Children want loving New Dads, not out-at-work lads

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The Independent Online
Children want their fathers to be "new men", helping with the housework, taking an equal role in child-care and attending the birth of any brothers or sisters.

A study of 600 teenagers in east London found they wanted an emotionally committed, close and caring relationship with their fathers, whom they considered central to the welfare of the home.

More than 9 out of 10 children said that a father should be present at the birth of their child and 70 per cent considered that he should take paternity leave afterwards.

Fathers should also share domestic duties and still contribute economically to the family if the mother and father divorced, according to the survey reported in the Family Policy Bulletin.

Children still saw fathers as the main breadwinner though, with one in three saying that earning money was the most important activity for them, followed by giving care and love and being involved in domestic duties.

Most of the children in the study lived with both their natural parents. They were asked to keep daily diaries, which included the time spent with their parents and what activities they had done with them.

While friends were the most commonly mentioned people in the diaries, three-quarters mentioned their mothers and 65 per cent their fathers at least once a week. Half the children in lone-parent households did not mention their absent fathers.

In two-parent households children reported spending more time with their mothers than their fathers every day - just under six hours compared to four and a half hours.

At weekends boys reported spending more time with their fathers than girls did and less time with their mothers.

Contact with fathers is greatest when both parents are working full-time, possibly because fathers may often work longer in households where they are the sole earner.

Watching television together was the most common activity for children and their parents, but talking to each other is said to be the most common father-child activity on Sundays. Going out with fathers is more common for boys than girls.

"Girls were more dissatisfied than boys with the amount of time fathers gave them, got less and were more likely to feel that their fathers did not understand them," said Margaret O'Brien, a professor of family studies and author of the report.

"In the main, children reported being emotionally closer to their mothers than their fathers. Fathers were chosen as the first port of call for only a minority of children and in three distinct areas: money, difficulty with mother and sport."

While children looked less favourably on full-time working mothers than those who worked part-time or stayed at home, fathers' employment habits seemed to have no impact on perceived levels of closeness or understanding.

"The father-child axis is in a state of flux, some might say confusion," said Professor O'Brien. "Modern children want their father to be around, to share domestic space and familial concerns. But they don't appear to `need' him in quite the same way as the mother. To what extent emergent employment and cultural patterns will change and shape new forms of relating between men and their children is yet to be discovered."

Leading article, page 19

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