Supporting Fathers in the Transition to Parenthood

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Knowledge of the experience of parenthood is usually from a woman's perspective. The resulting outcome is that knowledge about the experience of fatherhood has been limited. Fathers are starting to change this situation by sharing their experience as is evidenced by the overall response of 267 fathers to this study.This paper focuses on the exploration of 22 men's feelings and beliefs about fatherhood; and their expectations and views about parenting.The paper will also investigate how fathers' antenatal expectations matched the reality of early family life including emotional well-being, attitudes to parenting, adjustment to family life and sources of support.The quantitative and qualitative data of the 22 fathers who responded to both the antenatal and postnatal questionnaires used within this paper are drawn from a larger Queensland survey of women and men during the antenatal and postnatal period.

Received 18 February 2008

Accepted 17 September 2008

KEY WORDS

fatherhood; experience; expectations; parenting; nursing

INTRODUCTION

It is well known that fathering plays a significant role in shaping family life and this role greatly influences the developmental trajectory of infants. This trajectory established during pregnancy and early childhood has a profound influence on mental health and developmental status throughout the lifespan (Sarkadi et al. 2008; Cozolino 2006).There is a growing interest in understanding fathers' experiences and their role in early infant care (Condon 2006; Buist et al. 2003; Henwood & Procter 2003), but recognition of how to engage with men and support their needs as fathers is in its infancy. Research into early fatherhood experience is minimal in comparison to early motherhood experience (Christie, Poulton & Bunting 2008; Nyström & Öhrling 2004).The development of an understanding about the nature of father's involvement in parenting is evolving and this study offers insight into the feelings and beliefs of contemporary fathers.

Until recently, understandings about the experience of men as they learn to father were often extrapolated from research about maternal experience (Johnson & Baker 2004) or from mothers' reports about fathers' behaviour (Bradley et al. 2004). Fathers' experience is frequently identified as of lesser importance than mothers and minimal emphasis has been placed on the nurturing role of fathers (Bradley, MacKenzie & Boath 2004).

The context in which men father their infants and the meanings they create from their fathering experiences are frequently influenced by societal expectations (Sarkadi et al. 2008; Bronte- Tinkew, Carrano & Guzman 2006; Cabrera et al. 2000). Fathers are meant to provide emotional and financial security (Sarkadi et al. 2008), 'at most, fathers have been seen as welcome playmates, but with only marginal effect on infants' development' (Solantaus & Salo 2005: 2158).

Becoming a father is frequently a profound experience. A desire to do the very best that is possible for their baby is often uppermost in fathers' thoughts as they gain confidence in caring for their baby. This transition period from conception through to the early months of fatherhood is identified as an opportunity for nurses and midwives to offer educational and social support (Everett et al. 2006).The important influence of social support being available is proposed by Hudson et al. (2003) as linking with a willingness by fathers to try new parenting strategies. Social support is also identified as providing reinforcement that their fathering skills are improving and that their efforts are appreciated. Social support especially when it provides emotional support is recognized as significant in reducing the risk of emotional distress and mental illness (Bielawka-Batorowics & Kossakowska-Petrycka 2006). Diemer's (1997) research on feelings, concerns and communication within father-focused perinatal classes, found that fathers increased their use of social supports, increased their interpersonal reasoning and assistance with housework after the birth of their infants. …