A Qualitative Study of Early Differences in Fathers’ Expectations of Their Child Care Responsibilities
Objective.—To examine and compare nonmarried and married fathers’ expectations of their child care responsibilities soon after their child’s birth.
Methods.—Individual semistructured qualitative interviews supplemented by quantitative surveys were conducted with 75 father recruited as a subset of the national Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, which randomly sampled 4900 nonmarried and married couples at the time of their child’s birth. Interviews were conducted early in infancy and were examined to explore fathers’ expectations of child care involvement. Major themes and subthemes were identified using grounded theory analysis.
Results.—Regardless of marital status, fathers were overwhelmingly present at their child’s birth and expected to be involved in the infant’s care. Responses to quantitative questions about involvement expectations were not significantly different between the groups. However, qualitative interviews revealed differences between nonmarried and married fathers with respect to their ideals of father involvement, child care activities, and barriers to child care.
Conclusions.—Even shortly after birth, fathers’ parenting expectations appear to differ by marital status. As men become more involved in caring for their children, and as the number of nonmarried fathers continues to rise, characterizing and responding to these differences will become increasingly important.