NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - How much a father is involved in the daily care of his children is largely up to his wife or partner, according to new research.
Scientists from Ohio State University and the University of Illinois, who studied 97 couples, said mothers are play an important role in determining how active a role the father plays.
"Mothers can be very encouraging to fathers and open the gate to their involvement in child care, or be very critical and close the gate," said Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, a professor of human development and family science at Ohio State University and a co-author of the study.
The researchers found that fathers were more involved in caring for their babies on a day-to-day basis when they received active encouragement from their wife or partner.
"This is the first real evidence that mothers, through their behavior, act as gatekeepers by either fostering or curtailing how much fathers take part in caring for their baby," Schoppe-Sullivan explained.
All of the couples in the study were expecting a child when it began. The researchers studied the couples during the pregnancy and until the baby was more than three months old. The couples were also videotaped and they answered questionnaires about their involvement with the child.
Schoppe-Sullivan said the findings, which are published in the Journal of Family Psychology, are important because they reveal what mothers do on a day-to-day basis can have the potential to influence the father's behavior.
Most other studies haven't looked at actual behaviors of mothers," she said. "In many cases, researchers have used questionnaires asking parents how much fathers should be involved in parenting, and then related the answers to parents' reports about mother and father involvement in child care."
But the researchers said the format of the study means they could not prove that encouragement by the mother always leads to more involvement by the father.
"Mothers are still considered the primary caregivers for children in our society, so they likely have a larger effect," she said.
(Reporting by Marcy Nicholson; editing by Patricia Reaney)