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University of Basel

Father and Teenagers: Desire for Children Affects Relationship

The relationships of fathers to their teenaged children are apparently influenced by the nature of their previous desire for children. The more acute that this feeling is, the more closely fathers engage with their children at an everyday level. This is the conclusion of a study conducted by the Center for Gender Studies at the University of Basel. This is the first time that a study has examined the perspectives of both fathers and teenagers regarding their relationship.

08 May 2013

For her investigation, the sociologist and gender researcher Dr. Diana Baumgarten conducted a detailed evaluation of long interviews with eight fathers between the ages of 46 and 58, as well as with eight children between 16 and 21 years of age. The respondents live in a common household in German-speaking Switzerland. The questions to the men concentrated on approaches to fatherhood, everyday arrangements, and relationships with teenagers. The teenagers had to report on the details of their daily lives and their relationships with their fathers.

“Equivalent,” “Supplementary,” and “Satellite” Fathers

One result of the study is that the fathers’ earlier desire for children played a significant role in their relationships with their children. The more aware the father was of his desire for children, the clearer perception the father has today of his relationship to the child.

Such “equivalent” fathers assume more restrictions and burdens upon themselves, such as a career trajectory that develops more slowly. They are also more likely to see the teenager as an individual counterpart than those that the author describes as “supplementary” and “satellite” fathers.

Activities and Exchange of Views

In the relationship between fathers and their teenaged children, the author encountered the “activity norm.” Especially fathers who are less present for their children on an everyday level have the entitlement to do as much as possible with their children. While mothers tend to live their relationships with their children on an everyday level, fathers operate under the norm that they must always develop their relationship through special and extraordinary activities.

Another notable result is the great value accorded to communication and exchanges of views. Prior studies have made this point for mother-child relationships, and have disregarded the communicative value of fathers.

The author also found through interviews with fathers and teenagers that motherhood is depicted as the model of parental care and is often measured against fatherhood. However, distinct conceptions of fatherhood are also expressed in the study – and thus also conceptions of masculinity.

Original Monograph

Diana Baumgarten:
Väter von Teenagern. Sichtweisen von Vätern und ihren jugendlichen Kindern auf ihre Beziehung
Budrich Unipress, Opladen 2013. 24.90 € (D), 35.90 CHF. 

Further Information

Dr. Diana Baumgarten, University of Basel, Zentrum Gender Studies, tel. + 41 43 536 73 76, email: d.baumgarten@unibas.ch

″Communication and Taking Time Are Undervalued“

How do fathers see their children in their teenaged years, and what do the teens, in turn, say about their fathers? Dr. Diana Baumgarten of the Center for Gender Studies is concerned with the relationships between fathers and their teenaged children.

Dr. Baumgarten, how did you decide to research fathers and their teenaged children?

For earlier projects I had conducted numerous interviews with children and teenagers that dealt with the perception of the family. I noticed how emotionless and distant many children seemed in speaking of their fathers. I wondered whether this was known to the men, and I wanted to ask them about their relationship with their children. 

Which problems and conflicts are in the foreground?

Conflicts do not play a large role in my questioning. This is because I do not especially ask the participants about conflicts, and it is also the case that the conflict-ridden adolescent period does not speak always to reality. There is a process of detachment that takes place -- but this phase is not particularly laden with problems, as is often assumed. Some children see their fathers from a new perspective, as people with particular qualities and interests.

In your questioning, do the fathers and the teenagers say the same things about one another?

Basically yes. Most of what the fathers address is found also the in affirmative statements of their children – with two exceptions. For one, the extraordinary activities are for many fathers more important than they are to their teenaged children. For another, there is a strong association for all children between communication and a good relationship, regardless of whether they actually engage the fathers’ own opinions. Taking time, exchange, and communication seem to me to be undervalued in the father-child relationship. Above all these elements were important for the daughters.

You have established three types of fathers – what distinguishes them from one another?

My differentiation of “equivalent,” “supplementary,” and “satellite” fathers is based on how closely the men associate themselves with the family and for what they feel responsible. The first group is the most present on the everyday level and considers itself comparable in value to the mother. The fathers in the second group see themselves as a supplement to the mother, and their relationship to the child primarily occurs during free time and on holiday. Finally fathers in the third group see themselves almost as orbiting around the family, and the relationship with the child as something that is not necessary to cultivate. For them, it is “just there.”

To what extent has the role of fathers changed in recent years?

Today two things are asked of fathers: to secure an income outside of the family, and to support the woman and the children emotionally. This can produce a double burden: men want to more strongly approach the family when they come home from work, whereas for women the opposite path is and was a topic of discussion.

Further information
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