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How to Address the Biggest Barrier to Dads' Involvement

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Aug 2, 2016

Dads say the biggest barrier to being involved with their child is a poor relationship with their child's mom. 

That's according to a 2015 report that is part of an ongoing study of federally-funded responsible fatherhood and healthy marriage programs called the Parents and Children Together (PACT) evaluation. This portion of the PACT study interviewed low-income dads from four programs in different parts of the country.


A poor relationship leads to a specific kind of behavior on the part of moms: gatekeeping. As the authors of the report note, "A byproduct of these contentious relationships was gatekeeping by the children’s mothers, which according to the fathers often limited access to their children and made it hard for them to be the kind of fathers they wanted to be."

That's why working with moms to address gatekeeping is one of the primary ways staff can increase dads' involvement in their child's life. Unfortunately, staff often overlook it or are concerned that addressing it would send the wrong message to moms--that somehow moms are part of the problem.

Fortunately, National Fatherhood Initiative® (NFI) offers programs and resources for moms that address gatekeeping in a thoughtful, compassionate, effective manner. Indeed, an evaluation by Temple University of the eight-week Understanding Dad™ program--our signature program for moms--showed that it improved moms' pro-relationship knowledge, attitudes, and self-efficacy regarding mother-father relationships.

Facilitators report that the structure of the curriculum makes Understanding Dad™ effective because it provides moms with the opportunity for introspection before it challenges them to question the extent of their gatekeeping. This structure makes it easier for facilitators to help moms become better co-parents because it shows compassion for moms' feelings and attitudes first. As a result, moms are more open to considering their role in restricting the access of the involvement of their child's dad. 

Staff that use our other resources for moms report that they also help address unnecessary gatekeeping and raise awareness about the vital role of dads to child well-being. These resources include:

Staff also report that the print materials are so popular they're often the most difficult to keep in stock! 

I encourage you to take a closer look at the NFI resources that will help your organization more effectively address this barrier.

What do the dads you work with say is the primary barrier to their involvement in their child's life?

Have you taken a close look at everything NFI offers to address moms' gatekeeping behavior and raise their awareness about how vital dad is to their child's well-being?

Are you a dad looking for help? Please visit our Fatherhood Program Locator™ and enter your city and state on the map to find programs and resources in your community.

Topics: NFI-Specific Programs & Resources, General Fatherhood Research & Studies

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