than] .01] and during joint pretend play [F (1,22) = 5.30, p [is less than] .05].


Finally, the play and social interaction variables were examined for similarities and differences between fathers and mothers and children's interactions with them.

Fathers' Strength as Playmate. All three play-quality scores resulted in means favoring higher scores for father-child dyads than mother-child dyads (see Table 3). When ANCOVAs were calculated, children played at significantly higher levels with their fathers during the joint pretend play segment than with their mothers [F (1,20) = 4.55, p [is less than .05]. During structured play, children's play quality scores were significantly higher with fathers (M = 7.5, sd = 2.84) than with mothers (M = 6.28, sd = 1.94). Fathers responded favorably to the suggestion of pretending to be going on a picnic or to be going to a circus. Often fathers became goal oriented and highly encouraged their children to become involved in the scenario.

Table 3 Mean Scores and Standard Deviations for Fathers and Mothers: Play
Variables Fathers Mothers F-value

Play quality

Alone play 6.20 5.68 3.24
 (2.74) (1.63)
Joint free play 7.92 7.04 2.78
 (2.77) (2.67)
Joint pretend play 7.50 6.28 4.55(*)
 (2.84) (1.94)

(*) p<.05

Social Interactions. Next, the social interaction variables were examined, and the results support fathers' use of directiveness. Fathers were coded as being more directive [t (21) = -2.22, p [is less than] .05] with their children during joint play than were mothers. Fathers and mothers received similar scores for facilitation and responsiveness. There were no differences for the child social variable. Children were just as likely to participate and initiate social interactions with their fathers as with their mothers.


This study investigated the importance of examining qualitative variables of fathers' type of involvement rather than just frequency counts of the amount of paternal versus maternal involvement during the first two years of life. While strong conclusions based on this study alone are not warranted due to the small sample size and exploratory nature of the investigation, the results merit discussion. The importance of this study lies in its examination of differing pathways to attachment relationships. Bowlby (1969, 1988) and Ainsworth et al. (1978) state that a high level of social interaction and sensitive caregiving behavior over time is the only path towards a secure relationship between parent and child. This investigation suggests that for fathers an alternative pathway may exist through play interactions.

Although the level of fathers' involvement was significantly lower than mothers' involvement, there were some interesting qualitative differences in their interaction. Children's play level increased while interacting with their fathers. This suggests that fathers engaged their children in higher levels of pretend play than mothers. This is especially relevant since there were no age differences between the infants and the toddlers while playing with their fathers. That is, while playing with fathers, younger children's play scores equaled that of older children. This suggests that fathers' stylistic differences (i.e., becoming goal oriented or directive) in play interactions help their children, especially younger children, increase their toy exploration. Conversely, when these same children played with their mothers, children played at their expected developmental level.

Secure attachment relationships were expected to be related to play interactions for fathers. Indeed, securely attached children did demonstrate higher levels of sophisticated play while playing with their fathers than did insecurely attached children. That is, when children had confidence that they had a quality relationship with their father, they felt free to explore their environment to its fullest extent. Once again there seems to be a clear connection between play interactions and father-child relationships (MacDonald & Parke, 1986; Lamb, 1981; Bridges, Connell, & Belsky, 1988). However, this is one of the first studies to examine and demonstrate a connection between play interactions and the attachment relationship; therefore, further investigation is warranted. Apparently, stylistic differences in play behaviors provide some indication of the quality of the relationship between fathers and children (Parke, 1996a; Vondra & Belsky, 1991).

When playmate variables were compared for fathers and mothers, additional findings demonstrated the importance of play in father-child relationships. Support was found for the postulate that fathers' type of involvement centers around play interactions. Children tended to achieve higher play quality scores with their fathers than with their mothers. Past research has suggested that when given a choice, children prefer to play with their fathers (Lamb, 1977; Parke, 1996a). This form of involvement should not be discredited; over the past 20 years the importance of play has been elevated. High levels of pretend play have been found to be related to children's future cognitive competencies (Belsky & Most, 1981). Parke (1996a) states that fathers are more willing to allow their children to take risks during play, and this has been shown to have a positive influence on their children's intellectual growth. Conversely, mothers engaged their children in more social exchanges during play. Mothers seem to enhance children's socialization skills for empathy and participation with others. Hence, play seems to be an important domain for father-child relationships, whereas mother-child relationships revolve around social interactions.


An interesting finding occurred when the social interactions were examined. Fathers with insecure relationships with their child demonstrated more facilitative behaviors than fathers with secure relationships with their child. This high level of facilitation may seem counterintuitive for insecure relationships; however, when the videotapes and the variable's definition were reexamined, the explanation became clear. Facilitation is defined as the parents' ability to allow their children to withdraw and/or not to interfere with their children's focus of attention (Baird et al., 1992). That is, these fathers were spending larger amounts of time simply watching their child play. Fathers of insecurely attached children tended to remain uninvolved in their child's play for long periods of time. Since this is the first time this measure has been used with fathers, it suggests further examination is required for the validity of Baird et. al.`s (1992) definition of facilitation when investigating father-child social interactions.

Mothers with secure attachment to their children were more responsive and facilitative, and their children actively engaged in more social interactions than in mother-child insecure dyads. As opposed to fathers' facilitation, mothers' facilitative behaviors tended to help promote the children's attention to a toy (i.e., a child grasping for a toy out of his reach and the mother moving the object closer to the child). The high amount of responsiveness secure children received from their mothers resulted in their likelihood to initiate and participate socially with their mothers. These children are assumed to have had a history of sensitive care from their mothers and apparently have learned that their signals (of social initiation) will receive quick and appropriate responses and that their mothers can be counted on to provide whatever help is necessary.

When differences between fathers' and mothers' social interactions with their children were examined, fathers were observed to be more directive than were mothers. At first glance this increase in the structure and control of play (as observed in the joint free play segment) could be interpreted as a negative behavior. However, there were no significant differences in how children participated socially with their fathers versus mothers. In fact, directiveness may have an association with increased play quality scores for the younger children that resulted in a lack of an age effect with fathers versus mothers. In order for children to examine toys and objects in complex ways, fathers' direction may be necessary in order to enhance their younger child's limited attention capabilities. Together these findings suggest that secure relationships with both mothers and fathers are beneficial to their children, but in differential domains. Fathers influenced cognitive strategies (e.g., object mastery, autonomy) through play, while mothers provided social instruction. These findings suggest that children with secure attachment relationships to both parents receive diverse and complementary stimulation, or that children benefit from differential interaction styles that are more typical for fathers and mothers.

Parke (1996b) states that the impetus for researchers is to unravel the determinants of father quality and level of involvement. These findings begin to accomplish that goal. While associations drawn from this study are suggestive and deserve critical scrutiny, fathers' qualitative behavior hints at the possibility of future empirical, theoretical, and methodological contributions to men's studies. These issues are timely given Cowan's (1997) call for examining father-child attachment relationships using a family systems perspective, and allowing for a more elaborate view of the antecedents of this relationship, van IJzendoorn and De Wolff (1997) concede that the "transmission mechanisms" for sensitivity of paternal behavior and attachment formation are still unknown. This study further illustrates how important it is that future research should not simply consist of comparisons between mothers and fathers; rather pathways of influence toward common goals should be examined for both fathers and mothers (via direct and indirect effects). Interest should lie in tracking fathers' playmate qualities as an equally relevant mechanism for developing an attachment to their children. Social interaction skills do not seem to be the only pathway to developing healthy parent-child relationships, especially for fathers.


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Kerry Kazura, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the department of family studies at the University of New Hampshire. His research interest focuses on children's social well-being with an emphasis on father-child relationship development for intact and high-risk families. For the past six years, Kazura has examined the importance of fathers and the attachment relationship on children's first few years of life. He also is the co-director of the Family Connection Project, which examines the impact of incarceration on the family system. The project's goals are to evaluate the effectiveness of the family programs that are provided to inmates and their families, examine the differential effects of maternal and paternal incarceration on children's socio-emotional development, and collect descriptive information about families with incarcerated members. (

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Kerry Kazura, Department of Family Studies, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH 03824 or
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Publication:The Journal of Men's Studies
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2000
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