The following is an abstract of Men's Transition to Fatherhood: First-time Fathers' Experiences with Fathering, Marriage and Work-life Issues (2010) by Adrian Lim Peng Ann.
The study was presented at Fatherhood in 21st Century Asia: Research, Interventions, and Policies Conference -Asia’s first research conference on fatherhood, jointly organised by Asia Research Institute, Dads for Life, Family Research Network, and Gender Studies Minor Programme, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore, 17 - 18 June 2010.
Adrian is a counseling psychologist in private practice, a part-time lecturer and clinical supervisor for Psychology and Counseling postgraduate practicum, as well as a programme manager with Dads for Life Secretariat, Ministry of Community Development Youth and Sports.
He is a registered psychologist (Singapore Psychological Society), a registered social worker (Singapore Association of Social Workers), and a registered counselor (Singapore Association of Counseling), with a degree in Social Work and Psychology (National University of Singapore) and a masters degree in Applied Psychology in Counselling (National Institute of Education-National Technological University).
"What happens when a man becomes a father for the first time?" was the question that conceived this study.
Once his wife's pregnancy test is positive and the doctor congratulates them as a couple, what does a man experience when he starts this journey towards fatherhood? What will be his thoughts, concerns, worries, expectations and plans?
How does he cope with the imminent arrival of his first child that will transform his status, relationships, time management habits, responsibilities and lifestyle for the rest of his life?
Therefore, this two-phased qualitative longitudinal study looked at the transitional experiences of men before and after the birth of their firstborn. The areas examined comprised of:
a. Personal men’s issues
b. Fathering concerns
c. Marital and family-work life adjustments
The aim was to discover the strengths and barriers men faced in their preparation to become fathers, and to explore the possible support and help needed during this period.
From an initial pool of 75 expectant fathers, seven men participated in a pilot study. Later, 20 men underwent a two-part individual semi-structured interview over two time periods; the first period during the third trimester of pregnancy before birth, and then at 34 to 38 months after birth.
To better understand their preparation processes and personal adjustment needs, first-time expectant fathers were interviewed about their perceptions, expectations and plans before the birth of the child. After the child’s birth, the same 20 men were interviewed to review how they had adjusted and coped in the first three years of fatherhood.
Findings and Recommendations
First, the results show that the level of preparedness in first-time fathers is influenced by eight fatherhood preparatory factors. They include the men’s own father's influence while growing up; and the availability of alternate father models in other men, especially if their own fathers have not been available.
Another factor is his prior exposure to child-caring with other babies and children such as his nieces and nephews. This influences how he is practically prepared for fatherhood.
The men's own personal characteristics including beliefs, values and coping styles affect his ability to adjust to and cope with the changes. It is also important for marital well-being to be healthy even before the child’s conception as this will affect the child-care plans. In addition, work-life arrangements need to be negotiated before the birth of the couple’s firstborn.
Therefore, what the study found was that expectant first-time fathers need more informational and practical support through the provision of fact sheets, hands-on initiation sessions and modeling from other fathers. This is true especially for those who do not have a good role model in their own father.
In addition, it is important for men to maintain a healthy marital relationship. This is achieved through close communication with the wife. It is critical for the husband and wife to discuss about motherhood, fatherhood and their respective roles and careers. It is crucial to negotiate child-care arrangements with the wife and extended family members. This allows men to secure the support needed to care for the child.
Decisions have to be made on who is going to care for the baby; the duration of care; and whether the wife needs to extend her maternity leave, take on part-time or even leave her job. All these, impact men’s ability to cope, as well as affect relations with their employers who also play a crucial role in providing support to fatherhood adjustment.
Second, results show that men experience deterioration in overall marital quality after the birth of the firstborn. As such, marital health needs to be taken care of continuously throughout the pregnancy, at birth, during confinement, and especially during the early months after birth. This is because it affects men’s transition to fatherhood, the couple's parenting and the later years of their marriage.
Third, men's fatherhood transitional outcome is influenced by five fatherhood adjustment factors that include:
a. The level of father-child involvement with his child
b. The father's own coping ability throughout the transition
c. Work-life adaptation
d. Marital well-being after birth
e. Living and child-care support arrangements
These five adjustment factors will also affect his procreative decision with his wife. Other factors include the couple's financial ability to raise more children, along with their ability to support the child to cope with Singapore's challenging educational system.
The study also compiled a list of 28 practical tips drawn from these 20 men’s transitional experiences as first-time fathers. These tips are categorised into six themes;
b. Planning and time management
c. Supporting wife and working on the marriage
d. Being equipped with knowledge and skills through various tools
e. Child development and parenting
f. Practical advice and personal reflections
For example, men who had prepared for marriage through marriage preparation courses coped better compared to those who had not. Similarly, men made better adjustments if they had prepared for fathering by attending prenatal courses with the wife, reading books and consulting experienced couples.
Some of these men also took five to seven days of their annual leave to support the wife in the early weeks after birth. The 20 men suggested 10 working days or two weeks of Paternity Leave would be helpful for fathers.
There is a need for men to negotiate and work out their family and work-life issues, and strike a win-win arrangement for the wife, child and employer. Better family and work practices may come in the form of "work-from-home" schemes, flexible working hours or the use of technology to allow for “tele-commuting” – these are all ways to help men meet the needs of a young family.
Enlightened employers may also want to re-design jobs and work arrangements based on the age of the employee's children and the needs of families at different life-cycle stages.
In conclusion, men need support and guidance to make a positive start as new fathers. Fatherhood gives men new responsibilities, creates new opportunities for growth, and poses new challenges for the evolving family unit - from a married couple to a married couple with a child; and for the men - from a husband to becoming a father.
At the childbearing stage, men face various developmental tasks such as taking care of the pregnant wife’s needs, providing physical care to the infant, and supporting the development of the child, whilst providing financially for the family. The first-time father can be better supported in these tasks to establish a more conducive and satisfying home and family environment for his whole family right from the start.
About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.