Father-child relationships in Caribbean cultural communities - implications for childhood development

By Dr. Jaipaul L. Roopnarine, Ph.D

Fathering has been identified by researchers, educators, policymakers and governmental and non-governmental bodies as important for staving off psychological and educational risks in childhood. There has been considerable interest in how fathering contributes to developmental processes in children across cultural communities with different levels of economic development (Roopnarine, 2015; Shwalb et al., 2013).  The focus here is on father-child relationships in Caribbean cultural communities and their implications for childhood development.

Within the Caribbean, fatherhood and fathering occur in diverse mating (e.g. visiting, common-law) and marital systems.  In these mating and marital systems, fathers may not reside with children or may be physically around but maintain emotional distance from children and invest very little time in their cognitive development.  The major challenge in the Caribbean has been to determine in what ways different levels and quality of fathers’ involvement are linked to children’s development across mating and marital systems and ethnic groups.  

  • Do fathers contribute to childhood development above and beyond mothers?  
  • In what domains do fathers influence childhood development directly and indirectly through other family processes and structural dynamics (e.g. relationship with the mother of the child, economic circumstances, residence patterns, etc.)?
  • How do fathers prepare children for entry into schooling and shape later schooling trajectories?
  • Is father engagement in religious and ethnic socialisation with children associated with childhood development?  
  • How do conceptions of manhood/fatherhood influence men’s investment in families and children?

Father and childFathering has been identified by researchers, educators, policymakers and governmental and non-governmental bodies as important for staving off psychological and educational risks in childhood

At the moment, concrete answers to these questions with respect to Caribbean families remain elusive. What we do know are that men’s beliefs about manhood and masculinity, how they were fathered, parenting styles and competence, residential patterns and material resources affect Caribbean men’s abilities to become engaged fathers. Thus, examination of men’s cultural scripts or internal working models about manhood and fatherhood and how men were fathered may help to deconstruct traditional views of masculinity and what men do in families. This should assist men to move away from conceiving their primary role in families as ‘breadwinners’, towards developing co-parenting models and embracing morally intelligible fathering.  Parenting programmes that emphasise paternal sensitivity (e.g. warmth and affection, holding, mutual engagement, verbal stimulation) and child-centredness can do much to improve parenting skills and childhood development.  Parental sensitivity is a construct that has similar positive outcomes on childhood development across cultural communities (Khaleque & Rohner, 2012) and child-centred approaches to childrearing acknowledges children’s rights to optimal parenting and care.  

Father childResearch conducted in different countries (e.g. Guyana, Jamaica) has shown that men held traditional views about men’s roles and responsibilities and these views tend to be barriers to paternal involvement (Brown et al.,1997).  Later studies confirmed that biological aspects of fatherhood and traditional masculine scripts that are embedded in notions of control and dominance are quite entrenched in Caribbean men across ethnic groups (Anderson, 2007; Anderson & Daley, 2015). This aside, levels of paternal involvement in African Caribbean and Indo Caribbean men range from being helpers to highly engaged fathers.  In a study conducted in Trinidad and Tobago, fathers’ levels of warmth displayed to preschool-aged children were comparable to those of men in the developed world and in other developing societies; there were no significant differences in levels of warmth expressed between mothers and fathers and in most cases mothers and fathers adopted the same parenting style (Roopnarine et al.,2013).  However, the study also noted that fathers and mothers used a combination of warmth and control in guiding children’s behaviours, a finding that is consistent with assertions that Caribbean parents employ a good deal of punitive control in childrearing (Leo-Rhynie & Brown, 2013).

Economic conditions, family structural arrangements and family process factors exert primary influences on childhood development in Caribbean families.  A few studies have failed to find associations between fathers’ parenting styles and children’s cognitive and social development (Roopnarine et al., 2013), but others have demonstrated that family process variables (cohesion and adaptability) were associated with better cognitive outcomes in children (Samms-Vaughan, 2005) and the reduction in mental health difficulties (e.g. suicides and emotional distress) (Halcon et al., 2003).  Poor living conditions and instability in living arrangements (multiple father figures, child-shifting) had a negative impact on children’s intellectual performance. Children in married households performed better cognitively than children in other family structural arrangements, and those living with biological fathers and surrogate mothers had lower academic scores and had more behavioural difficulties than children in more stable living arrangements (Samms-Vaughan, 2005). 

You, the reader, may want to consider the following questions:

  1. How are traditional conceptions of manhood and fatherhood being contested and/or revised in Caribbean communities?
  2. How can we improve living arrangements to facilitate father involvement with children?
  3. What policies might CARICOM countries implement to increase socio-affective aspects of father involvement?
  4.  How can fathers be involved in preparing children for entry into formal schooling and assist in boosting everyday academic skills?



Anderson, P. (2007). The changing roles of fathers in the context of Jamaican family life.

Anderson, P., & Daley, C. (2015). In J. L. Roopnarine (Ed.) Fathers across cultures: The importance, roles, and diverse practices of dads. New York: Praeger.

Brown, J., Newland, A., Anderson, P., & Chevannes, B. (1997).  Caribbean fatherhood: Underresearched, misunderstood.  In J. L. Roopnarine & J. Brown (Eds.), Caribbean families: Diversity among ethnic groups (pp. 85-113). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Halcón, L., Robert, W. B., Beuhring, T., Pate, E., Campbell-Forrester, S., & Venema, A. (2003). Adolescent Health in the Caribbean: A Regional Portrait. American Journal of Public Health, 93, 1851-1857.

Khaleque, A., & Rohner, R. P. (2012). Pancultural associations between perceived parental acceptance-rejection and psychological adjustment of children and adults: A meta-analytic review of worldwide research.  Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 43, 784-800.

Kingston, Jamaica: Planning Institute of Jamaica and The University of the West Indies.

Leo-Rhynie, E., & Brown, J. (2013). Child Rearing Practices in the Caribbean in the Early Childhood Years. In. C. Logie & J. L. Roopnarine (Eds.), Issues and perspectives in early childhood education in the Caribbean. La Romaine, Trinidad and Tobago: Caribbean Publishers.

Roopnarine, J. L. Wang, Y., Krishnakumar, A., & Davidson, K. (2013). Parenting practices in Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago: Connections to preschoolers’ social and cognitiveskills. Interamerican Journal of Psychology, 47, (2), 313-328.

Roopnarine, J. L. (2105). (Ed.). Fathers across cultures: The importance, roles, and diverse practices of dads. New York: Praeger.

Samms-Vaughn, M. (2005). The Jamaican pre-school child: The status of early childhood development in Jamaica. Kingston, Jamaica: Planning Institute of Jamaica.

Shwalb, D., Shwalb, B. & Lamb, M. E. (Eds.), Fathers in cultural context.  New York: Routledge.


About the Author

Dr. Jaipaul L. Roopnarine (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin) is a Pearl Falk Professor of Child and Family Studies, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, USA and an Adjunct Professor of The University of the West Indies-Family Development Centre of Trinidad and Tobago.  He has thirty-five (35) years of experience conducting observational and survey studies around the world on father involvement and childhood development (e.g. India, Malaysia, Taiwan, Brazil, US, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand).  He (along with colleagues at Syracuse University and the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine) recently conducted a national study on childrearing, mental health and family belief systems and childhood outcomes in Trinidad and Tobago. 

A former Editor of the journal Fathering, he has published over one-hundred (100) articles and book chapters on children across cultures. His recent books Caribbean Psychology: Indigenous contributions to a global discipline (with Dr. Derek Chadee; American Psychological Association, 2015) and Fathers across cultures: The importance, roles and diverse practices of dads (Praeger, 2105) are currently available from Amazon.

Click here to read the full profile>>

You have no rights to post comments.
Create an account to post comments.