Towards better communication between health professionals and fathers
by Svend Aage Madsen, Ph.D. (Head of project)
January 17th 2007
last updated January 17th 2007
Communication Between Professionals and the Main Target Group: Fathers – How to Develop Good Practice
Professionals in many sectors connected to childbirth, family life and social services generally ignore fathers’ interest and engagement in the lives of their children. In future it will be necessary to change information-management, support and general conditions in areas involving fathers and fatherhood-issues. As things stand today, fathers do not have optimum conditions or support for participating in the lives of their children.
Gender stereotypes regarding parent/child-relations, differences in men’s and women’s nurturing abilities, and men’s (and their partners’) wishes for equality are central factors in the inequalities facing men in this area: interaction with labour-market obstacles, the ways health systems and -professionals serve men as fathers; the ways economic and structural conditions hinder men’s engagement in family life; and the ways cultural practices and traditions prevent men from changing.
Fatherhood and men’s child-related activities from before birth and onwards are in many ways a family matter and families in most countries in Europe, the USA, Australia and several other places seem to define anything related to childrearing as a family matter.
When serving families, professionals generally still lack the skills to include men in the family services they offer and for addressing men as fathers in various educational and interventional activities.
In the following, ideas are presented on how to develop services with a special focus on men as fathers. Many of these ideas will apply for women as mothers too.
1. Gender Differences in Communication
a. on health issues
Research on gender-specific communication and on male psychosocial needs shows that men communicating with health services:
• Seek information on treatment and how to act
• Want to think optimistically and look forward
• Want to go on living as before, especially as regards work and family
• Want to confront one problem at a time
• Men react to health problems using “Distancing”, “Isolation” or “Autonomy” both in the negative and positive sense.
Male-sensitive communication therefore should:
• Focus on information
• Respect the desire for privacy and autonomy
• Support his focus on hope and solutions rather than on problems and fear
• Provide opportunities for active participation
• Integrate his wishes for going to work with receiving outpatient treatment where possible
• Recognize his feelings of responsibility toward his family
• Provide men with the possibility of talking at their own pace
b. on parenthood
Basically, fathers’ interest and engagement in participating in prenatal courses and delivery must be welcomed. Particular ways to communicate with men as fathers might include:
• Focusing on parent/infant-relations and -interaction
• Providing the information they require about the child and anything else
• Showing consideration for their desire for privacy and autonomy
• Not requiring the expression of feelings – but allowing the fathers to do so if they wish to
• Supporting their focus on positive possibilities rather than on problems and fear
• Supporting fathers’ wishes for being active with their children, both at the ward and through programmes outside the hospital
• Accepting fathers’ and their families ways of combining hospital stays with activities outside the hospital
• Reformulating most actions as ways of showing responsibility towards mother and child
• Waiting and listening - Providing fathers with the possibility to talk at their own pace
2. Naming the Man a Father.
The definition by which men participate in any kind of service is significant. In many formulations the father appears as: partner, relative, supporter, healthy companion.
The new and necessary thing is to see and name the man as: Father. This has a great impact on him, his family, and the professionals in different times and places:
• At prenatal consultations
• In prenatal classes
• At the place of delivery
• During parental leave
This naming will influence the father’s experience of himself as a father – on being needed, on having a role and defining that role, on what he can do etc.
3. General Subjects for Educational Programmes for Health Professionals
All the general and specific themes included in this website constitute important content for the education of health professionals to provide better services building on gender-equality for fathers.
The themes in gendered communication and the overall principles for male-sensitive communication mentioned above should also be included. This is especially important when the professional in question is female.
The professional groups who would benefit from special training programmes with this content include:
i. General Practitioners
iii. Obstetric doctors
iv. Obstetric nurses
v. Home nurses
vi. Psychologists and psychotherapists
vii. Social counsellors
4. Summing UpTraining by professionals will hopefully lead to a deeper understanding of men’s needs as fathers, of the integration of men into childbirth and -rearing as a shared family matter, and of the profound changes undergone by men in their transition to fatherhood. It is hoped that this knowledge will be one of a number of important elements currently being promoted in many European countries and resulting in greater awareness of men, their needs and sometime difficulties during the transition to fatherhood.
Such developments will reduce the impact of current ruling gender-stereotypes regarding parent/child-relations and support many families’ wishes for equality in this area.