Father Involvement in Infant Development Term Paper

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The infant's body tenses and jerks up, her face turns bright, eyebrows rise, moth opens in a grin and her finger, toes, arms and legs move toward him to expect a playful interaction from him. The father plays more vigorously than does the mother and this is what the infant comes to expect. He plays through an interactive style, which can have an impact on the infant's cognitive development and contribute to its healthy development. Three approaches to explaining the differences in parenting behaviors were the biophysical explanation of parenting; the sociological interpretation of parent roles, based on the best family arrangement of raising children; and the child development framework. All these approaches recognize the importance of the father. But they also interpret his behavior differently in interacting with offspring and in what best steps to take in making those arrangements for childrearing (Fletcher) sensitive and responsive caregiver is one who understands the child's individual attributes and capable of facilitating harmonious interactions between himself and his infant (Fletcher 2005). But a father's ability to react sensitively is influenced by his own upbringing and own attachment history. If his attachment to the infant is separate from that of the mother, then his way of playing with the infant would be different too. The mother tends to moderate the infant's excitement, increase its tolerance and help it process cognitive and affective information. The father's interaction, in comparison, tended to be organized in several peaks of highly positive intensity, mostly sudden and would appear as their play progressed. This type of interactions from the father could influence emotional regulation and positive mental and social development. Alcoholic fathers, for example, often influenced their infants directly and mothers' sensitive response through maternal depression. But on a whole, the quality of interaction between the parents had greater impact on the development of the infant, who rapidly shifts its attention from one parent to another and draws social reference from their behavior towards each other. Theories have suggested that the infant perceives the father as psychically relevant because of the sexual desire existing between him and the infant's mother. This sexual desire or intimacy is transmitted by the mother to the infant in their own intimacy even with the absence of the father, who is most of the time working. The mother's maternal preoccupation over the infant is the means through which she communicates certain internal and mental images, possessing emotional tones, to the infant. These images enable the infant to form a mental representation of the father, despite the briefness of his contact with the infant. In summary, the formation of a father's secure attachment with the infant is different from that of the mother. The father's attachment is an adjunct to that of the mother and serves as a buffer when the mother's attachment becomes insecure or unstable. In turn, the father's emotional well-being and marital satisfaction were significantly affected by child care in early infancy. The amount of time he had to spend to care for the infant also affected his paternal function. The fathers surveyed expressed more anger at the infant's fourth month as their probable response to the difficulties involved in combining his functions as father and family provider. Almost all the subject fathers were employed full time and their wives worked at different schedules. The surveyed mothers also revealed higher depression an anxiety after the birth. There was a clear need for both parents for emotional, social and instrumental support during the care of the newborn (Fletcher).

Raising a child is the most demanding activity of a woman's life (Gould 2006). Pregnancy involves tremendous and basic physiological processes and ambivalent emotions. The woman's sense of self is also altered in that she must now incorporate the child into it but as a separate being. At this time, theorist Daniel Stern identifies the concerns of the expectant mother as her ability to maintain its life, to feel love for the baby and the need to form an adequate support network to address these concerns. When there are no such adequate societal structures, the pressures would fall on the father. If her support network is limited, the father may view her as inadequate or he may compete with the infant for her attention or as the better parent. Under these circumstances, the mother may also fear emotional or physical abandonment. Traditionally, she relies upon female figures and her experiences with her mother on child care to back her up and foster morale. Research showed that the demands of infants upon the mother arouse intense and raw emotions in her and reactions to unresolved conflicts between her and the father (Gould).

The coming of a baby makes the father experience a significant change in his role and identity too (Gould 2006). Today's society expects him to provide not only financial support but also emotional and physical care to the infant. There may also be changes in the wife. He may have his own fear of abandonment by the wife as he turns her attention to her pregnancy and then to the newborn. The mother may not find it easy to share care taking with him. A problem over power and control may arise. There have been studies showing the adverse effects of emotional stress on the developing fetus. These warrant the need for expectant parents to discuss their feelings openly about the pregnancy and the new role as parents. They need to discover how this new child will affect their relationship and to discuss the consequences. They also need to discuss individual values on discipline and religion and the reactions of older siblings (Gould).

Stern advises parents to know the stages of infant development so that they can anticipate the challenges and joys of its growth (Gould, 2006). When the mother requires more than a support network or when difficulties arise between parent and the infant on the latter's temperament, interventions from qualified infant mental health practitioners may be necessary. Both parents should be emotionally prepared during pregnancy so as to prevent emotional difficulties and problems from forming when the baby is born. The birth of a new baby should always be a happy event but this is not always the case. Some families face severe stressors like financial distress, young or unwanted pregnancies, traumatic abuse or some other conditions. Resorting to active intervention will not only provide the support and insight needed but also open up unseen possibilities in a new light (Gould).

Gallup poll showed that fathers were expected to be present during labor and delivery and that 80% of these fathers were actually present during the events (Pringpuangkaew 2006). Mothers believed that fathers' presence was extremely important and the fathers themselves expressed the desire to be present. Fathers were, therefore, available for early contact with the newborns. Donald Wood Winnicott theorized that paternal caretaking and affectionate interaction with the infant tended to increase in the first three months if the father had skin-to-skin contact with his new baby. This experience would include physical contact with his undressed infant, changing diapers and looking at the face within the first hours at birth. A sharing of this intimate experience with the baby at birth would also increase the father's closeness with the mother. Hence, adolescent fathers often felt unprepared to establish the appropriate parenting skills on account of their immaturity, inconsistent or inappropriate involvement with the mother and the infant and insufficient income. But if these adolescent and expectant fathers would attend prenatal visits and participate during labor and birth, they would be likely to make more frequent visits with the child in its first two years of life.(Pringpuangkaew).

The U.S. lacks sufficient societal or governmental public health service support for mothers and their babies during the postpartum period in comparison to 183 non-industrialized cultures (Pringpuangkaew 2006). These cultures sustain these mothers and their babies at home, protect, feed and guide them into at least the first seven weeks of the babies' life. Other cultures provide up to six weeks or even 6 months to one year of support. They can even avail of the care before the birth of the baby so as to expedite the bonding between the mother and her infant and to minimize postpartum irritability, fatigue and depression. Parents who give birth to a pre-term or sick infant generally cope and adapt to the stress by committing to the baby and maintaining an intense involvement with it. Some rely on the care available by experts and then express fear, anxiety or even denial before accepting the infant. Many of them need to reconcile an idealized mental image with this tiny and fragile infant and that this can grow into a normal, even strong and healthy individual later in life. The baby's body temperature is best maintained by the warmth of the mother's or the father's body when covered with a light blanket and a cap. The infant should…[continue]

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