Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

Supporting Fathers in the Transition to Parenthood

Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

Supporting Fathers in the Transition to Parenthood

Article excerpt


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.

A father's emotional state and behaviour can have an influence on their ability to father. It is now well recognized that parental mental health status has an impact on an infant's physical, social and emotional development (Spector 2006; Condon, Boyce & Corkindale 2004; Dudley et al. 2001). This is complicated by the understanding that the emotional state of the father alters their perception of the infant's behaviour and temperament (Pesonen et al. 2004). A potential reluctance to participate in the care of their infant can result in a relationship disharmony with the other parent. Condon et al. (2004) have suggested that the transition to fatherhood is a most stressful time for men. The findings of their study found that there were significant indications of parental relationship deterioration during the postnatal period.

This paper relates some of the experiences of fathers who responded to a survey canvassing antenatally and postnatally, their feelings and beliefs about parenting as well as their antenatal plans and expectations of fatherhood. …

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