Becoming a parent is a huge life changing experience which individuals can find just as overwhelming as they find fulfilling. It can be a time that parents can confront hopes, fears, and expectations, find their own parenting style, build bridges and form new relationships. It can have a profound effect on them psychologically due to the physical, social and emotional changes that take place and has a major impact on a baby’s health, wellbeing and personality too as emphasized in great detail by Sunderland (2007). Individuals will respond to these challenges depending on the support and ecological background they have which links in with such theories as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943) Appendix A) looking at what influences a person’s motivation and development and Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory (1979)Appendix B) who also argues that social and political factors influence an individual’s development and decision making. Therefore when considering the transition of men and women to parenthood, factors that may influence a person’s adaptability to parent would be the support networks available to them (whether this is from partner, family, friends or agencies), their own mind-set, resilience and vulnerability, financial, employment and geographical elements such as immediate environment and culture. These in turn can have a knock-on effect and impact on conflict resolution, relationships, bonding and attachment and mental health issues. Today fewer resources of support like extended family, neighbours and friends are available to new parents due to geographical distance, employment and inflexibility due to a change of ethics, politics and societal functioning. Chores, everyday living and childcare take over and as tensions increase communication often decreases leading to greater conflict. Lack of sleep and worry add to this equation and gradually parents feel unable to address this resulting in feeling diminished satisfaction from their relationship with each other, meeting each other’s needs and their own. INFLUENCING FACTORS
My most prevalent learning during my studies is how much fathers are affected and have to adapt to the number of physical, social and emotional changes that take place for his partner as well as those for him during the transition to parenthood. My studies and reading have shown just how significant a father’s role is and how as facilitators we need to identify and nurture this. As Burgess (2011) states, ‘The father’s functioning as a partner, a father and a support person is central to the lives of the mother and the baby. A father can contribute significantly to their well-being….and if his support is not forthcoming this represents a significant deficit for the family.’ The nature of fatherhood has changed considerably over the past few decades. A traditional value of the 1950’s with its gender defined roles has decidedly changed and the 21st century father has become more involved in day to day care of his children. There is a shift to a more shared responsibility but this can leave parents unsure of what to expect of one another. Antenatal care primarily focused on the women and babies health needs and not a great deal on the attention to the role, influence or experiences of fathers whose journey was rarely addressed and often felt excluded. However through NCT’s work and such articles in their Perspective journal as ‘Meeting men’s needs in antenatal courses’ (2013) and ‘Who’s supporting fathers?’ (2013), things are moving forward. Through the development of PBB courses and the knowledge I have absorbed my plans enable fathers to share their experiences with other fathers, by having a new family attend a session this allows parents to ask lots of questions and feel able to do so because the group has become established and comfortable with one another. Some activities developed are thought provoking and formed to encourage further discussion between parents privately later. By involving fathers more prior to the birth of their baby they can feel less a bystander and more involved, supportive and begin to form an attachment to their baby and partner. Women, on the other hand, embark on an emotional, physical and personal journey very early on in their pregnancy although it can still be difficult to comprehend exactly what being a mother is going to be like. There are a multitude of changes that can take place for most women as they go through the process of motherhood. The most common areas are the shift from daughter to mother role, seeking affirmation, finding a new role in society, friendships and family, seeing their partner differently and other women and mothers (Stern and Bruschweiler-Stern, 1998). New parents tend to have to readjust relationships with some people. This can be with parents, siblings, extended family, friends work colleagues. These changes can be positive yet some can be a challenge. It may be that becoming a parent brings up issues about their own upbringing, alter the way in which they socialise with friends or a partners family. The mother daughter relationship can be an intricate one. The new mother can feel closer to her own mother and want to learn from her. She may have a new found respect and appreciation of what her mother has done. For others it can bring about reconciliations or stir past emotions of neglect or the fact their parents may have passed away and will not see their grandchild. For most the birth of a baby brings a family closer together but if this does not happen there can be a greater sense of loss, anger and resentment. A womans body image, physical changes as well as the hormonal and emotional upheaval that comes after the birth of their baby plays a part in how she is motivated and approaches events. She could feel self-conscious about her changes both physically and in her role, she could feel isolated and find it hard to reconcile the image of a mother with that of her previous self. Mothers put huge pressures on themselves to be perfect and as a facilitator my aim is to open up discussion about this and prepare them for the emotions that take place. All too often parents are under the impression that they should be able to cope and if they aren’t then they are failures. I know from experience how I expected so much of myself, the guilt, the façade (Appendix C) and not being totally honest when completing the Edinburgh Postnatal Test (Appendix D). In my sessions I would address this stigma and have made use of such findings by Barclay et al who noted that becoming a mother took time and despite a general consensus of various losses initially after several months mothers ‘worked it out’ and felt the overall gains compensated for this (1997). A mother needs to know it normal to feel emotional and unsure as opposed to the rosy pictures depicted so often and attempt to breakdown the myths and sometimes unachievable expectations of motherhood. When there is so much change happening for new parents it emphasises how difficult it must be for couples to spot or differentiate between normal emotional behaviour after baby and when they may need to seek support regarding postnatal depression. How parents make decisions is primarily influenced by 3 factors; feelings, facts and folk which lent itself to deep discussion in our study group about how we made out parenting decisions. This again goes hand in hand with the Bronfenbrenner theory regards decision making and factors that influence this, as does Shumacher who identifies 6 conditions that influence transition; meanings, expectations, level of knowledge and skill, the environment, level of planning and emotional and physical wellbeing and therefore a parents experience of this change to parenthood can range from positive, negative or neutral. As Miller argues, ‘For example, our experiences can vary significantly from expectations that have been shaped by available cultural scripts and particular ways of knowing. In relation to mothering and motherhood our ideas will be culturally and socially shaped and, importantly, morally grounded’(2005: p.13). Depression in one parent correlates with depression in the other and the relationship between parents affects mental health in both. Evidence suggests that where fathers are given the space to personally develop their fathering role they are less prone to postnatal depression and more likely to form a strong attachment with their baby (Burgess 1997) Readjust relationships with some people. This can be with parents, siblings extended family, friends work colleagues. These changes can be positive.you may feel some are interfering or that they are not involved enough. It may be that becoming a parent brings up issues about their own upbringing and they may see things more from their parents perspective or not. The mother daughter relationship can be an intricate web/can shift quite drastically. The new mother can feel closer to her own mother and want to learn from her. She may have a new found respect/appreciation of what her mother has done. For others it can bring about reconciliations or stir past emotions of neglect or the fact their parents may have passed away and will not see their grandchild. For most the birth of a baby brings a family closer together but if this does not happen there can be a greater sense of loss, anger and resentment impacting on the parents. CONCLUSION
Despite being a parent myself, throughout the process of my studies my eyes have been opened to the vast array of challenges faced by parents emotionally, physically and socially. It is no wonder that so many feel stressed, over whelmed and unable to maintain an equilibrium yet I think if new parents are made more aware of the rollercoaster of parenting they would be far better equip to deal with it. As I have shared, parents can feel they should give off the perception of coping and have an idealised notion of parenting as is shared by Miller (2005). We have discussed lots of varied points. All are valid. Historically the focus was very much on mothers but research and changes in the general lifestyles and roles has changed dramatically over the years. We need to focus on the family as a whole and this includes ensuring partners receive support and families are not given a rosy picture of life after baby but a realistic one. Running a PBB course is about supporting parents in being aware of their emotional and physical wellbeing so by understanding the factors associated with the transition to parenthood as a facilitator I can be armed with information that can potentially help them prepare for and possibly counteract the ways becoming a parent could impact negatively on their relationship. By attending a PBB course in relation to an antenatal one it is apparent -justifiably so- that more time is given to the subject of the family as a whole and the relationships and changes that will happen postnatally. My course plans creates more opportunities for increased understanding of one another’s needs and enrichment of their relationship. Through split group discussions as partners, gender related or otherwise they may gain further insight into what the pregnancy means to each other and it also helps them to realize that others are sharing these experiences and challenges too. The course gives them an opportunity to discuss the type of parents they hope to be and open their minds to what is ahead. . If through my sessions I can establish good, effective communication during pregnancy then the woman and her birth partner are more likely to continue this and feel able to talk more openly during the transitions parenthood brings as evidenced by the University of Warwick found, ‘that focus on strengthening the couple relationship in preparation for parenting are associated with high levels of consumer satisfaction’ (McMillan et al 2009:6).
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