Unheard Voices: African American Fathers Speak About Their Parenting Practices
The scant literature on African American fathers’ parenting practices suggests that African American fathers may use an authoritative parenting style, displaying both acceptance and control. However, this literature is limited in quantity and scope. Researchers have called for qualitative research on fathers’ childrearing practices (e.g., Letiecq & Koblinsky, 2004, Johnson, 2002) to further develop theoretical frameworks of parenting among African American fathers that may be empirically tested and implemented in interventions. Therefore, the objective of this qualitative study was to better understand how African American fathers describe their parenting practices, particularly efforts to encourage positive/healthy emotions, behaviors, and coping in their sons.
Participants included 30 self-identified, African American, biological fathers of pre-adolescent sons at-risk for developing aggressive behaviors, depressive symptoms, or both. Fathers were from a small city in the Mid-Atlantic region and its surrounding areas. Fathers participated in semi-structured interviews based on a topic guide developed a priori. The data presented in this manuscript were collected as a part of a broader pilot study focused on fathers’ experiences raising their son(s). The current analysis focuses on the fathers’ parenting practices. Interviews lasted approximately 1-1.5 hours and fathers were compensated $25 for their time. Informed by grounded theory methods (Strauss & Corbin, 1998), we systematically identified themes that emerged from the data. We set inter-rater reliability at 2/3 agreement and discrepancies were resolved via consensus.
Five themes emerged from the data: discipline, monitoring, encouraging managing emotions, and setting an example for their son. Fathers described their use of a variety of discipline approaches including “old school” methods (e.g., spanking under certain circumstances and within certain limits), setting limits, removing privileges (e.g., phone, computer, sports), physical discipline (e.g., exercise), and incentives. Fathers’ descriptions of discipline and monitoring practices were nuanced by residential status, neighborhood context, or both. Fathers noted that they encourage their sons to develop their interests (e.g., sports, hobbies), keep trying despite challenges, and always do their best. Fathers described the strategies they offered (e.g., breathing, taking a walk/walking away and verbalizing rather than internalizing anger) to help sons manage their emotions, particularly those related to anger and resulting from conflicts. Fathers also noted the need to set a positive example for their sons. Some noted the particular importance of this strategy given their neighborhood challenges (e.g., gang activity). Implications
The findings expand our knowledge of parenting practices (e.g., discipline, monitoring) noted in the quantitative literature, as well as highlight resources (e.g., phone, school) some nonresidential fathers use to engage in these practices. This is important because nonresident African American fathers are often characterized as unengaged in the lives of their children, particularly their son’s at this critical stage of development (Hamer, 2001). Of particular note is fathers’ promotion of strategies aimed at enhancing their sons’ emotional regulation. These findings have important implications for social work intervention and policy practice.