The Families Commission has been investigating issues related to parenting since 2005. When we have consulted with parents, mostly mothers have responded. Fathers and fathering have been somewhat neglected in research on families. We know little about the circumstances of our fathers and their support needs, despite overseas research showing that families receive enormous benefits from loving fathers. A survey of the general population a decade ago reported that the main barrier to becoming an engaged father was the traditional attitudes held by fathers themselves, their partners and society in general. With no previous substantial representative survey of New Zealand fathers, the survey described in this report has provided us with the views of a larger number of fathers.
The Supporting Kiwi Dads project surveyed 1721 fathers in early 2009. The report provides a snapshot of a range of issues related to their role as dads, including support for fathers. The range of fathers surveyed in the report included stepfathers, single fathers, separated dads, teenage parents, foster fathers and fathers from a range of ethnic and social backgrounds.
The survey paints a picture of fathers who are very involved with their families; who see themselves as friends and playmates to their children, and providers for their families; who are largely satisfied with their performance as fathers; who do not talk or read much about fathering, do not attend courses and are not members of support groups; but who say that more courses would be a good idea, and that they would like more support services, without specifying what they should be. Their main problem is that their work commitments are preventing them from spending more time at home with their children.
On the whole, the results reinforce an image of New Zealand fathers learning by doing. While many of them learnt fathering from their fathers or other male relatives, they do not talk to them about fathering, and presumably learnt from them in the sense that they copied what they liked and rejected what they did not.
Fathers and fathering have been somewhat neglected in research on families. As far as we can discern, there has been no previous substantial representative survey of New Zealand fathers. We know little about the circumstances of our fathers and their support needs, despite overseas research showing that families receive enormous benefits from loving fathers. Research also shows that fathers have changed over time; they are now more likely to engage with their children, and less likely to be aloof disciplinarians. These changes appear to have caused some uncertainty over what role fathers should play. A survey of the general population a decade ago reported that the main barrier to becoming an engaged father was the traditional attitudes held by fathers themselves, their partners and society in general.
The Families Commission has been investigating issues related to parenting since 2005. When we have consulted with parents, mostly mothers have responded. We were missing the views of fathers, and so we set up consultations specifically with them. With this focus, we had no difficulty getting a good turnout of fathers, and they provided us with perspectives on modern-day fatherhood, and the issues that concern them. This was invaluable information, but we needed to find out how representative their views were. The survey described in this report has provided us with the views of a larger number of fathers, and it shows that for some issues their views are different from the small groups of fathers who attended the consultations.
The survey presents fathers in a good light: they are generally very engaged with their children and families, more so than were their own fathers; they are heavily involved in chores and childcare around the home; and they want to spend more time with their children. There are a number of implications for policies and services from the survey and the literature review.
- Despite half of fathers requesting more fathering training courses, fathers might have difficulty attending them, given their time pressures. Also, given their already high levels of satisfaction with their performance, they might not be motivated to make attendance a priority. Analysis of these results and others suggests that support for fathers should be provided in a targeted way to those most in need, rather than provided universally to all fathers. Those most in need are teenage fathers, separated fathers, single fathers and stepfathers.
- Previous research suggests that some organisations providing training (including antenatal training) and support services for parents need to adapt so that they are welcoming and relevant to fathers.
- Support groups should be established by fathers for fathers. Government and other agencies could assist with funding.
- New Zealand needs a strategy for teenage parents, similar to the one in the United Kingdom, which includes a focus on teenage fathers.
- Negative portrayals of men and fathers have deeply affected fathers and influenced their interaction with their children; any organisation developing policies or portraying images of men and fathers should be careful that they are justified and targeted, rather than exaggerated or unnecessarily broadly applied.
- Parental-leave provisions should be improved so as to further encourage and enable fathers to spend time with their babies.