- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 4, 2002

Is it important to teach children younger than 13 to think for themselves? Yes, say most mothers. Can one parent be as good as two parents? Yes, say around 40 percent of women.

In the past, researchers rarely asked men or fathers for their opinions on these kinds of family issues, but that began to change in the 1990s.

Now researchers know most fathers agree with mothers that it's a priority for children to think for themselves, but far fewer men than women think that one parent can be as good as two.

These are just two of the hundreds of findings compiled in a first-of-its-kind report called "Charting Parenthood: A Statistical Portrait of Fathers and Mothers in America," released by Child Trends Inc. this summer.

Government researchers tried for years to understand America's families by asking mothers about parenting, marriage, divorce and fertility, said Brett Brown, senior research analyst at Child Trends.

With fathers' opinions added to the mix, "for the first time we have a comprehensive picture of how mothers and fathers feel about parenting, how they parent and how they came to be parents," he said.

"When men and women are both considered, we find that, in some critical areas, their views and experiences diverge, while in other areas there is surprising agreement," wrote project director Tamara Halle.

"The data also provide important insights into the value men place on family life and child rearing," she said. For instance, it appears that "many men have a deep commitment to raising children in the context of marriage and that substantial percentages of fathers are deeply and regularly involved in play, discipline and primary caregiving."

The 200-page parenting report draws from 13 national surveys to provide data in 40 categories of family life, including parenting, family formation and fertility.

It also fulfills a request by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics that data be collected and published on "male fertility, family formation and fathering."

Roland C. Warren, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, applauded the new interest in fathers and families.

"A lot of men when they look at the concept of marriage look at having children as one of the things that's going to cause them to get married," he said, "so I'm not surprised at all that there's a link between marriage and child care and men."

Including fathers in the research "is critical," he said, because they are related to the outcomes for children. "In the past, the father was sort of the missing parent in a lot of the analysis. Now 'parent' is no longer a code word for 'mother,' but actually means a father and a mother," said Mr. Warren.

Collecting data on parenting is important because "it hasn't been that long that we've been asking anybody about parenting there's been what sociologists call the myth of naturalism that if you can procreate, you can parent," said Lynette Olson, chairman of the family relations division at the American Association of Family and Consumer Services.

"Over the past few decades, we've realized that [parenting] isn't necessarily natural there are learned skills and learned behaviors and we need to be helping parents, especially in the face of a rapidly changing society," she said.

Also, while it may have been logical to begin parenting research with mothers who were staying at home and caring for the children, she said "we've come to realize that, in fact, fathers are pretty critical, too."

Highlights of the parenting section of the report include the following:

•High percentages of American men and women are likely to become parents, but they do it at different stages of life.

For instance, among college-age people, 31 percent of women are likely to have had a biological child, compared with 14 percent of men.

The men catch up, though. By age 45, 84 percent of men and 86 percent of women have had a biological child, according to 2000 National Health Interview Survey.

•A sex gap exists when it comes to family structure: The 1994 GSS shows that 26 percent of men but 42 percent of women think that "one parent can bring up a child as well as two parents together."

Black and Hispanic women were most likely to think that one parent was fine, with more than 60 percent agreeing with the statement. Among men, blacks showed the most support for the statement, but at 35 percent, their support was roughly half that of black women.

•Fathers and mothers share similar views about what is most important to qualify children for adulthood. Out of five categories, both parents chose "think for oneself" as the No. 1 skill children must learn for adulthood. "Obedience" was the second choice of both parents.

As for the third priority, fathers stressed "being a hard worker" while mothers chose "helping others in need," but both sexes ranked "being popular" as the fifth and least important skill children should learn.

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