IPT Book Reviews

Title: Fathers as Primary Caregivers
Author: Brenda Geiger
Publisher: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1996

Greenwood Publishing Group
88 Post Road West, P. O. Box 5007
Westport CT 068821-5007
(800) 225-5800
$49.95 (c)

This 143-page book describes Brenda Geiger's research on fathers as primary caregivers.  Relevant earlier research is succinctly described and the hypotheses of this study are carefully explicated.  The sample includes 28 intact families with 14 primary caregiving fathers and 14 in which the mother was the exclusive day time caregiver for the child.  Interviews, videotaped semi-structured parent-child interactions, and coders of the behavioral observations were used.  Satisfactory validity and reliability are reported.  The work needs replication but it surely offers stimulating and challenging suggestions for future research in this crucial and overlooked area.

Fathers can be as good at being a loving, caring, and effective parent as mothers. This is the conclusion reached by the naturalistic behavioral observations of fathers' and mothers' interactions with their children. The study carefully distinguished between primary and secondary caregivers in both men and women.  In fact, primary caregiving fathers, despite increased household responsibilities, were more affectionate with children and more in tune with the child in their play than primary and secondary caregiving mothers.

This study directly challenges the myth that mothers are better at parenting and more naturally skilled and nurturant with children than are fathers.  The results also indicated that the attachment theory concept that children bond with mother first and most strongly is false.  When in a stressful situation, infants showed preference for the primary caregiver, regardless of the gender.  The Freudian concept that the sucking reflex also gives a primacy to women is also shown to be false.

The implications of these results are far reaching.  Any professional involved in making any decisions affecting parenting, children's welfare, and the family should be aware of this material.  It certainly suggests that all fathers can benefit from being recognized as persons capable of loving, nurturing, and effective care of children. There is nothing about being a man that necessarily dooms a person to distant, unemotional, and controlling relationships with children.   Ridding child protection workers, social workers, therapists, attorneys and judges of the cultural stereotype of fathers as aggressive, harsh patriarchs may be a major and highly beneficial outcome for children and families.  This book should be read by all professionals who relate to families, parents, and children

Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies, Northfield, Minnesota 55057.

Order this book: Hardcover

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