Parenting Expectations and Concerns of Fathers and Mothers of Newborn Infants

Article excerpt

Parenting Expectations and Concerns of Fathers and

Mothers of Newborn Infants`

Mothers and their partners were interviewed in the Labor and Delivery units of two hospitals in Tennessee. An association was found between level of mother's concern about caring for her child and a mismatch between partners' expectations for father's helpful involvement in certain aspects of parenting. The perinatal period white parents are in health care settings provides opportune time for family life education approaches that explore couples' expectations for paternal involvement and their parenting concerns.

Key Words: child maltreatment risk, parental concerns, parental expectstions

As reflected in the small but rapidly growing professional literature on fathers' roles in early infant development, recognition of the potential importance of fathers in caring for newborns is itself in its infancy. The nature of father involvement and its impact on child outcomes have dominated the attention of researchers (Lamb. 1997a). There is less evidence of focus on the motivations, values, and beliefs that lead men to construct their father role in various ways. Role theory would suggest that the expectations of significant others are of great importance in shaping the enactment of one's role (LaRossa & Reitzes, 1993a).

Changing cultural definitions of the role of father, including changing expectations of the nature and extent of his involvement and intended impact on his offspring, have. been traced over more than two centuries of American history by several researchers (Coltrane, 1995; Griswold, 1993; LaRossa, 1988: LaRossa, Gordon, Wilson, Bairan, & Jaret, 1991: LaRossa & Reitzes, i993b; Pleck & Pleck, 1997). Currently, the good father is defined as a co-parent who is expected to share the roles of provider, protector, and caregiver with the mother (Furstenberg, 1988; Marsiglio, 1995; Pleck & Pleck, 1997). Some contest whether this set of cultural expectations is shared equally across race and social class lines and whether these expectations are reflected in men's behavior (Furstenberg; 1995, Griswold, 1993). Recent survey evidence points to a gap between such participatory expectations and men's behavior in the home; even so, it is in the care of children that the highest rates of men's domestic participation are seen (Acock & Demo, 1994; Goldscheider & Waite, 1991 ).

The popular literature and media reflect the current definition of the good father as co-parent, with special media features routinely focused on the new ``nurturant father." It is not unreasonable to expect that at least some of the attention in the popular media to new styles of fathering may be reflected in a changed set of normative expectations for whether and how fathers are to be involved with their infant children, However, little is known about the schedule of expectations parents may actually have of the father's participation in caring for a new baby or for his provision of financial, material, and emotional support to the mother. This paper provides an overview of such expectations on the part of fathers of newborns, with paired comparisons to those of mothers. That is, we ask what fathers of newborns expect of themselves and what their baby's mother expects of them as well.

A second issue explored in this paper is the expression of concerns and worries that mothers and fathers have about taking care of their infant, including concerns about potential maltreatment. Some who have studied parents of newborns have discovered them anxious to discuss their fears and concerns (Cowan & Cowan, 1990). However, little empirical research has specifically addressed fathers' concerns about aspects of caring far their children. In particular, there is no research that addresses fathers' and mothers' concerns about the potential for abusing or neglecting their children (Egeland, 1991), and there are no reports of child abuse prevention programs directly asking either mothers or fathers about these concerns. …