Paternal Identity, Maternal Gate Opening, and Fathers’ Longitudinal Positive Engagement
Fathers’ positive engagement (FPE) benefits children’s development but some children receive greater FPE than others. Understanding why some fathers demonstrate greater FPE than others is critical to efforts to support FPE. However, studies of FPE often fail to account for the father’s residential context and changes in interparental relationships and FPE that occur as the child develops. This study examined the effects of paternal identity (i.e., status-level/role-level centrality) and maternal gate opening on FPE in diverse residential contexts from early to middle childhood. Using longitudinal multilevel modeling, this study analyzed data from 2,339 families in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. Results demonstrated that maternal gate opening strengthened the association between paternal status-level centrality and FPE, especially, for fathers who were nonresident at childbirth. This protective effect did not change by child age. Furthermore, fathers who were resident at childbirth but nonresident in middle childhood increased in FPE over time. However, among fathers whose residential status shifted from nonresident to resident, those with low role-level centrality decreased in FPE over time. For fathers who were resident from birth to middle childhood, high maternal gate opening was associated with greater FPE, although this effect faded over time. Overall, these findings suggest the importance of both establishment of a strong paternal identity and maintenance of maternal support to promote long-term FPE.