Predictors of observed dyadic father-child engagement
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Based on Hinde’s (1979) perspective on parent-child relationships, this study operationalizes fathering as a dyadic process where both father and child actively contribute to the relationship over time. It further addresses the complexity of the fatherchild relationship as affected by a mix of factors occurring within the family system, and also by community, workplace, and cultural factors. vii Using married resident fathers, their wives, and a target child (all participants in the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development), the links between characteristics of the father (childrearing beliefs, discipline strategies, psychological distress, paternal responsibility for childrearing, and job concerns) and characteristics of the child (sex, birth order, temperament, language skills, social skills, and behavior problems) were examined in connection with the quality of observed dyadic father-child engagement when the child was in first grade. Controls for socio-demographic characteristics (parental education, child ethnicity, and non-maternal income) were included. Fathers with less adult-centered childrearing beliefs, as well as those who were satisfied with their wives’ work situation were more engaged in a positive father-child relationship. Children with better expressive and receptive language skills, and children whose fathers perceived them to have better social skills and higher total behavior problems were more likely to have a positive father-child relationship. Two significant interactions showed that the shared relationship was best understood in the context of the dyad and the family. Maternal characteristics (depression, employment, and negative beliefs about maternal employment), the observed quality of dyadic mother-child engagement, and perceptions of marital intimacy were also tested as predictors. Maternal full-time employment was negatively associated with father-child dyadic engagement at first grade, while the quality of the mother-child relationship when the child was 54-monthsold was positively related to positive father-child dyadic engagement. Wives’ viii perceptions of marital intimacy approached significance, but husbands’ perceptions of marital intimacy did not significantly predict the quality of father-child dyadic engagement. Father and child characteristics contributed the greatest amount of variance, followed by maternal employment and dyadic mother-child engagement. All results are discussed using a systemic relational perspective.