Fathers’ mental health, parenting practices and co-parenting relationships have a powerful effect on child development. The paucity of research on the parenting strengths and support needs of fathers of children across childhood and adolescence compels the current study addressing the parenting experiences of a large sample of fathers of birth to 18-year-old children.
The study aims address: (1) differences in the views of mothers and fathers regarding their parenting practices, sense of parenting efficacy, mental health and the co-parenting relationship; (2) investigation of factors affecting fathers’ mental health; (3) exploration of fathers’ views about the co-parenting relationship; and (4) examination of influences on fathers’ parenting.
The study involves secondary analysis of data collected from the first wave of the Australian Parenting Today in Victoria study, conducted in 2016 (N = 2600 mothers and fathers) involving 1044 fathers (40% of the sample) recruited through random dialling of landline and mobile numbers to produce a representative sample of parents of children 0–18 years.
Results demonstrate a positive picture of fathering at a population level – most reported (a) high levels of parenting self-efficacy, (b) using positive parenting strategies, (c) talking to their children directly when their children experience problems, and (d) feeling supported by their parenting partner in their role as fathers. Nevertheless, important areas of need are identified. Fathers’ reports of mental health challenges were associated with reduced parenting sense of efficacy and reduced opportunities for positive father-child interactions. While most fathers reported good partner support, this was often in contrast to mothers’ views.
These results from one of the largest surveys of fathers of its kind provide credible insights into the experiences and support needs of fathers, with clear implications for policy makers and service providers responsible for designing and delivering supports for fathers.