Frontiers of Infant Psychiatry - Vol. 2

By Justin D. Call; Eleanor Galenson et al. | Go to book overview
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40
"Paternity Blues" and the Father-Child
Relationship

Lisbeth F. Brudal, dr. philos.

To see the World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the Palm of your Hand
And Eternity in an Hour.

—William Blake: Songs of Innocence

Margaret Mead once said that in those cultures in which men must leave home to contribute to the maintenance of society they are forbidden direct contact with their newborn children. The reason for this taboo, according to Mead, is perhaps the belief that, if new fathers came in contact with their newborns, the fathers would become so involved with the children they would never again go out into the world to work.

We are lacking in modern studies of this aspect of parent-infant relationship, in spite of the quantity of work already done on this early stage in life. Studies of infants' emotional needs by Anna Freud (1949, 1965), Bowlby (1969), and Mahler (Mahler et al., 1975) have been supplemented by investigations of the infant's states of consciousness (for example, Brazelton, 1973; Korner, 1972; Prechtl, 1964). Work on the mother-child relationship has achieved prominence (for example, Brazelton, 1963; Klaus and Kennell, 1976). The parents' significance for the child, especially that of the mother, has been examined too, for example, by Biller (1974), and Klaus and Kennell (1976). The parents' own reactions as related to becoming growing and maturing adults have received less attention. Few investigators seem to have built on what Erikson (1950) termed the eighth stage of human development— generativity. Only in the last few years have the father's role and importance been systematically studied (see Cath et al., 1982; Lamb, 1976). Shereshefsky (1973) and Parke (1979) have examined the father's reaction in connection with the perinatal period. Benedek (1970) defined fatherliness as "an instinctually rooted character trend which enables the father to act toward his child or all children with immediate empathic responsiveness" (p. 175).

The parents' abnormal psychological reactions during the perinatal period have focused chiefly on the mother's reactions in the days after childbirth, for example, puerperal psychoses and the so-called "maternity blues" or "postpartum blues." Yalom and his group (1968) consider postpartum blues to be so ubiquitous and ostensibly benign as to have seldom been deemed worthy of serious study. Winnicott (1956), however, had a different view of the mother's special psychological state beginning near the end of pregnancy and continuing for some time after. He compares it with a fugue state, refers to it as "almost an

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