The Critical Transition to Fatherhood
Two critical components of a healthy transition to parenthood are parenting self-efficacy – the mastery of the parenthood role – and parenting satisfaction with the parenting role. Both elements describe the parent’s comfort with parenting behaviour required in healthy and effective infant care.
For fathers, regardless of background, the birth of the first infant is often stressful and can cause parenting issues that affect the family. For example, one U.S. study that examined parenting self-efficacy in a diverse sample of fathers and mothers (Froman & Owen, 1989, as cited in Hudson et al, 2003) found that the parent’s gender was the most powerful predictor of parenting self-efficacy scores, with fathers’ scores lower than mothers’ scores.
At the same time, research shows that the transition to first-time fatherhood is a critical one: paternal caregiving patterns that develop during infancy often persist and influence the ways in which fathers interact with their children over time (Lee & Brage, 1989, as cited in Hudson et al, 2003).
Yet, fathers are often overlooked by the health care system or socialised not to ask for help with parenting issues. New fathers often rely on their partners to model effective parenting but new mothers are also fatigued after childbirth and may not devote time to enhance fathers’ learning.
For these reasons, interventions that engage new fathers’ interest in the fatherhood role and address their needs in acquiring parenting skills are critical.
The New Fathers Network
Advanced practice nurses (APNs) from the University of Nebraska College of Nursing developed the New Fathers Network, based on two premises: (1) New fathers are a critical group to engage; and (2) the Internet is an increasingly popular source of information, especially for men, who tend to have more positive attitudes toward computers and to use the Internet or information and interaction.
New Fathers Network is an Internet-based intervention consisting of:
- An online library of information with approximately 300 different files about infant growth and development, and infant care and health, as well as specific concerns faced by new fathers, including life changes relating to their partner and infant;
- Discussion forums to facilitate an exchange of information, advice, and support among new fathers and APNs; and
- Electronic mail access to APNs where fathers can ask questions about their infants or their role as fathers.
Methodology for Pilot Study of New Fathers Network
The study sampled 34 first-time fathers who were separated into two groups: 14 into an “intervention group” and 20 into a “comparison group”.
The “intervention group” was recruited from the postpartum unit following the infants’ birth and prior to the discharge of mothers and infants to their homes.
The “comparison group” was drawn from a primary care practice during the ninth month of their partners’ pregnancy.
All fathers were able to speak, read, and write English; had completed eighth grade; had partners who had uncomplicated deliveries of single healthy infants; and had convenient Internet access.
All fathers in the “intervention group” were Caucasian and married. All but one father in the “comparison group” were Caucasian, and all but two were married.
To evaluate the effectiveness of New Fathers Network, the study conceptualised “healthy transition to parenthood” to include parenting self-efficacy and parenting satisfaction. Fathers in both groups were asked to report on their parenting self-efficacy and parenting satisfaction, and those in the “intervention group” were additionally asked to rate their satisfaction with the New Fathers Network.
Data collection was done at the first instance through a home visit, upon discharge of the infant, in order to obtain the father’s informed consent and to collect demographic information.
Two more home visits on the fourth and eight week after the infant’s birth were conducted, to measure parenting self-efficacy and parenting satisfaction. Those in the “intervention group” were surveyed again through a telephone interview two weeks later, to assess their satisfaction with the intervention.
On the home visit four weeks after the infant’s birth, participants in the “intervention group” were oriented to the New Fathers Network, given a logon identification and password, and asked to practise using the website.
A brochure was given to fathers with written information explaining how to use the website.
Fathers were also instructed to use the New Fathers Network for at least 20 minutes per week for the next four weeks.
No interventions were delivered to fathers in the “comparison group”.
Intervention Has Impact on Parenting Self-Efficacy and Parenting Satisfaction
The study found that:
- Parenting self-efficacy and satisfaction scores for the “intervention group” significantly improved from the fourth week when the intervention began, to the eighth week, when it concluded.
- Parenting self-efficacy and satisfaction scores for the “comparison group” to which no intervention was given did not change significantly.
- Participants were primarily satisfied with the New Fathers Network. All participants perceived the intervention as helpful in providing information and support to new fathers. Fathers indicated that the website was easy to navigate, that the online library was organised, and that it was easy to find topics of interest to them. Fathers also valued their opportunity to participate in discussions with other fathers. These fathers further expressed the desire to participate in discussion groups with other fathers for a longer period.
While the results from this pilot study should be interpreted cautiously due to the small sample size, they corroborate with other findings related to the value of computer networks as a source of social support for new parents. The social support that fathers receive early on may also offer longer-term benefits in terms of making fathers more receptive to new parenting techniques later on. With a stronger evidence base, such interventions could be explored in other settings, including community health agencies, libraries, or schools, to support the clinical management and social support of new fathers.
Source: Hudson, D., Campbell-Grossman, C., Fleck, M., Elek, S., & Shipman, A. (2003). Effects of the new fathers network on first-time fathers’ parenting self-efficacy and parenting satisfaction during the transition to parenthood. Issues in Comprehensive Pediatric Nursing, 26.
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.
First published on 04-01-2012.