Exploring Erikson's Psychosocial Theory of Development: Generativity and Its Relationship to Paternal Identity, Intimacy, and Involvement in Childcare

Article excerpt

This study explored the relationships among fathers' involvement in childcare, identity, intimacy, and generativity in order to understand which variables best predict variation in fathers' level of generativity. The study's major findings were that fathers' paternal identity, psychosocial identity, and psychosocial intimacy were the best overall predictors of fathers' level of generativity. Fathers' paternal identity was the best predictor of fathers' generativity. Interestingly, fathers' involvement in childcare was not a good predictor of fathers' generativity. The study's findings also give support to the assumption that development in previous psychosocial stages (i.e., identity and intimacy) are extremely important to later stages of psychosocial development (i.e., generativity). However, this assumption needs to be tested through longitudinal methods. The finding that paternal identity was a good predictor of generativity gives support for the proposition of person-role merger, in which one's investment in a role can influence development.

In family research, fathers have often been neglected as an important unit of study (Snarey, 1993). When research has focused on fathers, it has generally considered only how fathers influence their children's development (Radin, 1976, 1982; Radin & Russell, 1983). Further, the developmental outcomes of involvement in child rearing on fathers have not been studied extensively (Hawkins, Christiansen, Sargent, & Hill, 1993; Snarey, 1993). Research has documented positive findings in regard to fathers who are highly involved in childcare. For instance, Backett (1987) has argued that fathers who are highly involved with their children gain direct knowledge about their children and are able to build a relationship with their children. Fathers who increase their involvement with their children often feel closer to them and develop a stronger parent-child bond (Lamb, Pleck, & Levine, 1987; Russell, 1982).

There has been some theoretical work arguing that parenthood offers an opportunity for development in fathers, but empirical work on fathers' development has, for the most part, been neglected (Antonucci & Mikus, 1988; Cowan, 1988; Hawkins et al., 1993; Palkovitz, 1996). One developmental outcome for highly involved fathers may be the opportunity to become more nurturant and responsive to others' needs. Coltrane (1989), in a qualitative study of 20 dual-earner couples with school-aged children, identified some nurturant capabilities fathers develop as they actively participated in childcare. Fathers in this sample shared the experience of having to learn how to care for and nurture their children. Fathers were usually described as being transformed by the parenting experience and developing sensitivity to their children's needs. Russell (1.982) reported similar results in his research.

As fathers involve themselves in the day-to-day realities of childcare, they may develop nurturance and be better able to respond to their children's needs. The day-to-day realities of childcare are more than just tasks; those realities are relationships. Antonucci and Mikus (1988) state that parenting allows its actors to develop "a warm, caring, selfless side of themselves, which may go undiscovered or untapped in other adult roles and settings" (p. 67). One important developmental outcome of paternal involvement in childcare on fathers may be what Erik Erikson (1963) termed generativity. Erikson stated that developing a sense of generativity was central to adult development. Erikson (1963) defined generativity as an adult's concern with guiding, nurturing, and establishing the next generation. When people fail at developing generativity, they regress to an obsessive need for pseudo-intimacy, "a pervading sense of stagnation and personal impoverishment" (Erikson, 1963, p. 267). "Individuals who do not develop generativity often begin to indulge themselves as if they were their one and only child" (Erikson, 1980, p. …