Fathers' Parenting Stress After the Arrival of a New Child

AuthorRichard J. Petts,Chris Knoester
Published date01 July 2017
Date01 July 2017
C K Ohio State University
R J. P Ball State University
Fathers’ Parenting Stress After the Arrival of a New
Objective: To analyze the relationship between
father identity characteristics and fathers’ par-
enting stress over the rst 5years after a birth.
Background: Previous work has considered
how father identities shape father involvement,
but has not focused on parenting stress. Under-
standing parenting stress is important as it is
linked to fathers’ and children’s well-being.
Method: We analyzed Fragile Families and
Child Wellbeing(FFCW) data (N=2,547) using
ordinary-least-squares (OLS) and xed-effects
regression analyses. The FFCW follows the
families of a cohort of new children who were
born in large urban areas of the United States
in the late 1990s.
Results: OLS results indicated that positive
attitudes about fatherhood, wanting to provide
direct care, and having higher levels of support
from the birth mother predicted lower levels
of fathers’ parenting stress one year after a
birth; father engagement, changes in birth
mother’s support, and inconsistent nancial
support were also statistically associated with
parenting stress. Fixed effects results indicated
that changes in father engagement were neg-
atively associated with changes in fathers’
parenting stress over Years 1–5; changes in
fathers’ inconsistent nancial support were
Department of Sociology, Ohio State University, 152
Townshend Hall, 1885 Neil Ave., Columbus, OH 43210
KeyWords: Fatherhood,father identity, fathering, parenting,
parenting stress.
positively associated with parenting stress. Fin-
ally, we found evidence that father identity char-
acteristics moderate predictors of parenting
Conclusion: Father identities seem to play an
important role in shaping fathering experiences
and fathers’ parenting stress.
Implications: Fathers should be encouraged
and supported in developing more salient father
identities and fathering commitments by signif-
icant others, family practitioners, and public
Fatherhood experiences have been notably chan-
ging as a result of expanded expectations for
fathering, increased diversity in family struc-
tures, and heightened levels of socioeconomic
inequalities across families. Expectations for
responsible fathering have shifted towardfathers
having stronger emotional connections to their
children, being more engaged in children’s
lives, and assuming more egalitarian family
roles—while still fullling the traditional role
of providing a comfortable level of nancial
support. Yetfathers have unevenly fullled these
expectations (Doherty, Kouneski, & Erickson,
1998; Pleck & Masciadrelli, 2003). Structurally,
fatherhood contexts—that is, the settings in
which men father—have become more var-
ied due to increases in nonmarital fertility,
cohabitation, and relationship instability among
parents (McLanahan, 2004; Tach, Mincy, &
Edin, 2010). Furthermore, fathering respon-
sibilities have often been passed off after the
Family Relations 66 (July 2017): 367–382 367
368 Family Relations
dissolution of a dating, marital, or cohabiting
relationship that involves children (Furstenberg
& Cherlin, 1991; Tach et al., 2010). Fatherhood
contexts have also become stunningly disparate
in the amount of human capital, stability, social
support, and relationship quality that is present
in them—contributing to diverging destinies
in family well-being (Marsiglio & Roy, 2012;
McLanahan, 2004).
Nonetheless, research has rarely studied how
fathers view their parenting experiences. In
addition, there has been little evidence produced
about the factors that encourage fathers to have
more positive, versus more negative, parent-
ing experiences (Bronte-Tinkew, Horowitz,
& Carrano, 2010; Bronte-Tinkew, Moore,
Matthews, & Carrano, 2007). Instead, father-
hood research has been focused on describing,
predicting, and considering the effects of father
involvement—especially as it pertains to chil-
dren’s outcomes. Comparatively little research
has considered the effects of fatherhood on
men’s identities, family contexts, and feelings
of well-being (Marsiglio, Amato, Day, & Lamb,
2000; Marsiglio & Roy, 2012; Pleck & Masci-
adrelli, 2003).
In this study, we sought to better understand
fathers’ interest, preparation, and reactions to the
arrival of a new child. We focused on analyz-
ing the extent to which father identity character-
istics predicted parenting stress among fathers.
Father identity characteristics included indica-
tors of the salience of fathers’ parenting role
identity, behavioral commitments that enable
relationships with one’s child, and family sup-
ports that shape father identities.
Parenting stress has been an important
and understudied indicator of well-being. By
denition, parenting stress demonstrates evi-
dence that parenting demands exceed one’s
ability to comfortably meet those demands.
It has been linked to fathers’ health and
well-being, and has also predicted parenting
practices and child development, yet little is
known about its patterns, causes, and conse-
quences (Abidin, 1992; Bronte-Tinkew et al.,
2007; Bronte-Tinkew et al., 2010; Nomaguchi
& Johnson, 2014). Expanded expectations for
fathering, more diverse family structures, and
more unequal levels of human and social capital
among fathers may have led to particularly high
levels of parenting stress.
The purpose of this study was twofold. First,
we analyzed the extent to which father identity
characteristics predicted fathers’ parenting stress
one year after the arrival of a newchild. This was
an attempt to understand how father identities
and the situational context at birth may lead to
differing levels of fathers’ parenting stress one
year later.
Second, we investigated how father identity
characteristics may shape changes in parenting
stress within individual fathers. By focusing on
the extent to which changes in father identity
characteristics predicted changes in parenting
stress, these xed-effects analyses allowed us
to become more condent about the potential
causes of parenting stress. Fixed effects control
for any observed or unobserved heterogeneity
in the stable characteristics of individuals and
provide stronger evidence about whether selec-
tion into relationship statuses or initial levels of
fathering behaviors might be driving statistical
associations (Allison, 2009). The emphasis of
this investigation, however, was necessarily on
time-varying characteristics of fathers.
Although recent qualitative research (e.g.,
Edin & Nelson, 2013; Marsiglio & Roy, 2012)
has described the processes of forming, enact-
ing, and modifying father identities, and the
implications of these identities for fathering
behaviors and some feelings of well-being,
researchers have not quantitatively considered
how father identities may color fathers’ views
of their parenting experiences. Father identities
may encourage involvement that benets chil-
dren and their mothers (Ihinger-Tallman, Pasley,
& Buehler, 1993; Marsiglio & Roy, 2012).
Enabling salient, committed, and supported
father identities may also help to reduce parent-
ing stress as fathers become better positioned to
embrace fathering responsibilities.
The present study also moved beyond previ-
ous research that has focused largely on resident
and relatively afuent fathers. We considered
predictors of parenting stress within a sample of
disadvantaged fathers from the Fragile Families
and Child Wellbeing Study. Relative to the
fathers typically included in research, parents
in this study were less likely to be married to
one another, less likely to live with one another,
more likely to struggle with economic strains,
less likely to have excess human capital to draw
upon, more likely to be young parents, and
disproportionately members of racial-ethnic
minority groups. In this context, the challenges
of embracing, obtaining support for pursuing,
and fullling the so-called new fatherhood

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