Many fathers who have children who live all or part of their time with their mother would like to be more involved in their children’s lives, according to new research released today by the Australian Institute of Family Studies.
Australian Institute of Family Studies Researcher, Dr Jennifer Baxter said the study showed that of fathers who have some contact with their child who lives all or part of their time with the child’s mother, 47 per cent would like to be a lot more involved with this child. Another 28 per cent would like to be a little more involved.
“These fathers say that what’s stopping them from being more involved are factors like job demands, the child’s other parent, or living too far away,” she said.
“In these same families, mothers also very often say they would like the father to be more involved in the child’s life, although they were more likely to say fathers’ level of involvement was about right.
“In the first national data on this issue, we are getting a window on the lives of these fathers and the nature of their involvement with their children.
“These fathers often contribute by buying clothes, toys and presents for them, or making other occasional financial or in-kind contributions,” she said.
Dr Baxter said that perspectives differed about the extent to which fathers provide financial or other in-kind contributions.
“Quite often these studies rely on one parent’s perspective but we know that each parent has their own perspective and it’s interesting to look at this issue of parental involvement from both points of view,” she said.
“There is an element of ‘he says, she says’ when it comes to financial or other in-kind contributions, with fathers much more likely to say they do things for the child than the mothers are.
“When we compared mothers’ and fathers’ reports they differed markedly in terms of to what extent fathers help out.
“For example, about one-third of mothers report that fathers often or sometimes looked after the child while they were at work, studying or attending appointments. However almost two-thirds of fathers reported that they often or sometimes provided this help.”
The research is drawn from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children that is following the development of 10,000 children and families from all parts of Australia to examine the impact of social, cultural and economic influences on children as they grow up.
Dr Baxter said it was important to recognise and understand the role of fathers who have a child living all or part of the time with the child’s mothers.
“This is especially so given that 10 per cent of the youngest children in the study aged around one year old had parents who lived apart. This doubled to 21 per cent when children were aged eight to nine,” she said.
“Many of the youngest children had never lived with their father, while as children grew they were increasingly likely to have lived with their father for some time.”
The research also examined the impact on children of having a new father figure in the household.
Researcher and manager of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, Dr Ben Edwards said that the timing of the arrival of a new father figure in a household could be a sensitive one for children when they were also starting school.
“On many of the indicators of children’s socio-emotional behaviour and learning that we looked at, the entrance of a new father figure did not have an impact on how children were faring” he said.
“The one exception related to teachers’ reports of children’s emotional and behavioural problems, like hyperactivity and poor conduct. For children who had a new father figure join their household just as children started school, there was increased reporting by teachers of such difficulties.
“Teachers need to be aware that a significant change in the family make-up can have the potential to cause difficulties for children at what is already a sensitive time.”