Fatherhood and the role of men in early childhood care has been dominating todays’ child development discourse characterised by rapid social, political and economic change. Among various interventions to promote the development and survival of children in Africa such as livelihood support, disease control, curricular reform, and legislative reform, promoting father involvement in child care is now important. Understanding the role of men in early childhood care is gaining attention after several studies across the globe indicate benefits to child growth outcomes as summarised by Allen and Daly (2007).
Similar findings in the African context are also in the work ok Mboya & Nesengani (1999). However, a lot of data available is the descriptive accounts of men’s care activities and very sparsely on what really motivates them to care. Social research has been intensive on men’s observable care behaviour (e.g. Richter et.al. 2004, Nyamukapa, 2018), its benefits to children, and thinly on motivation behind the care behaviour to probably predict father involvement or shape good male parenting practices.
Moreso, much literature focus on urban localities, and ignores rural areas where child care standards still lags behind. Data relating to the actual process undergone by men in coming up with actual decisions to care, which then drive the observable care behaviour is still minute, especially within the Sub Saharan African context and Zimbabwe in particular. It is apparent that there are several factors surrounding men’s decision to care for children, biological or non-biological, socio-economic, or technical among others. Nevertheless, such factors cannot be operating in isolation, but rather influence care decisions in various proportions depending on situations or locations. Exploring the care decision making process is essential in documenting cultural trends in child care, generating local knowledge, promoting and predicting men’s care behaviour, shape the interface of policy and the child care interventions as well as promoting good male parenting practices.This paper seeks to explore the reasons behind men’s participation in caring for children under the age of eight in rural Zimbabwe. It also aims to identify the relationships among the factors and how development interventions can be shaped to motivate men to participate in child care practice for improved early childhood outcomes in rural areas. The rural context is important in localising child care, which is a factor being consistently pressured by contemporary search for knowledge on men and child care. For this reason, focus on rural Zimbabwe will generate explanations and insights to also enrich indigenous knowledge to direct policy and associated interventions.I will start by conversing previous work related to men and child care this area focusing on models of parenting and their relevancy to positive child care and development before framing the theoretical lens which this study follows. The results of discussions with rural Zimbabwean men will then follow, together with an argumentative discussion of findings before the conclusion.Child care and many faces of fatherhood [Literature review]Child care is basically providing physical and emotional support that promote survival and development to young children. These include providing food, shelter, health services including good hygiene practices, education and proper socialization among others. What constitutes good care may differ from society to society but minimum standards are popular in day care centres. The major challenge children face in Zimbabwe and in other sub-Saharan African countries is access to adequate care. Close to three decades of research has indicated promising improvement on child care outcomes that comes with positive father involvement in child are. The participation of men in child care lies across the divide of location, culture, expectations, policy and other political and socio-economic ambient factors. Some researchers trace men’s involvement in child care from their initial participation in promoting maternal health (e.g. Ditekemena et.al. 2012, Byamugisha et.al 2010). Also referred to as fatherhood, researching men and child care interface carries a history of attempts to understand the nature of involvement. Lamb (2008) maintained that the definition of fatherhood is multi-faceted, and has evolved over time with new emerging knowledge’s. However, his earlier work (Lamb et.al 1987) condenses and postulates three variables as constituting father involvement in child care. These are engagement, Accessibility and responsibility. Engagement refers to physical interaction with the children in activities such as bathing and feeding. Being available to interact with children is what is termed accessibility. Being responsible identifies effort to continually attending to children’s care needs, for example, thru financial support. These forms of involvement have influenced most of the subsequent work on this topic and has however, not without criticism. This paper appreciates observable care behaviour but argue that the force behind action is more important to approach the subject. In Zimbabwe, Child care especially during the early years is largely gendered, with women doing most of the care work. The involvement of men in child care has however been increasing. While research is indicating achievement of positive developmental goals such as gender equality and optimal benefits to children, understanding men’s motivation to care is important if such acts are to be sustained.Motivation as a term or a construct, refers to reasons for action (Elliot and Covington, 2001). Several explanations as to why individuals perform certain behaviours have their origin in psychology and have been applied in different fields such as learning, education, employee motivation, and therapeutic interventions among others. In the social world motivation has been grossly embedded in the relationship between the social structure and the individual. Several approaches in this discipline have been put forward towards explaining why men are engaged in child care during early childhood. These span from factors including individual and personal orientations, people’s interaction with the social structure, situation and context specific conditions, and approaches focusing on social change such as gender relations and gender identity. Gender theories has helped the research community to explain and predict the different roles performed by people in society by tracing the observable behaviour to being male or female. Personal and societal view of what it means to be a men or women has propagated peoples approach to their function in the home and society (Marfo 2011). However, little is known on this subject about the influence of structural changes and shifts in social relationships among them. This explains how researchers have relied on several and often unstable structural and normative process in deciding to act, of which participation in child care roles is one variable subject to action. Thus, concepts such as degendering’ as postulated by Lorber (2005), especially in understanding men’s motivation towards child care, become one of possible plausible explanations to the whole complexity of the drive to act. Several research works have also been done on how men and women create, experience and sustain their masculinities and feminities in their day to day living. Early work on masculinity (e.g. Connell 1985, 1987, 1995; Morgan 1992) however, acknowledges the identity of men as not static but moves with changes in social relations. The masculine concept of care is inherent in the work of Connell (1987), and like Collinson (1994) and Brandth and Kvade (1998), and in these, men’s participation in child care has been discussed in the context of negotiated power relations between men and women, basically, an interactionist perspective.A critical view of current literature also indicates that the propensity to care is built upon how men interact and relate to the structural institutions such as culture, childhood and marriage relations among others. On another level, the prevailing situational conditions such as men’s availability to care, economic relations between men and women, and characteristics of the child and its needs are also influential. Another line of research has explained the performance or non-performance of care duties in the home as function of situational factors, both social and economic. For example, changing family economic relations are considered as an important process determining the participation of men in child care. As more women enter paid work, men find it inevitable to assist with child care duties (Hauari and Hollingworth (2009). This scenario therefore leads to a shift in the immediate factors motivating men to care for children. This however, does not suggest that other explanations, are redundant, but represents an addition to the population of variables at play in motivating men’s care behaviour.In the background of knowledge generated around this subject, it is sound to accept that construction of masculinity and or fatherhood is a continuous process, never permanent and constant. Extending that, localizing knowledges is also important. Emerging philosophical foundations of child care and development in Africa as a discipline advocates for a rich within culture explanation of care practices if relevant policies around child care and development are to be developed (Pence and Marfo, 2008; Marfo, 2011). In this perspective, the research moves away from concentrating on asking who should care towards an understanding of why one (men in particular) choose to care. The presence of numerous factors influencing the decision to care has motivated this research to assume a systems thinking’ approach in understanding why men chose to participate in the care of children.