Why Some Dads Believe in Their Parenting Skills—and Others Don’t

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.”—Henry Ford

Source: Josh Willink/Pexels

The same goes for raising children.

Our society has a distorted view of parenting. There is an unwritten and unspoken rule that just because we have children means we should automatically know what we’re doing. Wouldn’t that be something if it were true? I have found that fathers who feel they have everything in control and believe they are doing everything right couldn’t be farther from the truth. On the other hand, a father who is contemplative, reflective, and willing to examine his own strengths and weaknesses doesn’t let little problems become big ones.

However, not all fathers who are willing to look at their own behaviors and parenting potential like what they see. In a society that plays down the important role of fathers in a family structure, it is easy for dads to fall in line and go with the “just the dad” mentality.

Doctors assess for postpartum issues in moms but not dads. Why? He’s just the dad. The overwhelming majority of mothers are granted custody of their children in divorce proceedings, but not dads. Why? He’s just the dad. Birthing classes and prenatal programs keep dad on the sidelines; baby onesies with arrows showing where the feet and legs go are being sold by the masses; teachers keep moms in the loop with educational progress… why? Because he’s just the dad.

Fathers are getting the message that they’re not worth much other than a paycheck and a bemusing babysitter when mom needs a night out. It’s no surprise that fathers have started to believe the messages and subsequently feel that they can’t do what they need to do to be confident and competent as parents.

Research on fatherhood moves at a snail’s pace; however, like The Little Engine That Could, new research is revealing what causes fathers to say “I think I can! I think I can!” A new study published in The Journal of Family Psychology discusses factors that lead fathers to believe in themselves—which is also called self-efficacy.

Researchers with The Ohio State University present findings that outline some potential reasons why some fathers believe in their ability to be a parent and why others don’t.

Personality. Neuroticism is a personality trait that is characterized by stress, moodiness, and emotional instability. Fathers high in neuroticism worry about many things. They are easily upset or frustrated and struggle to return to normal. “Fathers higher in neuroticism may be more predisposed toward becoming frustrated or discouraged when trying to engage with their infants, and in turn, experience lower parenting self-efficacy.”

Agreeableness is a personality trait that describes someone as trusting, kind, affectionate, and socially apt. Fathers high in agreeableness are interested in other people, empathic, and help others often. Extraversion describes someone that is emotionally expressive, excitable, assertive, and talkative. Extroverted fathers find it easy to make friends, have a large social circle, and are energized from being around others. Both agreeableness and extraversion were found to increase self-efficacy.

Attachment. Attachment theory states that our attachment to other people is developed during early childhood, as early relationship attachments predict patterns of how we attach to others throughout our lives. In other words, if a father had secure and stable attachments to his caregivers during infancy, he is more likely to have secure and stable attachments to other people throughout his life. Attachment anxiety, on the other hand, is the degree to which fathers worry or fear that they will lose their relationships and become abandoned by those they love. This is a less functional attachment style. High degrees of attachment anxiety tend to reduce fathers’ beliefs in their parental abilities.

Beliefs About Parent/Gender Roles. What are the roles of each parent? What do the fathers do? What do the mothers do? The extent to which fathers hold more traditional versus progressive beliefs about the roles of each caretaker is relevant to self-efficacy.

Fathers who subscribe to more progressive views of parenting believe in their parenting abilities more than those who held more traditional views on parent/gender roles. This makes sense because subscribing to more progressive beliefs about fatherhood means fathers will take a more active role in the day-to-day childcare responsibilities and develop confidence in their parenting.

Further, fathers who hold true to a maternal essentialism framework, or “the belief that mothers are innately better caretakers than fathers,” are less likely to engage in parenting responsibilities and feel less confident in their abilities overall. What Can Fathers Do Who Don’t Believe in Themselves?

First, it’s important to keep in mind that a great deal of research merely shows predictions, not unequivocal causations. Fathers who are anxious about losing those they love or believe that mothers are more essential than fathers are still fully capable of being good parents and believing as such. If this is you, know you are not doomed to feel incompetent. The idea that one parent is a better caregiver because of their gender is misguided and unfounded. Just because you are a man does not mean you are incapable of emotional expression, nurturing, and love.

Second, know your worth. Focus on the Family outlines several ways dads can influence their families. A father’s strength can be powerful A dad’s words can be fueling and inspirational Hugs from a dad can be deeply comforting A dad’s smile can instill joy and confidence Time with a dad can be fun and productive A dad’s physicality can be challenging A dad’s guidance can be life-changing and foundational A father’s correction can be life-saving and life-giving Adventures with a dad can be exciting and memorable

We don’t need nationwide meta-analyses to tell us that fathers can have tremendous influence over our children’s lives. So men, believe in yourselves! You were placed at this moment in history with your specific children because there is no one else fit enough to raise them.

Have faith!

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.—Hebrews 11:1


Donithen, R., & Schoppe-Sullivan, S. (2022). Correlates and predictors of parenting self-efficacy in new fathers. Journal of family psychology : JFP : journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43), 36(3), 396–405.

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