Being young, poor and unmarried doesn’t automatically make a father or father-to-be a “deadbeat dad.”
“I think we still make that assumption,” that fathers in those circumstances “don’t want to step up and be a responsible man,” says Dr. Randall Leite, human development and family studies, family and consumer sciences.
“Often, that’s not the case,” adds Leite, whose study of a group of such men has been published in the current issue of the quarterly journal Family Relations.
“Many of these men do want to take responsibility for their children,” he says. “There are things preventing that from happening.”
Among those things are low-paying jobs, or unemployment; medical providers who leave the fathers feeling left out; maternal grandparents, and especially grandmothers, whose involvement may discourage theirs, and troubled relationships with the mothers of their children.
“When you look at what would help these men, programs to enhance the co-parenting relationship with the mother are probably the most important,” according to Leite, noting that mothers are often the “gate-keeper” to the children.
He also sees a need to address the role of the maternal grandmother and how she can complement the father in such situations. Many people think grandmothers are more involved because dads aren’t, but many men in Leite’s research said they weren’t involved because the grandmother was—an example of the “boundary ambiguity” discussed in his Family Relations article.
In addition, he advocates more job, fathering, and other educational and support programs, and that they be available to fathers-to-be well before their babies are born. That includes additional efforts by medical providers to educate men about the physical and medical aspects of pregnancy, and to incorporate them into prenatal care processes as well.
A number of communities offer programs on fathering to help get new dads more involved with their children, and some have positive effects, Leite points out. “There need to be more of them,” he says, however, and they need to reach men before the baby comes along because often, by that time, “the die has been cast.”
“If men are discouraged from being involved during the pregnancy, they’re less likely to be involved after the child is born,” he says.