The role of fathers in children's lives: a view from urban India.
Article Type:
Fatherhood (Management)
Father and child (Management)
Parent-teacher relationships (Management)
Parent training (Methods)
Sriram, Rajalakshmi
Pub Date:
Name: Childhood Education Publisher: Association for Childhood Education International Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education; Family and marriage Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Association for Childhood Education International ISSN: 0009-4056
Date: Spring, 2011 Source Volume: 87 Source Issue: 3
Event Code: 200 Management dynamics Computer Subject: Company business management
Geographic Scope: India Geographic Code: 9INDI India

Accession Number:
Full Text:

The perceptions and practices associated with fathering are changing rapidly in India. Traditional Indian notions endorsed the father s role as a provider, protector, teacher, and moral guardian to children (Kane, 1974; Krishnan, 1998). Within the patriarchal family system in India, everyday care of young children remained primarily the mother's responsibility. Fathers maintained a distant, authoritative role, rather than an affective one (Kakar, 1981). After revisiting earlier writings, Roopnaraine and Suppal (2003) conclude that Indian fathers are more centrally involved and capable of responding to children than previously asserted. With more middle-class women entering the workforce and the Indian constitution and worldwide media promoting gender equality, the demand for a man who has the knowledge, attitude, and skills to share co-parenting responsibilities is growing in dual-earner families (Bharat, 2002; Datta & Maheshwari, 1997; Rajadhyaksha & Smita, 2004). Children and women now have higher expectations of men in terms of warmth, care, understanding, and support; and many fathers also endorse the importance of these traits (Kumari, 2008; Sriram, Karnik, & Ali, 2002).

Beginning in the mid-1990s, the changing roles for men made their way into popular magazines with such articles as "Can Fathers Be Better Mothers?" or "A Father's Touch" that describe how supportive spouses and fathers can promote children's achievement, self-confidence, professional values, and more (Bhatia, 1996; Parsuram, 1996). Due to changing socialization processes, the child has emerged as a focal point in parents' lives. Parents, particularly in the middle class, are extremely concerned about ensuring a successful and secure future for their children, with an eye toward upward mobility in a globally competitive society. They are extremely conscious of their parental role to ensure the best for their children (Datta, 2007; Gore, 2003; Sinha, 2003; Sriram, 2003). Therefore, there is much pressure and demand on positive participation of men/fathers in all aspects of family life.

This article presents an overview of the nature and extent of fathers' involvement in their children's lives in middle-class families, drawing from published work and integration of presentations and graduate research projects. It further highlights a few voluntary initiatives undertaken to promote fathers' involvement, in the absence of strong policy directives or large-scale programs for father involvement. The article concludes with practical suggestions for teachers and practitioners to promote father involvement in the school system in multiple ways.


Fatherhood and fathering as an area of research has just begun to receive attention. Results from available studies have been reported in terms of fatherhood ideals, the nature and extent of father involvement, and difficulties and barriers faced by fathers.

Fathering Ideals

Most fathers in the urban contexts of western India (Mumbai, Baroda, and Jaipur) today expect an ideal father to be aware of and address their children's needs, and to be a friend, teacher, and guide to their children (Saraff & Srivastava, 2008). In addition, fathers think it is their duty to create a conducive environment for their children's growth, address their children's health needs, support both present and future security of their children, and maintain healthy loving and close relationships with their children. Research studies with Indian fathers report a host of positive fathering ideals, such as guiding children's education, becoming more open and expressive, adopting less strict discipline measures, assigning more importance to children and to their fathering role, prioritizing communication with their children, and engaging children in extracurricular activities (Mathur & Mathur, 2006; Sandhu, 2008; Sriram, 2003, 2008).

The Nature and Extent of Involvement

Research studies in India indicate that fathers are participating in children's lives in many ways, and are far from being uninvolved. In a sample of 120 middle-class fathers of 8- to 14-year-old children, Sandhu (2008) reported that 64.2% showed moderate levels of involvement with their children across various domains, 18.3% showed high involvement, and 17.5% showed low involvement. They obtained the highest mean as a provider (M = 3.19 on a scale of 4), being most involved in saving and planning for their children's education and future. They were highly involved in guiding and mentoring children (M = 3.16), wanting to protect their children from developing bad habits and help them become good human beings. Fathers provided practical and emotional support (M = 3.10), mainly to ease stress and pressure for their children and solve everyday problems. The lowest involvement score (M = 4.27) was found in availability and shared activities, although about two-thirds attended school events and meetings and watched some television programs with children in order to guide them during viewing. Only one in four read to their children or had outdoor time with their children. Mothers' involvement scores were a little higher than fathers in all domains, except in terms of planning and providing for children. There was positive correlation between fathers' and mothers' involvement.

Kumari's (2008) study shows that fathers inspired children's performance, and children acknowledged the high level of fathers' contributions, especially in the areas of positive emotional responsiveness and providing and planning for meeting their needs and wishes. A study conducted by Mathur and Mathur (2006) report that adolescent children rated fathers high on such factors as being protective, loving, and using symbolic rewards; moderate on use of symbolic punishment, demands, and object rewards; and low on neglect, indifference, and rejection. These ratings indicate a shift toward friendliness in fathers. In addition, a study of adult professional women indicated that fathers support their children's education and career choice (Ahluwalia, 2009). Sriram, Karnik, and All (2002), in their sample of urban, dual-earner households, observed the most changes in the father's role as an educator in terms of beliefs and behaviors in comparison to their own fathers. Based on a series of studies on middle-class fathers with 6- to 8-year-old children, Sriram (2003, 2008) found that fathers' participation in daily caregiving was done more out of necessity rather than choice, and is more frequent when the mother was not available. Fathers were also less involved in such daily tasks as dropping off and picking up children from school and other places or supervising homework.

Satisfaction, Difficulties, and Barriers

Across studies conducted in the city of Baroda, fathers reported that their participation in their children's lives led to their children's success, made fathers happy, and positively impacted their own self-esteem and pride (Sriram, 2008). While reflecting on their involvement, about 40% of fathers wished to be involved even more to support teaching and extracurricular activities, and about 35% desired more communication with the child (Sandhu, 2008).

According to Datta (2007), fathers are also overextending themselves through a desire to provide more opportunities and ensure a secure educational and financial future for their children. This limits their actual participation in the family. An AC Nielsen survey revealed that about 74% of men did not want work to be all-consuming, and 50% craved more time with family (cited in Datta, 2007). As reported by Sriram (2008), however, about 70% of fathers talked of obstacles preventing their ideals from being realized. Eighty percent faced difficulties in fulfilling children's physical and psychological needs, as well as in creating a conducive environment for children's optimal growth (50%), inculcating good values and habits in children (35%), and providing guidance for the future while helping their children become independent (40%). The most obvious factor was the conflict between the traditional orientation of fathers (i.e., that of automatically having power and complete authority in family matters and over children) and the current demands compelling fathers to become more of a friend with their children.

Men also experienced more conflict between their job and their spousal roles (Rajadhyaksha & Smita, 2004). Sixty-two percent of fathers felt guilty and frustrated when they were unable to be present during illness or emergencies, spend enough time with children, provide for needs of their children, or make correct decisions. Both fathers and mothers report lack of time, work pressure, family role demands, lack of skills, and an unsuitable temperament as personal and practical barriers to their involvement, and thus feel guilty about being unable to participate fully in their children's lives (Sriram, 2008). Sriram's (2004) survey with staff of child care and educational institutions also reinforced these barriers. The staff suggested ideas for enhancing paternal involvement, such as holding meetings and workshops for fathers, mothers, and staff (45%); appreciating and recognizing fathers' efforts (25%); and providing individual guidance (30%).


In India, social services have been developed to ensure the survival, health, nutrition, education, and optimal development of children. There is a focus in recent times on seeking male partnership to ensure reproductive health and prevent child marriage or violence against women (International Council for Research on Women, Deepak Charitable Trust, Men Against Violence, OXFAM) (Gujarat, personal communications, 2005-2008; Engle, 1997). Other initiatives focus on redefining issues of masculinity though films; dialogues (Aakar, 2005); literature, such as "A Little Book on Men" (Roy, Chaterjee, & Dastaur, 2007); and community involvement efforts in child care and education. Workshops (sample titles include "Gender and the Care Regime," organized by Indian Social Sciences Trust and Unicef [2009], and "Fathers and Families--Responsibilities and Challenges" [2008], organized on the International Day of Families at New Delhi in 2008) highlighted responsible fatherhood and the role of men in care as an objective.

Looking at policy changes, the Fifth Pay Commission in 1997 increased the amount of maternity leave from 90 days to 135 days while introducing 15 days of paternity leave for male central government employees, teachers of private schools, and university employees. It is offered with full pay, to be taken at the birth of a child (for up to two children), and can be combined with any other kind of leave; it cannot be denied under normal circumstances ("HC Allows Paternity Leave," 2009; "Maternity Leave Extended," 2004; Sharma, 2007). Many multinational and local private companies offer 3-15 days of leave with full pay for a new father when a child is born (Majmudar, n.d.; "Paternity Leave," 2009). How many use the leave is not known.


The author is involved in a network of child care providers called "Shishu Palak Vrund" (SPV), which was started under the Alumni Association of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. Since 2005, it has been implementing paternal involvement programs for parents and teachers, organized in collaboration with local schools. A few of the programs have been organized through the community welfare unit of the local corporate sector. Programs for frontline workers and grandparents are carried out through NGOs focusing on the elderly. The focus has been to seek partnerships between fathers and teachers to promote their children's well-being.

Discussions also highlight the personal, familial, and social barriers that prevent fathers' involvement, and consider what everyone can do to remove these obstacles and move toward positive change.

Awareness Programs for Parents and Grandparents

About 10 different father involvement programs have been organized in the last several years through local schools and preschools, industries, and NGOs. These programs have reached out to more than 2,000 parents. Each of the program sessions begins with a dialogue about the need for and importance of father involvement from multiple perspectives. The program planners invite religious/spiritual scholars to share their views and involved fathers to share their reflections, and the planners present information from research. Opportunities also exist for sharing participants' experiences and queries, as well as ways to improve the nature and quality of father-child interactions and develop an effective parenting partnership between mothers and fathers.

Training Workshops for Preschool Teachers, Teacher Trainees, and Medical Students

Such programs begin with understanding participants' perspectives about father involvement through group work and exercises, followed by interactive presentations highlighting the role of fathers and the multiple ways in which they can be involved in children's daily lives. Trainees proceed through a process of critical self-evaluation of their own programs to assess the level of father friendliness. Discussions are carried out to highlight the variety of approaches to encourage fathers to participate in children's lives.

Training Workshops for Frontline Workers of Health and Education Programs

These programs are carried out in partnership with local nongovernmental organizations that run preschools or integrated programs reaching out to poor children and families in both urban and rural communities. The content of the program is similar to those for teachers, but conducted in the vernacular and filled with such innovative strategies as drama, stories, and songs to highlight the role of fathers' involvement.

Preparation and Distribution of Materials

All programs provide participants with different types of materials, such as a brochure titled "I Am an Involved Father," which combines research evidence and practical suggestions for fathers' involvement. A checklist is developed to assess "father friendliness" within one's institution. We are attempting to create some songs and stories for children thorough participatory methods, which may project the image of an involved father, so that they can be edited and published for use with teachers and children.


The school system plays an important role, and teachers and practitioners are important partners in encouraging and supporting fathers to be positively involved with their children. We provide some general strategies that have emerged from discussions with teachers and professionals.

Maintain Active Communication With Fathers

* Ask children to get the homework diary signed by the father; tell the child to inform the father about everyday activities and get his feedback; obtain answers from fathers for specific queries regarding the child for school records.

* Plan parent meetings when most fathers are available to attend and specifically put both the father's and mother's first and last names on the invitation; make a special request for the father's attendance and ask fathers to submit questions or concerns if they are unable to attend. Arrange some activities only involving fathers.

* Consider using technology (e.g., cell phones, e-mail) to improve information exchange, encourage involvement, or send notes expressing appreciation for participation. Keep a record of father participation and recognize fathers who participate.

Classroom Strategies To Encourage Father-Child Activities

* Children can write or narrate what they did with their fathers at home and outdoors over the week.

* Ask children to keep separate records of what they learned from their fathers and mothers on a weekly basis, and to bring stories/episodes from when their fathers were children. Give a debate or discussion topic related to fathering issues, for which they need to consult their parents.

* Ask children to do a project with the support exclusively coming from their fathers or other males in the family. If fathers live outside the home, encourage children to consult them over phone, e-mail, etc.

* Involve fathers in organizing picnics or field trips or to visit the classroom to talk about their profession or area of work.

* Organize activities that are directed exclusively at fathers and children, like dances, sports events, or cooking a meal together, to encourage fathers' participation.

Workshops and Information Support

* Discuss barriers faced by fathers and offer practical tips to mothers and fathers for balancing work with family.

* Help mothers to recognize, and curb, their own maternal "gatekeeping."

* Disseminate brochures, articles, and assessment tools, such as "What kind of or how involved a father are you?," to generate questions and discussion. One could even collect stories of involved fathers and the benefits to children and families.

Use these workshops as a platform to help parents understand the child's perspective and his needs, and avoid unrealistic expectations and putting too much pressure on children to achieve.

Socialize Children to GenderNeutral Roles and Activities

* Help children to carry out experiments exploring

the idea of "feminine activities." * Ask children to write short essays on such topics as "How is my father different from my grandfather?" or "How will I be when I become a father?" This activity may help them understand the changing demands of fathering over time.

* Expose children to a worldview of gender equity in family/social life and parenting, through appropriate literature, audio-visual programs, and good role models in everyday experiences.


Due to changing social conditions, both the desire and demand for father involvement is high in Indian society. Indian fathers, the majority of whom are moderately involved, can play a key role in ensuring the healthy development of their children by increasing their involvement in the right direction. Educational institutions and practitioners can play a crucial role in actively supporting and encouraging fathers' involvement, because their voices are respected in the community and they can reach out to a large number of people. Since fathers in India have the power to make decisions in the family, society and schools can seek partnerships with them to advocate for the well-being of the nation's children and involve them in ensuring a gender-equitable and democratic family life.


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Rajalakshmi Sriram is Professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Baroda, India.
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