Parenting in Context: Fathering and Mothering in Diverse Families
Methods: The papers in the proposed symposium include methodological improvements in the field. All three of the of the studies engage subgroups of families that are not well represented in existing research but represent many families served by social workers. These include expectant parents, low-income fathers in highly stressed urban neighborhoods, and families with step parents. Two of the studies use qualitative methods. These methods are particularly critical as they reflect the perspectives of these underrepresented families and have the potential to inform more inclusive intervention approaches and theory development as the field advances. Another methodological advancement represented in this symposium is the attention to the broader family context of families that include multiple generations as well as the perspectives of mothers and fathers. Although the importance of mother-father relationships has long been acknowledged in parenting research, rarely are the perspectives of both parents included, and the contributions of extended family members and complex parenting structures have been even less well-studied.
Results: The results of the studies included in this symposium describe fathers and mothers in different family and community contexts who are also in different “places” along the path of their parenting careers. The findings highlight how the experiences of these parents vary by marital and residential status, entrée into parenting, and community stress. The mothers and fathers represented in these studies demonstrate potential to contribute to family and child well-being through their commitment to involvement with their children, connection to co-parents (including partners and grandparents and extended family), and strengths through family transitions. However, parents also face challenges in their family relationships and communities which have an impact on their children, as well as their own well-being.
Implications: Although families in the US today are highly diverse, much of the existing parenting research has focused mothers alone. Rarely have studies included reports from multiple parents and extended family in diverse communities. These papers demonstrate that parenting is impacted family relationships and community level factors, and that the service needs of parents likely vary across these dimensions and over time as fathers and mothers enter into, and progress through their parenting careers. A failure to attend to these service needs likely undercuts the effectiveness of existing interventions. These studies provide critical insights needed to inform the development of effective family support services that better meet the needs of all parents.