NCOFF Briefs provide summaries of literature reviews, research reports, and working papers published by NCOFF and of emerging practice- and policy-focused issues in the field. This brief, Co-Parenting, is one of seven developed upon NCOFF’s seven Core
Learnings and a literature review written for NCOFF by Terry Arendell of Colby College. Designed to examine indepth issues in the
Core Learnings, the seven literature reviews were the centerpiece of discussion in the 1995-1997 Fathers and Families Roundtable
Series. This series brought together researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to examine issues surrounding the NCOFF Core
Learnings, or findings thought to be essential in working with fathers. Copies of literature reviews, Roundtable proceedings, and related reports are available from NCOFF in paper form, or via the internet (http://www.ncoff.gse.upenn.edu).
NCOFF is grateful to its funders: the Annie E. Casey Foundation which provides core support, the Hewlett Foundation, the Ford
Foundation, and the Charles S. Mott Foundation.
A Review of the Literature
Shared parenting is atypical, even among married parents who live together with their children. Fathers do far less caretaking than mothers, and most men view their parenting involvement as discretionary. For the most part, father participation in child caregiving is greatest among married men and lowest among unwed, young fathers. Many men will remain reluctant to assume the responsibilities of primary or shared caretaking until childcare becomes genuinely valued and socially recognized. Yet, because of a gender stratification system that tends to place less value on work traditionally performed by women, childcare will not be considered important work until men participate more fully.
Many men depend on their wives to facilitate their relationships with their children. This dependency creates barriers to father involvement even in married families and is particularly problematic for fathers who live apart from their children. Until more fathers learn how to initiate, maintain, and promote at least somewhat independent relationships with their children, co-parenting will remain out of reach for most parents.
In nonnuclear families, father involvement declines over time; the impact, if any, of this decline or eventual absence on children’s well-being is unclear.
Father involvement, however, is important to children, their mothers, and society at-large as well as for men themselves. For fathers, involvement with their children helps to promote adult psychological development, contributes to self-esteem, and strengthens father-child relationships.
Recommendation for Research
Research should develop a stronger series of work that informs us about conventional gender role socialization and the ways in which both boys and girls develop nurturing and caregiving skills.
Recommendations for Practice and Policy
Parenting education programs that view fathers’ participation as normative and desirable should be made more available. Policymakers should (1) reduce the adversarial nature of divorce by making mediation more readily available for divorcing parents needing to make custody arrangements and (2) make the workplace more family-friendly by providing more flexible work schedules, paid parental leave policies, and better-paying part-time jobs that include health benefits.
The burden on working-poor families should be reduced by establishing income supports and community centers.
A Review of the Literature
nvestigations of men’s family behavior are still scarce compared to studies of mothering and family pro cesses more generally. Relatively little is known about what resident fathers actually do, how their activities vary, and what the variability means. Even less is known about the parental involvement of formerly married fathers who do not reside with their children. Most