Latino Fathers and Their Children

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1 CHILD DEVELOPMENT PERSPECTIVES Latino Fathers and Their Children Natasha J. Cabrera 1 and Robert H. Bradley 2 1 University of Maryland and 2 Arizona State University ABSTRACT This article examines Latino fathers and their influence on child well-being in light of recent demographic, cultural, and social shifts. Through use of a heuristic model of father involvement, this study found great heterogeneity in the way Latino fathers are engaged with their offspring and at least suggests an emerging hybrid that blends traditional with more modern views of parenting. Findings imply that a father s personal characteristics and experiences (such as cultural values and beliefs, immigration experience, motivation to parent, and financial, social, and human capital) and quality of his relationships (coparenting and couple) are important correlates of involvement with his children. There appear to be multiple mechanisms linking aspects of paternal involvement to child outcomes, including the quality of the mother father and parent child relationship and the father s own interactions (language input, supportiveness) with the child. These findings are considered in the context of methodological, conceptual, and measurement challenges that future studies should address. KEYWORDS fathers; Latino; minority Current interest in Latino fathers stems from the prevalence of academic problems and risky behavior among minority and immigrant children (Cabrera, Tamis-LeMonda, Bradley, Hofferth, & Lamb, 2000; García, & Jensen, 2009). Latinos, the largest ethnic group in the United States, are highly diverse in nativity, socioeconomic status (SES), immigration experience, and ethnic background (García, & Jensen, 2009; Hernandez, Denton, & Macartney, 2008; U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). Understanding the role of the father in Latino families is especially important because of the rapid rise in nonmarital childbirths Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Natasha J. Cabrera, 3304 Benjamin Bldg., Rm 3304E, College Park, MD 20742; The Authors Child Development Perspectives 2012 The Society for Research in Child Development DOI: /j x among Hispanics (Ventura, 2009) and because most Latino children live in two-parent households where fathers share in the day-to-day care of their children (Lopez, & Velasco, 2010). To guide our consideration of Latino fathers, we use the heuristic model of the dynamics of paternal influences on children over the life course (see Figure 1), which is based on ecological developmental theories of parenting (Cabrera, Fitzgerald, Bradley, & Roggman, 2007). Using this model, we address the following questions: (a) How are Latino fathers involved with their children? (b) What are the correlates of father involvement? (c) What are the pathways from father involvement to child well-being? A couple of caveats are in order. First, because scholars use different terminology and conceptual schemes to study fatherhood, there is no consensus on what term best defines fathering or father involvement. We use the term father involvement to refer to fathering, broadly defined. Second, there is little research on most Latino subgroups, so we cannot at this time provide an authoritative discussion of how variations in SES and ethnicity, for example, affect answers to our primary questions. We focus on Latino fathers, broadly construed, referring to specific subgroups whenever allowable. Our literature search was based on the following keywords: Mexican American or Cuban or Puerto Rican or Dominican or Hispanic or Latino or immigrant or migrant. LATINO FATHERS INVOLVEMENT IN THEIR CHILDREN S LIVES Historically, Latino fathers have been portrayed as harsh disciplinarians, wary of showing intimacy with their children, obsessed with machismo, playing an instrumental role in the family, and inspiring fear in their children (Mirandé, 1991). Most scholars suggest that this portrayal is inaccurate and belies the diversity that exists within this group. New evidence shows that many Latino fathers value their role as teachers, teach children to respect themselves and others (Raikes, Summers, & Roggman, 2005; Taylor, & Behnke, 2005), and view themselves as egalitarian, reporting high educational aspirations for their children (Reese, Garnier, Gallimore, & Goldenberg, 2000). Volume 6, Number 3, 2012, Pages

2 Latino Fathers and Their Children 233 Heuristic Model of the Dynamics of Paternal Behavior and Influence on Children Over Time Rearing History Cultural History Biological History Father Characteristics Family Characteristics Contextual Factors Father Involvement Child Characteristics Figure 1. Heuristic model of the dynamics of paternal behavior and influence on children over time. These findings may explain the high level of father involvement that researchers report in this population. New evidence shows that Latino fathers (Mexican American and Dominican) are often quite involved prenatally with their partners and babies, such as discussing the pregnancy and seeing a sonogram (Cabrera, Shannon, Mitchell, & West, 2009; Tamis-LeMonda, Kahana- Kalman, & Yoshikawa, 2009). Contrary to the stereotype, Latino fathers show more warmth to their infants and spend more time caring for their toddlers than do White fathers (Cabrera, Hofferth, & Chae, 2011; Hofferth, 2003; Mirandé, 1991, 1997; Roopnarine, & Ahmeduzzaman, 1993; Toth, & Xu, 1999). These studies hint at an emerging, hybrid fathering style that blends traditional with more modern views of parenting. It is important, however, to examine this emerging portrayal of Latino fathers in light of methodological considerations. With some exceptions, research on Latinos has used small convenience samples, mostly from low-income backgrounds (Garcia Coll, & Pachter, 2002), and only recently have studies included both parents (Cabrera, Shannon, West, & Brooks-Gunn, 2006; Cabrera, Shannon, Mitchell, et al., 2009; Plunkett, & Bamaca-Gomez, 2003; Updegraff, Delgado, & Wheeler, 2009; Updegraff, Kim, Killoren, & Thayer, 2010). Thus, the prevalence of some of these new forms of paternal behavior in particular subgroups is unknown and their influence on children remains unclear. CORRELATES OF FATHER INVOLVEMENT According to our heuristic model (see Figure 1), father involvement varies by fathers characteristics, including cultural beliefs about the importance of families and the role of fathers in children s lives. Cultural values such as familism and machismo remain important for Latino fathers (Cabrera et al., 2007; Fuller, & Garcia Coll, 2010) because they are linked to behaviors that encourage the fulfillment of family roles (Cauce, & Domenech- Rodríguez, 2002; Glass, & Owen, 2010; Grau, Azmitia, & Quattlebaum, 2009; Parke, & Buriel, 2006). A study of 450 two-parent Mexican-origin families and their fifth-grade children showed that fathers machismo attitudes (e.g., It is important for a man to sacrifice anything for his family ) were positively related to children s reports of positive father involvement (such as monitoring, educational involvement, and warmth; Cruz et al., 2011). However, these studies rely on measures of machismo that may be unreliable, do not examine other types of father behavior, and do not consider the developmental context of parenting. For example, it is unclear whether machismo and familism are linked to other fathering behaviors such as engaging in literacy activities with young children, which is promoted in the United States. Cabrera et al. (2006) observed that less acculturated Latino fathers spent less time in literacy-related activities with their infants than did more acculturated fathers. It is likely that acculturation changes parent s beliefs and practices, but it is unclear which beliefs are amenable to change, which beliefs are modified, and which beliefs stay the same in the context of both acculturation and developmental change. A number of other paternal characteristics, such as dispositions and competencies, appear to be correlates of father involvement (Belsky, & Jaffee, 2006). Self-efficacy theory stipulates that parents who lack certain competencies such as language skills; who have few institutional, social, or community supports; or who face social or structural barriers may feel that they cannot act in ways that result in desirable outcomes for their children, and thus are disinclined to try (Bandura, 1977). Research based on predominantly White samples shows that fathers who feel efficacious are more involved with their children in physical and didactic play, and fathers who are committed to their role as fathers are more likely to be involved in their children s socialization (Freeman, Newland, & Coyl, 2008). Although most parenting research is on nonminority samples, studies that have included Latinos also show links between fathers self-efficacy beliefs and father involvement (Holmes, & Huston, 2010; Lindsey, & Mize, 2001). Considering the structural and social barriers many Latino fathers face when they decide to immigrate in order provide a better future for their children (Perreira, Chapman, & Stein, 2006), their decision may reflect a belief that they are, nonetheless, capable of making a productive journey and transition to the new land. Men who strongly identify with the parenting role are also more likely to be motivated by their beliefs about what fathers should do and consequently are more involved in their children s lives than other fathers who may not strongly identify with being a father (Maurer, Pleck, & Rane, 2001; Palkovitz, 1984). Many Latino fathers often begin their involvement prenatally, reflecting a belief that being involved early in the child s life is important for them and their children (Cabrera, Fagan, & Farrie, 2008; Shannon, Cabrera, Tamis-LeMonda, & Lamb, 2009; Tamis-LeMonda et al., 2009). Prenatal involvement is important because it gives men the opportunity to develop an identity as a father even before the child is born, which can help form longlasting attachments. Indeed, evidence shows that fathers who are involved prenatally are more likely to remain involved in their children s lives later on (Cabrera, Fagan, et al., 2008).

3 234 Natasha J. Cabrera and Robert H. Bradley The degree to which men are involved in their children s lives also depends on their resources or capital. In general, parents with greater human, financial, and social capital invest more on their children than fathers with less capital (Coleman, 1988; Haveman, & Wolfe, 1995). Human capital, such as language competence, can facilitate stimulating interactions with children, financial capital can produce material benefits for children, and social capital, such as network associations, can foster increased opportunities for children s well-being (Harold-Goldsmith, Radin, & Eccles, 1988). Evidence shows that Latino fathers who are more educated, have higher income, and are employed tend to be more involved in their children s lives than others (Cabrera, Ryan, Mitchell, Shannon, & Tamis-LeMonda, 2008; Tamis-LeMonda, Shannon, Cabrera, & Lamb, 2004). There is limited information on how social capital affects involvement for Latino fathers, but neighborhood social capital and cultural resources tend to be protective in other key areas of fathering (Denner, Kirby, Coyle, & Brindie, 2003). As our model stipulates, fathering behavior reflects a dynamic interplay between contextual and personal factors. The degree to which Latino fathers immigration experience affects parenting behavior or outcomes for children is poorly understood. Immigrant fathers might feel optimistic that in the United States they can better fulfill the role of being a parent. However, the actual process of immigration can present many challenges, especially for the undocumented, who typically have reduced access to health, education, and social services (Cavazos-Rehg, Zayas, & Spitznagel, 2007). The overall immigration experience may increase stress and compromise fathers socioemotional functioning and parenting in unclear ways (Lopez, & Velasco, 2010; Suárez-Orozco, & Suárez-Orozco, 2007; Yoshikawa, 2011). To the extent that men can maintain a sense of cohesion and efficacy about their roles in the family (including the role of father), their positive involvement with their children is likely to remain high. Otherwise, it is likely to become degraded either more neglectful or more negative. Other factors, such as acculturation, can also influence how Latino men are involved with their children. For many immigrant Latino fathers, fulfilling the father role in the United States is fraught with uncertainty about the cultural norms and expectations of parenting that may or may not be familiar. A nationally representative study found that after controlling for SES, more acculturated Latino fathers demonstrated greater involvement (such as preparing meals, peek-a-boo, changing diapers, and telling stories) with their infants than less acculturated fathers (Cabrera et al., 2006). This finding suggests that fathers parenting patterns, including how to engage with infants, are dynamic and may reflect endorsements of the host society s values as well as children s developmental demands. It is important to point out, however, how specific the effects of context on fathering can be. Lopez (2007) found that Mexican-origin fathers who spoke only Spanish were less likely than similar Mexican-origin fathers who spoke English to become engaged in their children s schools, even though both groups believed in the value of education. The process of immigration and adaptation to a new society can be stressful and disheartening for many. Diathesis stress theory suggests that parents living under conditions of chronic stress are more likely to enact negatively motivated behaviors and less likely to enact positively motivated behavior (McLoyd, 1998). Stress, whatever its source (acculturative stress, work pressures, family conflict), can increase depressive symptoms. Depression, in turn, often leads to lower levels of warmth and higher levels of conflict with adolescents (Wheeler, Updegraff, & Crouter, 2011). A study that included Mexican American families and their fifth-grade children found that depressive symptoms linked to economic pressure predicted marital problems and hostile parenting (Parke et al., 2004). The importance of the family context, including quality of the mother father coparenting relationship as a source of influence on father involvement, is illustrated by studies showing that when Mexican American mothers and fathers reported coparenting conflict, they were more likely to report negative parenting (Cabrera, Shannon, & La Taillade, 2009) and to withdraw from their children (Formoso, Gonzales, Barrera, & Dumka, 2007). However, associations between coparenting and parenting in Mexican American samples appear to be moderated by other contextual characteristics. For example, coparenting conflict was related to negative fathering when mothers were unemployed (Formoso et al., 2007). Similarly, coparenting conflict was related to less engagement in caregiving when fathers were less acculturated (Cabrera, Shannon, La Taillade, et al., 2009). At the same time, assets within the family system can serve to temper the effects of contextual factors on fathering behaviors (see Figure 1). For example, the quality of the couple relationship seems to explain why fathers who are prenatally involved are also likely to be involved later on in their children s lives (Cabrera, Fagan, et al., 2008; Tamis-LeMonda et al., 2009). Similarly, Latino nonresident fathers were more likely than White fathers to be involved with their children because they remained romantically involved with their child s mother (Cabrera, Ryan, et al., 2008). A study of Mexican American mothers and fathers revealed that when fathers disagreed with their partners about wanting the pregnancy but still reported a positive relationship with their partners, they engaged in more activities with their children than when they reported conflict with their partners (Cabrera, Fagan, et al., 2008). Again, these findings point to the quality of the couple relationship as a central explanation for why fathers remain involved in their children s lives. FATHERS INFLUENCE ON CHILDREN S DEVELOPMENT The heuristic model depicts direct associations between father involvement and child outcomes and indirect associations via family and contextual factors. Because research on Latino fathers remains limited, in this section we draw on studies of fathering that include Latinos to varying degrees because they

4 Latino Fathers and Their Children 235 can provide valuable insights regarding how father involvement is linked to children s outcomes (Cabrera, & Garcia Coll, 2004). Longitudinal studies of low-income fathers, including Latinos, have found that fathers human capital is uniquely and directly associated with child cognitive and language performance (Cabrera et al., 2007; Shannon, Tamis-LeMonda, London, & Cabrera, 2002; Tamis-LeMonda et al., 2004). Part of this association appears to devolve specifically from what fathers do with their children. In a large sample of rural low-income families, including Latinos, Pancsofar and Vernon-Feagans (2006) found that during a task fathers vocabulary, but not mothers vocabulary, predicted more advanced language development at 15 and 36 months of age. That is, children learn vocabulary directly from linguistic interactions with their fathers. Researchers also found reading habits among Latino fathers to be linked to children s academic achievement (Goldenberg, Gallimore, & Reese, 2005; Ortiz, 2004; Reese, Gallimore, Balzano, & Goldenberg, 1995). Importantly, research suggests that not only fathers linguistic input, but also their overall supportiveness, matters. Specifically, fathers who were responsive to their toddlers during play were nearly 5 times more likely to have children within the normal range on a cognitive measure than were fathers who were low in responsiveness (Shannon et al., 2002; Shears, & Robinson, 2005; Tamis-LeMonda et al., 2004). Because fathers are often viewed as being the link between their children and the broader social environment, it is important to understand how Latino fathers foster their children s social development. In a study of low-income fathers, including Latinos, Shears and Robinson (2005), controlling for both parents educational levels, found that when fathers allowed their toddlers to explore, provided positive interactions, and refrained from overly dictating the child s activities, children had fewer behavioral problems than when fathers did not (Shears, & Robinson, 2005). In a study of fourth graders, including Latinos, McDowell and Parke (2009) found that when fathers exhibited high levels of positive physical play and used less directive or coercive tactics during play, their children were rated as less aggressive. These findings suggest that positive engagement between Latino fathers and children may not only promote behavioral adjustment but social competence as well. In a study of seventh graders of Mexican origin, researchers found that youth who fell into a positive parenting profile group (average mother acceptance, high father acceptance and friendship intimacy) were better adjusted (engaged in fewer risky behaviors) than youth in the low parent profile group (low mother and father acceptance, average friendship intimacy; Davidson, Updegraff, & McHale, 2011). Parental monitoring and effective discipline may also have positive benefits on Latino youth s adjustment (Domenech Rodriguez, Davis, Rodriguez, & Bates, 2006). Granting the limitations of studies on Latinos, findings from the few studies available are consistent with those involving White middle-class samples socially competent children tend to have fathers who are more sensitive and supportive of their children s autonomy (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Research Network, 2004). Findings pertaining to discipline remain unclear and warrant further research. Moreover, Latino fathers may have influence on their children s peer relationships. In our study of 508 low-income fifth graders, children who claimed close relationships with their fathers were more likely to report positive peer relationships (Cabrera et al., 2012). In a study involving 220 Mexican American adolescents, fathers involvement in adolescents peer relationships was linked to the adolescents deviant peer affiliations (Updegraff et al., 2010). Other studies that included Latinos show that fathers may influence adolescents peer relationships through the lessons children learn in the context of the father child relationship, fathers direct advice concerning peer relationships, and fathers regulation of access to peers and peer-related activities (McDowell, & Parke, 2009). Overall, these findings are consistent with those based on White European samples: Positive father child relationships tend to foreshadow satisfying and productive friendships (Lieberman, Doyle, & Markiewicz, 1999; Youngblade, & Belsky, 1992). However, findings are vague. Research does not point to a clear set of fathering practices that promote children s social skills and adjustment. Evidence for complexity in how fathering is implicated in children s social adjustment is also consistent with theory and research pertaining to gender socialization. In a study of immigrant Mexican families, Updegraff et al. (2009) found stronger associations between parent adolescent relationship qualities and youth adjustment for girls than for boys. This area of research merits further attention: Very little of the research on gender socialization of Latino adolescents is on younger children. As our heuristic model indicates, paternal associations with child well-being are indirect as well as direct. A likely pathway for Latino fathers, as it is for all fathers, is through the mother father relationship. The benefit of paternal prenatal involvement on children s cognitive and social skills is connected to a more positive relationship with their partners through the mother father relationship (Tamis-LeMonda et al., 2009). Paternal influence appears also connected to the mother child relationship. In a study based on a national sample of families including Latino fathers, researchers found that fathers risk factors (e.g., unemployment, low levels of education) are related to children s social development through its association with reduced maternal sensitivity (Cabrera, Fagan, Wight, & Schadler, 2011). CONCLUSION Research on Latino fathers is insufficient to warrant definite or highly specific conclusions. The extant evidence suggests that

5 236 Natasha J. Cabrera and Robert H. Bradley many Latino fathers are more engaged, responsive, and egalitarian than a traditional view would imply (Raikes et al., 2005; Taylor, & Behnke, 2005). Moreover, more involved Latino fathers have a strong family orientation, are committed to their children and partners, are able to share the parenting with their partners, and have more human and social capital than less involved fathers (Cabrera, Ryan et al., 2008). Greater paternal involvement appears to translate into higher levels of competence, more positive adjustment, and better social relationships for children, which is explained by a stronger marital partnership and higher maternal sensitivity to the child s needs. Higher levels of father involvement may reflect more competence (such as stronger literacy skills) and self-efficacy and less stress and depression due to the father and the family s access to social and financial capital. But details remain vague, and it is not at all clear how findings apply across Latino subgroups and family circumstances. Research to this point does not afford an authoritative account of Latino fathers and their influence on children s well-being. Few studies track father involvement over time, so it is difficult to determine causality and directionality of associations. Critically, the whole idea of what represents productive paternal involvement for Latino fathers remains uncertain. Most of the measures and frameworks used in research on Latinos are designed originally for mothers or members of other sociodemographic groups (Knight, Roosa, & Umaña-Taylor, 2009). That shortcoming will remain until the next generation of studies is sensitive to issues of culture, geography, history, immigration, and discrimination. The heuristic model we have used tends to be broadly truthful about parenting and child development but does not serve to formulate precise hypotheses (such as would be predicted by dynamical systems theory). We need studies that examine within-group variability and cross-cultural research that compare low-income minority fathers, for example, living in their country of origin with similar group living in the United States. REFERENCES Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Belsky, J., & Jaffee, S. R. (2006). The multiple determinants of parenting. In D. Cicchetti & D. Cohen (Eds.), Developmental psychopathology: Vol. 3. Risk, disorder, and adaptation (2nd ed., pp ). New York: Wiley. Cabrera, N. J., Cook, G., McFadden, K. E., & Bradley, R. H. (2012). Father residence and father-child relationship quality: Peer relationships and externalizing behavioral problems. Family Science, 2(2), Cabrera, N. J., Fagan, J., & Farrie, D. (2008). 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