The social perception of fatherhood: a comparison of father's and mother's caregiving during mealtime

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Virginia Tech

Society perceives that fathers are taking a more active role within the family, this role is referred to as the conduct of father's, but what is perhaps changing more rapidly is the culture of fatherhood, or the shift in society's perception of what roles each parent is to play. The purpose of this study was to compare the caregiving roles of mothers and fathers during mealtime. Specifically, do mother's as compared to father's attend to more of the maintenance tasks required by children during this task oriented situation? The major goal of the researcher was to determine if the father's under study are taking on as much responsibility within the home as current literature seems to suggest.

Three families were observed during three separate meals each to determine which parent was fulfilling what needs the child may have had and who seemed to provide the needed child care during meals. Field notes were taken after each observation and these data were coded according to 26 coding categories. After the data were coded, analysis indicated similarities and differences among the families, both of which provided useful insights into the general, as well as specific, research questions.

The families observed did maintain a fairly traditional division of labor as all of the families included mothers that stay home and father's that work at a university. All mothers had meals waiting for their husbands when they got home. The mothers seated themselves closest to the youngest children, the one’s most likely to need help during the meal. Gender differences in parental behavior were seen only occasionally, probably due to the seating arrangement as well as the level of activity of the mother at the times observed. Father's were seen to have interacted more with the older children in a social capacity, although many signs of care such as changing diapers and helping to cut up food by them were also observed. Finally, with regards to discipline the families were each different. Each household had a different means of division of power. By this it is meant that in one family the father had the ultimate decision in matters and gave permission for things such as leaving the table while in the other two families the mother had the final say. The dominance of the mother as a disciplinarian can be explained, in part, by the fact that the mother was the one with the children most of the day and interacted more on a maintenance basis than a social or play basis as the fathers often did. The mother’s primary concern was meeting the needs of the child, not social interaction.