Child, Youth, and Family Studies, Department of


Document Type


Date of this Version

September 1999


Published in INFANT MENTAL HEALTH JOURNAL, Vol. 20(3), 291–304 (1999). Copyright © 1999 Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health. Published by John Wiley Inc. Used by permission.


A qualitative inquiry in four Early Head Start Research sites explored the question of how low-income mothers and fathers view the role of fathers in their families. Role perceptions were gathered from a total of 56 parents of infants and toddlers across the four sites, using multiple data collection methods that included focus groups, open-ended interviews, and one case study. The data were analyzed to identify common themes across sites. The participants identified roles that included: providing financial support, “being there,” care giving, outings and play, teaching and discipline, providing love, and protection. Implications of these qualitative findings are discussed with respect to their relationship to current theoretical frameworks about father roles. Further, these findings shed light on the question of whether low-income families view parenting roles as being relatively discrete (i.e., separate or “traditional” functions of mothers and fathers), or whether they view their roles in a more blended, co-parenting perspective.