Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Identity, Intimacy, and Father Involvement

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Identity, Intimacy, and Father Involvement

Article excerpt

Sixty-eight new parents participated in a longitudinal study of psychosocial development and father involvement by completing surveys, once during the last trimester of pregnancy, then again when their child was between three and six months old. Data pertaining to the fathers' identity (e.g., the pattern employed for seeking information regarding one's self) and both spouses' reports of marital intimacy was collected during the prenatal phase of the study, and data for both spouses' perceptions of father involvement was collected in the postnatal phase of the study. Results indicate that a normative identity (i.e., adopting values from authority figures) is associated with less marital intimacy, while a diffuse identity (i.e., not active in considering own identity) is associated with greater marital intimacy. Diffuse fathers view themselves as more involved than fathers who are information (i.e., actively seek information regarding one's identity) or normative oriented; mothers perceive greatest levels of involvement when their spouses are normative oriented.

For approximately the past two decades, the topic of father involvement has generated considerable discussion among family and human development scholars and researchers. Research has shown that father involvement tends to promote children's well-being in physical, emotional, and mental domains (Diamond, 1995; Farver & Wimbarti, 1995; Kelley, Smith, Green, Berndt, & Rogers, 1998; Kerns & Barth, 1995). These positive outcomes naturally lead to a related question, "What predicts involved fatherhood?"

Although Erikson's (1963) theory does not specifically address father involvement, it does provide a blueprint for understanding how psychosocial characteristics and motivation influence healthy development across the lifespan. The importance for identifying these characteristics in early parenthood is justified by research indicating that father involvement is relatively consistent throughout the child's life (e.g., Aldous, Mulligan, & Bjarnason, 1998); active father involvement tends to begin in the child's infant years.

Erikson (1963) explained that humans progress from one to another of eight stages of psychosocial growth throughout one's lifetime. These stages reflect turning points in development, with each, in turn, serving as the primary impetus for one's psychosocial development. The stages are considered interdependent; successful resolution of a stage is dependent on successful resolution of prior stages.

Of the eight stages, this study is particularly relevant to stages 5 through 7: identity (vs. role confusion), intimacy (vs. isolation), and generativity (vs. stagnation). Although identity development is purported to be the priority for adolescents, Erikson maintains that identity development, as well as all stages of psychosocial development, continues throughout one's lifetime. Research has shown that successful identity development among single college-age students is predictive of establishing meaningful relations with others (e.g., Dyk & Adams, 1990), however, little is known about the link between identity and intimacy among new parents or married couples.

Following Erikson's (1963) view that intimacy allows an individual to "fuse [one's] identity with that of others" (p. 263), Cook and Jones (2002) proposed that this fusion may be facilitated by similar identities (such as values, ethics, and interests). Cook and Jones found that couples with similar identity styles tend to report greater marital intimacy than couples with dissimilar identity styles.

According to Berzonsky (1989), individual identity is manifest in the way one seeks and processes self-relevant information. Berzonsky contends that individuals can be characterized as having one of three cognitive styles or orientations, also referred to as identity styles. An information orientation describes individuals who actively seek a wide array of information pertaining to identity development, a normative orientation describes individuals who limit their choices in order to conform with the values and beliefs prescribed by authority figures, and a diffuse orientation describes an avoidance of collecting and managing pertinent information related to the self. …

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