Georgios Fragakis
Person-Centered Psychologist/ Author

While so far most of the relative research has studied the attachment developing between mother and infant, modern researchers have begun focusing on the decisive role played by father’s involvement in his child’s life and the relationship between them on child’s development. Furthermore, while most of research has focused on the time quantity spent by the father with his infant, only a little of it has studied the quality of such time. The view advocating that these two concepts (quantity and quality) can be spanned and that they are equally important for attachment is gaining ground. Nevertheless, there might also be some other factors that haven’t been accurately taken into consideration by the researchers in their studies and designating them could be highly essential. Besides, is child’s development only determined by parent’s involvement?

This review has two main sections. The first examines how infants’ socio-emotional development is affected by fathers’ involvement in childcare. Specifically, the aim is to show clearly that fathers do contribute on infants’ development.  The second section reconsiders infant-fathers’ relationship as it is explored in the context of attachment. The aim is to show that attachment plays a crucial role but might be influenced by other factors such as father’s personal and psychological characteristics, infant’s traits or even incidental factors as Belsky (1984) has proposed.

Attachment researchers believe that intra-and interpersonal welfare depends on “internal working models” acquired through one’s early experiences with one’s caregivers and almost exclusively with the mother (Bowlby 1982).  Nevertheless, it has been suggested by some early research that a lot of infants might feel distressed when separated by both parents  (e.g. Kotelchuck, 1976) and show clear attachment to both on reunion (e.g. Lamb, 2010). Father’s role in developing a secure father attachment has been tested only a little so far (see Weinfield, Sroufe, Egeland, & Carlson, 2008), despite the increasing interest in that field (see Lamb, 2010).

Recent research has indicated that father’s role should not be overlooked. Interestingly, even though teenagers are more securely attached to their mothers than to their fathers, they displayed behaviour problems, e.g. aggressiveness, connected with their father attachment (Williams & Kelly, 2005). Father attachment is an important predictor of antisocial behaviour (Marcus & Beltzer, 1996) while it is considered as a key factor for children developing sex-appropriate behaviour (Turner, 1998). Moreover, father’s attachment is a significant predictor of a lower number of conflicts with friends (Lieberman, 1999); whilst father’s involvement in his infants’ lives is associated with their social skills (Rice, 1997). Furthermore, father attachment is associated with social withdrawal (Verschueren & Marcoen, 1999) and because this attachment is based on obedience and authority rather than on cosines and mutuality (mother attachment) gives way to personal and professional ambitions (Larose & Boivin, 1998).  Additionally, it has been found that teenagers believe that their fathers help them grow more autonomous than their mothers, who mostly teach them how to build up and keep close relationships  (Kenny & Gallagher, 2002). Finally, it has been found that father’s involvement is positively linked to infant’s mental development, self-control (Yongman, Kindlon, & Earls, 1995), and social skills development (Marsiglio, Day, & Lamp, 2000a). At this point, we could also examine the effects of father’s absence on infant development outcomes.  Infants who live without their fathers, are more likely to: have problems in school performance (Hetherington & Stanley-Hagan, 1997; Horn & Sylvester, 2002), [i.e., get lower marks on achievement tests (McLanahan & Sandefeur, 1994; Snarey, 1993; US Department of Health and Human Services, 1995) lower scores on intellectual ability and intelligence tests, (Duncan, Brooks-Gunn, & Klebanov, 1994; Luster & McAdoo, 1994)], display behavior problems at school (Hetherington & Stanley-Hagan, 1997; Horn & Sylvester, 2002), [i.e., disobedience, (Mott, Kowaleski-Jones, & Mehaghan, 1997), being expelled or suspended, (Dawson, 1991)], drop out of highschool, have difficulties to graduate, drop school and be out of work in their mid 20’s (McLanahan & Sandefeur, 1994), show problems in emotional and psychosocial adjustment (Horn & Sylvester, 2002), be at higher risk for peer problems (Mott et al., 1997), be more aggressive (Horn & Sylvester, 2002), be at higher risk of being physically abused, or harmed by physical or emotional neglect (Sedlak & Broadhurst, 1996), get involved in criminal behavior (Horn & Sylvester, 2002), or commit a school crime [(i.e.,  drug & alcohol possession and use, teacher assault, etc.), (Jenkins, 1995)]. When it comes to sex differences, we should mention that boys living without their father get significantly lower scores on various moral indexes (i.e., guilt for transgressions, rule conformity, etc.), (Hoffman, 1971), tend to be more unhappy, depressed, dependent and hyperactive. Girls tend to cheat, lie and not regret misbehaviors (Parke, 1996; Mott et al., 1997), get extremely dependent (Mott et al., 1997), and experience anxiety and depression (Kandel, Rosenbaum, & Chen, 1994).  Finally, both sexes are likely to: lack control over anger and sexual gratification or have a weaker sense of what’s right or wrong (Hetherington & Martin, 1979), develop disruptive or anxiety disorders (Kasen, Cohen, Brook, & Hartmark, 1996), have behavioral problems (Kandel et al., 1994), suffer from psychological disorders, or attempt suicide (Brent, Perper, Moritz, & Liotus, 1995).

As the review of the previous findings indicates, there is a plethora of studies, which support the importance of care-involved fathers on infants’ development. Elaborating particularly on infancy, next it is examined how they benefit from this relationship. Infants with care-involved fathers are more likely to be securely attached to them, (Cox, Owen, Henderson, & Margand, 1992), and manage to: better cope with strange situations, be stronger when facing stressful conditions (Kotelchuck, 1976; Parke & Swain, 1975), be more curious and willing to explore the environment, relate more maturely to strangers, react more efficiently to complex and novel stimuli, and be more confident in broadening out when exploring (Biller, 1993; Parke & Swain, 1975; Pruett, 1997). To sum up, by reviewing the bulk of research regarding father-infant attachment, a common denominator on which all studies are based can be detected, and this is the way fathers are involved in infant’s life, despite different approaches and points of view.  Still, the significance of father’s involvement remains unclear.  On one hand no association was found between involvement and attachment security (Lamb, Frodi, Hwang & Frodi, 1983), while on the other hand, studies suggested that fathers with a higher level of involvement had children with stronger attachment related behaviours [i.e., enthusiastic greetings (Pedersen & Robson, 1969) and proximity seeking (Kotelchuck, 1976) on reunion], or had children securely attached to them in the strange situation procedure (Cox et al., 1992) or described their children as more secure using the Attachment Q-Set (AQS; Waters, 1987; Caldera, 2004).  Due to discrepancies among these findings, a question rises of how has father’s involvement been defined and studied. Specifically, the distinction between quantity (father involvement) and quality (sensitivity) of fathering behaviours is of major importance.

At this point, being necessary to clarify the concept of involvement to its full extent, we will examine the quantity aspect, that is the time spent by the father with the infant.  This aspect has been widely studied.  According to Lamb and Lewis (2004), the less often fathers interact with infants the less attachment may occur and vice versa, no matter how much they are involved in caretaking. Thus, it becomes clear that the time spent with the infant is highly important for their relationship, but is this enough?  Infant care is the weakest part of the research conducted in the last 40 years.  As time passed, researchers switched their attention to the quality of the relationship that is, if fathers adapt positively to parenting and especially if they manage to emotionally support and respond to their infants’ needs.  In Kokkinaki’s study (2008), “dialogues” between fathers and 2-to 6-months Greek infants revealed that both parents and infants interacted closely and sensitively to each other. Additionally, according to Thompson (1998), if an adult responds properly to infant’s signs the latter perceives them as reliable, and consequently secure attachment appears as well as the opposite.

Then, what determines the structure of an infant’s attachment? Is it related to the quantity of time spent with their caregivers, the quality of care provided by each one or the early adults emotional investment in the child?  Maybe it is about bridging these concepts, as both constant presence and response are needed, as well as care. Lamb, Pleck, Charnov  & Levine’s (1985) suggest a typology of father’s involvement in infant care, based on the “triptych”: engagement (father’s presence), accessibility (father’s availability) as well as responsibility (understanding of infant’s needs, care taking, obtaining economic means, and organizing child’s routine). Particularly, a study by Pedersen and Robson (1969) showed that –according to mothers’ reports (75%)- infants welcomed enthusiastically their fathers returning from work and especially boys’ excitement was connected to the frequency of parental caretaking, patience when they were fussy and the intensity of play between father and infant.   In addition, a study of Cox, Owen, Henderson and Margand (1992) indicated that American fathers who were more affectionate, had positive attitudes and spent more time with their 3-month babies were more likely to have securely attached infants 9 months later. Last but not least, a longitudinal study of highly and less involved Swedish fathers showed that 8- and 16-months babies clearly preferred their mothers  (Lamb, Frodi, Hwand and Frodi (1983)).  This might be due to the fact that Swedish fathers were not particularly keen playmates.

The research mentioned so far, clearly pinpoints the importance of secure relationships and supports father involvement. Nevertheless, an important question arises: does secure attachment exclusively depend on quantity and quality of father involvement or is also affected by infant’s temperament, and let alone the personal traits of the involved persons, do their living conditions and environment affect attachment?

To answer this puzzling question, we moved away from father-infant relationship and observe attachments in the family context. According to Belsky (1984) there are three main groups of factors equally affecting attachments: (a) parents’ personal and psychological traits, (b) infants’ traits, (c) incidental factors.

The parents’ traits affecting their behaviour are: sex, age and personality traits. Parents’ sex is a crucial factor for specifying parental typology. Concerning sex, Winsler, Madigan, & Aquilino (2005) suggested that mothers seem to be more supportive and fathers are considered to be more authoritarian, whilst regarding age, fathers in their 30s were found to be more affectionate and responsible (Volling & Belsky, 1991). Also, another key factor for the attachment is parents’ personality traits. According to Metsapelto & Pulkkinen (2003), parents’ introversion is positively associated with them being supportive and affectionate to their infants. Supportive parents are characterized by high self-esteem, optimism (Aunola, Nurmi, Onatsu-Arvilommi, & Pulkkinen, 1999), and sense of responsibility, with the latter preventing from behaviour problems rising in adolescence (Oliver, Guerin, & Coffman, 2009).  Another crucial factor in shaping parental sensitivity is fathers’ remembrance of their own childhood relationships. Additionally, Bretherton et al. (2006) observed that parent’s childhood plays a crucial role in the relationship between father and infant. Specifically, they have shown that men who had loving and secure relationships with their parents were more sensitive, attentive, and involved than fathers who recalled poor relationships. West et al. (2009) have also proved that some men are motivated by the desire to be «better» that their own fathers while Mayes and Leckman (2007) stated that other men’s adaptations to parenthood seem to be influenced adversely by memories of their own mothers’ poor caring. Finally, Jarvis & Creasey (1991) report that father–infant attachment is more likely to be insecure when fathers report intense stress.

Additionally to father’s personality and traits we should also consider infant’s temperament. It has been proved by studies that no one is born as a “tabula rasa” but they possess certain personality traits, gradually appearing soon after birth.  According to Belsky (1984), these traits also affect parental behavior and they are: infant’s sex, age, birth order, temperament and skills.  Gender affects the extension of father’s interaction with infants; it was shown that fathers prefer interacting with their sons as soon as they are born (NICHD Early Childhood Research Network, 2000), but this is hardly detected after infancy (Pleck & Masciadrelli, 2004). Infant’s temperament (i.e., their personal style) affects the way they behave and interact with the others. Though temperament can’t accurately predict behavior, understanding it can help families and professionals comprehend infants’ ways of reacting and relating to the world and thus choose correctly the support to provide according to infants’ skills.  In this context, researchers assumed that cause and effect processes are active in both directions here.  In other terms, “easy” babies are expected to stimulate different reactions from caregivers than the “difficult” ones (Scarr & McCartney, 1983). Empirical evidence, however, has been complex (Putnam, Sanson, & Rothbart, 2002).  A “difficult” infant getting easily angry often receives less responsive and more adversative parenting (van den Boom & Hoeksma, 1994), whilst “easy” infants may receive more responsive, positive parenting (Kyrios & Prior, 1990).

Finally, there are lots of incidental factors affecting secure attachment, such as family conditions, housing quality, financial status, big financial and migration changes (Piorkowska-Petrovich, 1990), but the main are: parents’ social status and work as well as their marital relations quality (Belsky, 1984).  Particularly, parental roles and involvement are also likely to vary depending on whether the parents are married and live together. The number of cohabiting couples in the United Kingdom increased from 11% in 1979 to around 29% of all households in 2000 (Office for National Statistics, 2000). A number of cohabiting parents don’t seem to know that this state normally implies few paternal responsibilities (Pickford, 1999) and according to researchers, parents’ engagements in this sort of relationship varies from mutual (with some formal arrangements) to casual commitment (supposedly short-lived relationship) (Smart & Stevens, 2000), but oddly enough, there was often a commitment of continuing the father-child relationships except in case of violence. The financial problems of a family are also a very important factor and additionally they are associated with authoritarian and punitive practices by parents (Belsky, 1984, Queridο, Warner, & Eyberg, 2002) and when combined with a low social status lead to lack of support and active involvement in their children’s education (McLoyd, 1990).  Finally, trying to trace other influences on parental behavior it is significant to analyze ethnic minority group data. Williams (2004), and Fouts and colleagues (2008) found no ethnic differences among African-Caribbean and White working class fathers, and among Euro- and African-American parents respectively    concerning the financial difficulties, social connections and health state effects on their behavior towards infants, while Roopnarine, Fouts, Lamb, and Lewis-Elligan (2005) found that African-American lower-income infants were much more likely to have little contact with their fathers, but more likely to interact with a variety of social figures.  According to Guishard (2002), gender and father’s residence are also important factors, while Waller (2002) found much higher non-resident father-child contact than stereotypes assumed.  Roopnarine et al. suggested viewing many «ethnic» differences as socio-economic ones.  Economic deprivation repercussions on family tasks, could be the root of some «unwed fathers’» traits rather than paternal immaturity (Speak, Cameron, & Gilroy, 1997.).

Summarizing, it should be underlined that parental typology and attachment are complex constructs including parents’ and infants’ traits, social environment influence on family, and the roles assumed by parents and infants within it.

According to the aforementioned research findings, we could conclude that infants’ development is directly affected by play, infant care or maltreatment and neglect by the fathers.  The question we dealt with was: what determines the structure of  infant’s attachment hierarchy?  Research initially gave us two reasons: time quantity spent by the caregiver with the infant, and their emotional connection (quality).

At this point, it is important to mention that caregiver’s repeated presence in the infant’s life –even if brief each time- is likely to be significant. Namely, father’s direct contact and interaction (regardless of its amount) with the infant through playing, caretaking and leisure, their presence and availability, understanding of infant’s needs and finding the necesary economic resourses, planning and organizing infant’s routine, appear to be the basic elements required for father-infant secure attachment.  Furthermore, the aspects emerging from father’s feeling are equally important. These aspects are: communication, monitoring, errands, caregiving, infant maintenance, availability, planning, shared activities, providing, affection, protection, and emotional support.  Nevertheless, this list is too descriptive and therefore we cannot understand their qualitative characteristics such as their possible interrelation or their alteration depending on different social or family environments.

Based on the above, we wondered whether attachment is solely determined by father’s involvement or by other factors too.  In some societies, father’s attitude towards the infant is supposed to be more detached and cynical, while in others he is supposed to be more emotional and actively involved in family life and infants’ upbringing. For this purpose, we looked up in developmental psychology literature and turned to Belsky’s Theory. Unlikely Belsky, he approaches family as a system and not as dyad.  He refers that of course father’s character is the basic element of this relationship, but not the only one.  Infant’s temperament is equally important (directly affecting father’s attitude, mood and consequently involvement) as well as social context that could hinder father-infant contact through strict rules.

Finally, by bridging Bowlby’s and Belsky’s theories, we could affirm that father’s role is highly important and indispensable for infant’s socio-emotional development, but we must not neglect family’s systemic aspect. It would be interesting to investigate through qualitative studies the idea that fathers themselves have of their role as fathers, and also of how important is their involvement in infant’s life, in various societies.  It would be meaningful to find out the common and different elements emerging from different systems and cultures.  In what ways attachment could assume different aspects –yet to be investigated- from those aquired in western cultures, in societies where Belsky’s «tripod» operates diversely.


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