Friday, July 06, 2007

New Research on Fathering

(Newswise) July, 2007 — Two family scholars have studied the role of religion as a motivational influence in the lives of fathers and have written about their research in a chapter for a recently published book. Loren Marks, an assistant professor at LSU, and David Dollahite, a professor of family life at Brigham Young University, contend that religious beliefs and practices play a critical role for many men in their involvement with children, which they say is important in an era when many fathers are disconnected from or uninvolved with their children.

Marks teaches in the LSU School of Human Ecology’s division of Family, Child and Consumer Sciences. His primary research interest is how faith involvement influences family life.

In their chapter for the newly released book, “Why Fathers Count,”
Marks and Dollahite point out that although religion is a common influence in the lives of men worldwide, little empirical research has looked at how it affects fathers and why it is so influential for many men and their families. Since a substantial minority of Americans consider religion “the single most important influence in [life],” the scholars found value in learning “how and why family relationships, especially father-child relationships, are influenced by religion.”

In their study of more than 130 Christian, Jewish, Mormon and Muslim families across the United States, the participants contributed an average of eight percent of their incomes and spent an average of nine hours a week engaged in religious activities and involvement. Pointing to their faith community “family,” the participating fathers emphasized their faith communities helped them to overcome or avoid addictions, enhanced their opportunities and provided guidance for family life, and gave them an important context for brotherhood and belonging.

The first area that the authors address is spiritual beliefs that affect fathering. Highlighting the common strands of belief that exist in many religions, they suggest that one key influence is that “many spiritual beliefs encourage the view that human beings, family relationships and family responsibilities are sacred.” Specific spiritual beliefs that affect fathers’ views include the idea that a child is a gift from heaven, fathers are accountable to God for their efforts and fathers’ actions should reflect God’s patience and mercy.

Dollahite and Marks said, “It is important to note that each of these beliefs promotes father responsibility and involvement.”

The scholars also address the influence of meaningful religious practices on fathering. For example, they cite the value of volunteer service together, praying together, or engaging in sacred family traditions. But why are these practices helpful?

Marks and Dollahite first point out that religious practices are often important in bringing meaning and order to family life. They suggest that such practices are used as “ways to create meaning and restore structure, order and connection in a fast-paced and chaotic world that tends to ignore sacred and familial relationships.” Further, they also indicate that religious practices can create a sense of “sacred family time,” which tends to unify family members and promote connection. Prayer was also mentioned as a primary mechanism for solving problems within the family circle.

In addition to the personal and familial contexts of religious influence that Marks and Dollahite address, they also focus on the broader community context of the faith community’s involvement. There are almost no secular institutions, they argue, that have the same degree of contact with men as churches or faith communities do and which also have a profound capacity to influence men’s motivation and behavior in family life.

“We need a vision of how to establish deep, generative, sacred relationships with our children and those of their generation, particularly those who lack involved fathers,” said Marks and Dollahite. In their words, religion is important because “faith turns the heart of the father to his child.”

More information on the book is available at: