Monday, January 5, 2009
Study: Where are the fathers?
I'm thinking of beginning a series of posts under the title above. The idea is to look at studies that might naturally have included fathers--but which examined only mothers.
For example: A recent study by Deborah Laible and Tia Panfile in Child Development looked at conflicts between mothers and toddlers when the kids were 30 months old, and at 36 months old. It found that mother-child conflict was marked by more resolution and compromise when mothers and toddlers were more securely attached. And it found that children's temperatments were related to the kind of mother-child conflict, and its frequency. Interesting.
You might argue that it's fair to look at mothers and children in this study, and perhaps to study fathers at another time, in another paper. And I wouldn't disagree. But the setup to the paper talks about parents, not mothers. And yet the research was done exclusively on mothers.
From the study's introductory paragraphs:
"Conflict between young children and their parents [emphasis mine]" is normal and frequent during the preschool years.
"Parents with young children are engaged in conflict with them on average between 3 ½ to 15 times an hour."
"Children may learn important lessons out of these early conflicts with parents."
I have no business telling Laible and Panfile what kind of study to do; if they want to study mothers exclusively, that's up to them. But all the background they cite relates to parents, not just mothers. Did they think about including fathers? I asked Laible in an email.
"We did do audio recordings across dinner and dinner often included mothers and fathers," she emailed back. "In listening to the audiotapes, it did seem like the nature of father-toddler conflict was very similar to mother-toddler conflict." She said she would expect similar findings with fathers. "There were also some interesting three-way conflicts with fathers, mothers, and toddlers," she said.
That might have prompted her and Panfile to look at fathers; but no. "Honestly," she wrote, "we didn't look at fathers at all or take them into account."
The study was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the National Institutes of Health.