Do ideal fathers differ from ideal mothers? A study on sensitivity, challenging, and sensitive challenging parenting behavior


  • Alexandra Iwanski Bergische Universität Wuppertal, Germany
  • Laura Mühling Bergische Universität Wuppertal, Germany
  • Peter Zimmermann Bergische Universität Wuppertal, Germany



Sensitivity, challenging behavior, sensitive challenging behavior, attachment, ideal mother, ideal father


Studies on caregiving often distinguish between sensitive and challenging behavior. Mothers are characterized as more sensitive and fathers as more challenging. From an attachment perspective, the ideal mother is sensitive. Empirically, sensitivity is a better predictor of child-mother compared to child-father attachment security. In contrast, sensitive challenging behavior is a better predictor of child-father attachment. Thus, the ideal father might be sensitive challenging. The study examined differences and/or similarities in representations of ideal mothers and fathers regarding sensitive challenging behavior. We explored raters’ parental status, gender, or attachment as influential factors. 175 participants described their representations of the ideal parents and rated the attachment security to their own parents. Results replicate earlier findings showing that the ideal mother is sensitive. Interestingly, also the ideal father is a sensitive father. In direct comparison, ideal fathers are less sensitive and more challenging compared to ideal mothers. Attachment avoidance influenced parenting ideals.


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Como Citar

Iwanski, A., Mühling, L., & Zimmermann, P. (2022). Do ideal fathers differ from ideal mothers? A study on sensitivity, challenging, and sensitive challenging parenting behavior. PSICOLOGIA, 36(2), 1–14.



Número temático - Fathering in diverse sociocultural contexts