Fathers’ involvement in the lives of their children: Separated parents’ preferences

Fathers’ involvement in the lives of their children: Separated parents’ preferences

13 August 2014
A young girl and her father playing with a ball outside

Changes occurring in family life over the last few decades, such as the progressive increase in the number of mothers in the workforce, have changed the way Australian families function.

The ‘male-breadwinner, female-homemaker’ model has shifted to a shared (paternal and maternal) breadwinning role, and evidence now shows that fathers in Australia are spending more time caring for their children today than they were in the early 1990s (Craig, Mullan, & Blaxland, 2010).

This article summarises findings from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) Annual Statistical Report 2013. It examines the preferences of separated mothers and fathers regarding paternal involvement in their child’s life, fathers’ perceived barriers to increased involvement in their child’s life, and the factors linked with parents’ preferences.

The analysis focused on the views of parents in the most common arrangement, where the child is living with their mother for most or all of the time, and also included the very small proportion of cases in which the child was in an shared care-time arrangement, and where the mother had indicated that she knew the child best (and was therefore classified as the primary parent).

Fathers who usually lived with the study child, or had not seen their children in more than 12 months, were omitted from the analysis. The study analysed the preferences of mothers and fathers regarding paternal involvement in their child’s life, and found:

  • around half of resident mothers would prefer to see increased paternal involvement in their child’s life, with most of the remaining mothers in the sample stating it is “about right”;
  • few mothers expressed a preference for the father to be less involved than he already is;
  • the majority of non-resident fathers expressed a preference for increased involvement in their child’s life, with fathers most commonly reporting that they would prefer “a lot more” involvement; and
  • fewer than 3% of fathers indicated they would prefer less involvement.

In cases where both parents of the same child were interviewed:

  • the most common paired-response was the father preferring greater paternal involvement than the mother; and
  • the least common paired-response was the father preferring less paternal involvement than the mother.

Preferences were found to change as the circumstances and priorities of families change. Some examples of these circumstances and changing priorities include changing needs related to the age of the child, events affecting parents’ needs such as moving house, and those associated with pathways taken after separation.

The survey asked those fathers who would like more involvement with their child what was preventing this from happening. The following factors were cited:

  • work commitments or demands were the most commonly nominated barrier;
  • a belief that the child’s mother did not want more paternal involvement in their child’s life; and
  • physical distance between homes and associated travel costs.

The authors also analysed which factors were linked with the views and preferences of separated parents regarding increased paternal involvement, and found:

  • unsurprisingly, that mothers’ and fathers’ preferences were linked with their child’s current care-time arrangement—the more time the child spent with the father lowered the likelihood of preferring more paternal involvement;
  • no apparent association between how long parents have been separated and mothers’ preferences regarding the fathers’ level of involvement, and similarly, for fathers’ preferences, no significant association was found;
  • mothers reporting anger or hostility in their relationship with the child’s father were less likely to prefer more paternal involvement; and
  • fathers’ preferences did not vary significantly according to their relationship status or whether their relationship with the child’s mother involved anger or hostility.

Findings from this chapter indicate that a desire for increased paternal involvement is prevalent among both separated mothers and fathers, contingent however on their current levels of care-time.  

Access the full chapter.


Craig, L., Mullan, K., & Blaxland, M. (2010). Parenthood, policy and work-family time in Australia. Work, Employment and Society, 24(1), 27-45.

The feature image is by Alexwendpap, CC BY 2.0.


Excellent article.
Ben Keyzer

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