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Research reports on the challenges and joys of 'reshaping' fatherhood.

Posted by Kerrie Gottliebsen | 26/02/13

A recent paper published in the Journal of Family Studies written by Barbara Cosson and Elinor Graham reported on the perceptions of 27 fathers involved in five focus groups which were conducted in late 2009 on behalf of Tweddle Child and Family Health Service.  The focus of the research was how dads might take up their parenting role and what expectations and perceptions they had of support services.   Three of the groups had experience of Tweddle’s services and two other groups had no experience of Tweddle but a number of the participants had had contact with services similar to Tweddle.

The research set out to identify barriers and opportunities in relation to fathers’ engagement with residential and broader parenting support programs.  It found that these fathers believed themselves to be part of a ‘parenting team’ and that lack of recognition of this fact impacted on their level of engagement with support services. 

Studies indicate that although fathers are spending more time with their children than their fathers did, a range of complex issues including fathering competence, workplace culture and the persistence of traditional cultural understandings of motherhood and fatherhood all combine to limit the shift in the gendered nature of parenting.   Traditionally, mothering is positioned as the benchmark which fathers fail to live up to which doesn’t help dads who wish to develop a sense of themselves as competent, confident and involved fathers.

The study’s findings revealed that through their comfort and caring and nurturing, fathers in this research highlight some of the ways that men are actively ‘reshaping’ fatherhood to incorporate both feminine and masculine characteristics. Their lack of identification with the breadwinning role indicated that it was no longer their core identity which opens up a space for dads to identify as loving, caring nurturers.  Two years down the track , Tweddle is now actively working on inclusive programs for dads as well as a dedicated online resources hub for dads.   Barbara Cosson and Elinor Graham’s research paper can be found here

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