Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

The Experience of Perinatal Parenthood and the Construction of Paternal Identity

Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

The Experience of Perinatal Parenthood and the Construction of Paternal Identity

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: On a theoretical level, this article aims to categorize the increasingly large body of work that exists on fatherhood in order to gain a better understanding of the psychic aspects involved in this stage of development. In a second time, the authors expose two case studies of a clinical research on the transition processes among first-time fathers. The subjects were 25 Greek men of an average age of 30, who were to become father and who participated to a semi-directive interview before and after the birth of their first child. The interviews explored the psychosocial and intrapsychic dynamics regarding the construction of paternal identity.

KEY WORDS: Fatherhood, paternity, first-time fathers, identity construction, intrapsychic and psychosocial processes.

INTRODUCTION

The western world has experienced a great number of socio-cultural transformations regarding forms of parenthood. The evolution of family structures and cultural settings shaped the transformation of parental roles. This occurred at a time when the Feminist Movement was calling for men's active involvement in raising and educating children (Vasconcellos, 2003). When studying paternity, researchers have examined and recorded these transformations regarding their subjects' living conditions and perceptions of life (Le Camus, 2002). In the early seventies therefore when initial publications on precocious paternity began to appear, the new Fathers' Movement was already largely underway. It was only from 1990 onwards that the concept of paternality, the subject of this paper, came to the fore. This concept is synonymous with the processes involved in becoming a father, from the psychological viewpoint. Our paper is divided into two sections. In the first section, we will try to categorize the increasingly large body of work that exists on fatherhood in order to gain a better understanding of the psychic aspects involved in this stage of development. In the second section, we will take stock of the results of our clinical research on the transition processes among first-time expectant fathers. This will enable us to get a better grasp of the psychosocial and longitudinal dynamics regarding access to paternity and how this is organised.

The types of research carried out regarding fathers can be divided into three main categories: socio-historical studies; psychoanalytic studies; and, lastly, empirical studies (Naziri & Dragonas, 1994).

Studies of a socio-historical nature look at the evolution of the social representation of fathers in western countries and propose answers to various questions involving the changing social roles between male and female as well as the changing economic and legal status of the father (Delumeau & Roche, 1990; Parke & Tinsley, 1984).

PSYCHOANALYTIC STUDIES ON FATHERHOOD

Studies of a psychoanalytic nature use either material from analytic treatment, or anthropological, mythological or literary material. They set out to answer a series of fundamental questions, such as: What is a father? What does the paternal role consist of? What place should be given to femininity and what place to the male provider ego? What significance do couvades and paternal pathology have? (Badinter, 1992; Corneau, 1989; Delaisi de Parseval, 1981; Naouri, 1985; Revault d'Allonnes, 1991; This, 1980). The field of psychoanalytic studies is, in fact, sufficiently rich and diverse that we can look at it to identify key trends. Distinction can be made between works in English and in French.

Anglo-Saxon Psychoanalytic Work

Anglo-Saxon writers are most interested in the psychoaffective processes and intrapsychic conflicts which characterise the transition to fatherhood and which are the cause of psychosomatic phenomena and behavioural troubles, and even psychotic behaviour in expectant fathers. Their analyses of intrapsychic conflicts are organized around three main areas (Zayas, 1987): a) the increase in man's dependency needs (Liebenberg, 1969) and his depressive reactions (Zilboorg, 1931); b) the emergence of a form of unconscious rivalry with the child, who is possibly seen as a rival brother (Herzog, 1982); c) the reactivation of Oedipal conflicts (Curtis, 1955; Jarvis, 1962). …

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