Why do some fathers become primary caregivers for their infants? A qualitative study.
West AF., Lewis S., Ram B., Barnes J., Leach P., Sylva K., Stein A., FCCC project team None.
BACKGROUND: Despite recent advances, research on father-infant relations is still relatively lacking. One hitherto neglected area is the subjective experience of primary caregiving (PCG) fathers, including their reasons for taking on a PCG role. METHOD: Twenty-five PCG fathers, defined as those providing sole child care for their 1-year-old infant for at least 20 waking hours a week, completed semi-structured interviews as part of a large two-centre English study of child care. Interviews were tape-recorded, transcribed and analysed using emergent theme analysis. Themes with a bearing on the fathers' explicit and implicit reasons for providing relatively high levels of sole child care were grouped using an iterative process of independent analysis, comparison and rechecking. RESULTS: Reasons included mother's and father's employment situation and relative earning power, the absence of acceptable alternative child care, perceptions of societal values, maternal and paternal health, family history and ideological values. Flexibility of paternal employment, or its relative unimportance, and motivation or willingness on the part of the father to share in child care were invariably present. For some, the fact of one or other of their own parents having been emotionally distant or physically absent had led to a determination to do things differently with their own children. Fathers reported that they valued the increased time spent with their child, even if they had not been consciously motivated beforehand. CONCLUSIONS: Fathers describe a wide range of reasons for becoming primary caregivers for their infant, and generally experience themselves as being actively involved in that decision. If fathers are to take an increasing role in child care, societal values and financial pressure may need to be addressed.