Learning to teach the transition to fatherhood
by Eberhard Schaefer, MA
January 17th 2007
last updated January 17th 2007
Learning to teach the transition to fatherhood - Future Prospects
Typically, participating fathers place a high value on the “men-only” mutual learning opportunity. They say it gives them new insights on what it is like to become and be a father. They state that “daddy talk” is quite uncommon, but appreciate being given the opportunity.
In feedback sessions, a common statement is “I thought I was the only man walking around pondering this question. It is such a relief to hear the same or similar questions from other men.”
Other statements value the men-only setting in different ways. Without their mates and female professionals around, men report feeling free to articulate their situations, including mixed feelings, without feeling controlled by females and having to live up to the expectations of (their) women. When it comes to the family-sphere, many men feel this to be defined by “female” standards and a number of them consistently feel unable to meet these standards. In other words, the family setting is seen as a women’s world where men can hardly ever fulfil their (female-) set obligations. The all-male setting provides an opportunity for men to consider and share their views on family issues and to begin contemplating male/fatherly standards, which is essential if the sphere of families and childrearing is supposed to be a gendered one. This perspective, far from being confrontational, is actually conducive to dialogue: From our point of view, this experience introduces new aspects to sharing views and perspectives between expectant fathers and ditto mothers.
Beyond sharing views and experiences, the men participating appreciate the information aimed at helping them cope as fathers-to-be and deal with the paternal tasks and challenges ahead.
As far as we know, there has been no evaluation of programmes like the one outlined here– neither in Germany nor elsewhere. Some research indicates that fathers who are well prepared for the birth of their child will go on to be better, i.e. more involved fathers (Nickel, Pätzold, etc.). A small study (Abou-Dakn/Schaefer/Woeckel 2006) suggests that men who are prepared for the delivery-room situation will be better “performers” there in terms of supporting their partners during labour and childbirth.
Paternal education-programmes were offered in Sweden during the 1990s. One outcome here was an increase in the amount of parental leave taken by participants (see: http://www.sweden.se/upload/Sweden_se/german/factsheets/SI/Die_Gleichstellung_von_Frauen_und_Mannern_TS82m.pdf)
A regional initiative, the so-called daddy-leaders project in Värmland (Karlstad) used a setting similar to the one outlined here, but on a much larger scale. 50 teams headed by peer-educators provided antenatal classes for expectant fathers. One summary states that for the men participating this “was the first time they talked to other men about their role during pregnancy and birth.” (Duivendak/Stavenuiter: Working Fathers, Caring Men. Reconciling Work and Family Life, 2004, p.113, http://www.verwey-jonker.nl/images/dynamisch/D9433292_def.pdf ). As a result of their participation in these men-only groups young men appear “much more aware of how to behave with their child”; furthermore it is reported that participants “display a much more active attitude towards their family” (ibid.)
In the UK (see quotes at the top of this section) antenatal classes for men have been conducted occasionally.
A Dramatic Shift is Necessary
As shown by many figures and findings (e.g. Fthenakis, 1999), men have never before been as interested in creating and maintaining close relationships to their children even before birth. Experiences from prenatal classes with fathers-to-be reveal that men seem to be waiting for opportunities to learn how to be good fathers and share experiences, views and feelings about becoming and being fathers. Research suggests that transitional phases, e.g. becoming a father, offer new learning-opportunities (Bundesministerium (ed.), 2006).
But the health-education system has yet to discover men’s child-caring potential. Generally, thinking and practices surrounding pregnancy, birth and new families is still restricted to the mother-child dyad. The father is still not considered an equally important part of this picture. Fathers who are well prepared for the birth of their children and for being good fathers contribute to the wellbeing of their children as well as to satisfying spousal relations and more stable families. This is why men deserve to be offered appropriate programmes to assist them in their transition to fatherhood. This will clearly involve “men-only” settings, but, as described above, these do not only benefit men.
Accompanying research should be designed to evaluate existing programmes and elaborate optimised settings and programmes.