Parent-Child Relations throughout Life

By Karl Pillemer; Kathleen McCartney | Go to book overview

3
Variability in the Transition to Parenthood Experience

Carolyn J. Mebert University of New Hampshire

A quote from Maureen Quilligan's ( 1989) review of Sara Ruddick's Maternal Thinkingin the N.Y. Times Book Review provides an appropriate starting point for this chapter:

A story often told to new parents goes like this: After a sleepless night dominated by the squalling of a colicky newborn, a young father found himself standing over the crib with a pillow inches from the baby's face, ready to murder it. "What's the matter with me?" he wails to his psychotherapist. The therapist asks, "You didn't do it, did you?" The father answers, "No, but I wanted to!" the therapist nods. "Welcome to parent[hood]." (p. 15)

Although the transition to parenthood has not been identified by researchers as a period of emerging homicidal tendencies, it has been characterized in a variety of other ways. One of the most frequently mentioned, but no longer accepted characterizations is LeMaster's ( 1957) concept of "parenthood as life crisis." More recent descriptions of the transition tend to emphasize the challenge or the potential for development or, simply, the nature of the changes accompanying the birth of a baby. For example, Reilly, Entwisle, and Doering ( 1987) wrote that "becoming a parent is one of life's more complex and challenging transitions" (p. 295). Tietjenand Bradley( 1985) identified the basic categories in which changes occur during this period and state that although individuals may become parents by choice, the experiences they have during the transition are likely to be "disequilibrating" and stressful. Going a bit beyond the notion that the transition may be merely stressful, Feldman and Nash ( 1984) called it "profound." For women especially, they suggested,

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