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First Time Parents Experience

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“Being a parent is an almost overwhelming commitment” where a “child’s needs should take precedence over adults needs” (Dempsey and Lindsay, 2014). This transition to parenthood is stressful and hard for majority of parents due to this reason, along with parental expectations, ideologies and sacrifices of one’s own relationship. Being a parent has its own roles for both the mother and father, however with the constant changes in modern society (Dempsey and Lindsay, 2014), it can be hard to configure which parent plays what role and the overall expectation on how to be and how to become a ‘good mother’ or ‘good father’ (Riina, E. and Feinberg, M, 2012, Miller 2011, Sanchez and Thomson, 1997). With all these ideologies and expectations of parenthood, this is what can cause the transition to parenthood too stressful for many couples, especially first-time parents. Not only can this transition impact the individual roles on each parent, but as a combined couple too, which can also cause strain on their marital satisfaction.

For many years, research based on feminist knowledge has come to the attention of the unrealistic assumptions that are fixed in gendered discussion which has arranged women’s lives. There is nothing more obvious then this being in relation to mothering, reproduction and the experience of motherhood (Miller, 2007). It’s been discussed that such expectations have disregarded the “circumstances, power relations and interests that have made women primarily responsible for mothering” and that lead to beliefs “that women’s mothering abilities are somehow natural, essential or inevitable” (Hays 1996 as cited by Miller 2007). These expectations and theories may be hard for women that are becoming mothers, to resist. Another one of these ideologies according to Pocock is that ‘proper mothers’ are nevertheless still implied to be ‘perpetually available, good and even-tempered and the centre of loving family relations’ (Pocock 2005, p.126). This may be seemed old fashioned but it continues to resonate in Western societies (Miller 2011). Some findings have in fact found that mothering has become even more demanding and intense in recent decades. ‘Being there’ and caring for children is no longer seen as adequate and women are expected to ‘adopt the latest high standards of child-rearing and care backed by manuals, advice and instruction’ (Pocock 2005, p.127). Goodwin and Huppatz (2010) also believe that a good mother should always put her children’s needs first before her own ‘inform gendered ideologies of parenthood’. With all these expectations, after the birth of their first child, the women struggle to live up to their ideals and have discovered that caring for a new-born is an “all consuming and challenging task” and instead of coming naturally- as seen by Maternalist culture – motherhood involves learning difficult tasks which can include settling and feeding (Lupton 2010, as cited by Dempsey and Lindsay, 2014)

In contrast to the new mothers and fathers, women may place more meaning on their identity as a parent than do men, thus suggesting an increase in expectations for the mother to perform well as a parent (Leavitt et al., 2016). This may link women to be socialised to practice selfless parenting and dedicate large amounts of their time and resources to a child-centered lifestyle (Büskens 2001 as cited by Leavitt et al., 2016). This may involve primary responsibility for meeting their child’s needs and meeting unrealistic task requests and expectations, compared to men, which are often socialized to take a hands-on role in parenting (Leavitt et al., 2016). Women have often felt the impact of the stress from parenting and household labour tasks due to the acceptance of largest portion of responsibility (Dempsey 2002, as cited by Leavitt et al., 2016). Women may also feel expected to perform with immediate competence in this new parenting role –due to the Maternalist culture- compared to men that are less likely to feel this expectation (Leavitt et al., 2016). With this, it may seem as though there is little societal pressure on fathers to perform the early parenting duties with the same level of competence as women –due to the fathers’ parenting role being seen as often less demanding and sometimes elective (Leavitt et al., 2016). However, fathers, especially first time fathers, still find the transition to parenthood stressful also in their own way.

Even though fatherhood does not involve biological predisposition, they are however imbedded in powerful social, cultural and historical formations of “hegemonic masculinities (the breadwinner as economic provider and protector)”, as well as more recent establishment of ‘involved fatherhood’ and the ‘good father’ (Miller, 2011). The modern family formed after World War II, which was characterised by the ‘father as breadwinner’ ideal. The ideal father was expected to be ‘the breadwinner, adviser, protector and disciplinarian’ and participating in children or domestic labour was not expected at all (Singleton 2005 as cited by Dempsey and Lindsay, 2014). 1960-1970’s ‘New Father’ emerged, this being what is expected of a father to be “caring, approachable and emotionally available to his children, and ought to achieve an equitable balance between work and family life” (Singleton 2005, p.144 as cited by Dempsey and Lindsay, 2014). However, research over the years has found that ‘the importance of being a breadwinner to men’s identities remains strong’ (Miller, 2011). Henwood and Procter, (2003) question this view by asking “Does it matter that, for some men, their continuing profound obligation to breadwinning could not be integrated into their aspirations and desires to be a good father? Is it a threat to society’s capacity to care for its dependants if men with a commitment to involved fatherhood feel that, despite their best efforts, they are failing?”. With this idea that men are to be the breadwinners, for many fathers, financial dependency of the new family is based upon them working long hours or away from home, which has left them with a variety of social and emotional sources of dissatisfaction, especially among being around their new born child (Henwood and Procter, 2003).

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Many fathers feel the strain and stress of trying to juggle being a helping father to the mother but also being the finically dependant one. One of the interviewees from Henwood and Procters research said “Am I going to be this hated, resented father who keeps being the cause of all this torment when he goes away? Or, alternatively am I going to be this father who’s totally ignored because he’s never there, and is really just marginal to family life, kind of thing? You know, these are, they are my biggest fears” (Henwood and Procter, 2003). Furthermore, because of this, many fathers feel like ‘third wheels’ due to the less interactive involvement in their childs growth and upbringing (Dempsey and Hewitt, 2012). It has also found that fathers that are the breadwinners soon feel and may become out of touch with ‘all of the issues’ as ‘every time you think you’re in a rhythm, the baby then changes’ (Interviewee, Miller 2011). Furthermore, becoming capable at recognizing and meeting a new born baby’s needs is task that is continually changing and therefore men can feel they never (quite) become ‘expert’ and/or primary in this relationship due to not being home as much as the mother (Miller 2011). Due to this strain on fathers and trying to over-look societal ideals, some fathers have tried to go to a more ‘hands on’ approach to parenting instead of being the financial dependent. It has been found that men are performing more housework and family work jobs because of this heightened social and personal commitment to fathering, but more often these days, out of a prevalent cultural movement to “non-gender-specific parenting and intimate fathering” (Dempsey and Hewitt, 2012).

Not only is the transition to parenthood so stressful due to social norms and expectations on each the mother and father, it is also stressful as a combined couple. The increased stressors most often begin around the transition to parenthood, as couples try to balance numerous new tasks and learn how to co-parent together (Leavitt et al., 2016). As couples move from being a couple, to parents of an infant, the difficulties of the co-parenting relationship are introduced as the couple learn to work together in raising their child (Feinberg 2003; McHale et al. 2000, as cited by Leavitt et al., 2016). LeMasters (1957) speculated that the occurrence of the increased stress during this new transition to parenthood, originates from the interference in the couple’s interaction as they move from a two- to three-member family (LeMasters 1957, cited by Leavitt et al., 2016) . Both the mother and father may feel a bit displaced from enjoying the focused attention of the other as they take on the additional responsibilities and attention of their new addition to their world (Sanchez and Thomson, 1997). Furthermore, it is possible that factors that are noticeable to parent strain may vary across family arrangement, family nature, and residential status (Deater-Deckard and Panneton, p.59). For partnered parents, fairness in the division of labour and the quality of partnership may be a significant sources of parental strain on both the mother and father with both trying to work just as hard as the other to do their best job as a parent (Deater-Deckard and Panneton, p.60)

Aside from the expectation of roles for both parents and their new-born, another reason as to why the transition to parenthood is so stressful for many parents, especially first time parents, is the change in the couple’s relationship. Some research has found that many couple experience a deterioration in marital satisfaction after the birth of their first child (Delmore-Ko et al., 2000). Research has implied that there is an association between the individuals (mother or father) expectations regarding parenthood and how well they negotiate this transition. Desecrated areas such as sharing chores and child care has caused decline in the quality of the postnatal marital relationship (Delmore-Ko et al., 2000). Couples who were said to be more satisfied at the beginning of marriage reported higher expectations. However, there has been an inconsistency in the extent to which prenatal expectations were established; some expectations were unfulfilled, others were met, and others exceeded (Lawrence, Nylen and Cobb, 2007). The associations between the extent to which expectations were confirmed and rates of change in marital decline differed depending on the type of expectation. However, vulnerability and resiliency in couples negotiating the transition to parenthood are an important factor in keeping marital satisfaction high (Lawrence, Nylen and Cobb, 2007).

From feminist knowledge (Miller 2007) and Maternalist culture (Lupton 2010) that set expectations of being a ‘good mother’, to masculinities and expectation on being the ‘breadwinner’ (Miller, 2011, Singleton 2005 cited by Dempsey and Lindsay, 2014 and Henwood and Procter, 2003) to being a ‘good father’ has been seen to what causes the transition to parenthood so stressful, especially for first time parents. Not only does individual roles of each parent have expectations, but also the role of parents combined (Leavitt et al., 2016 and Deater-Deckard & Panneton, 2017). Furthermore, the stressful transition to parenthood doesn’t just involve the stress of the growth of a child, but it can also be a difficult time for the parents’ relationship and marital satisfaction with the transition of a third member of the family (Lawrence, Nylen and Cobb, 2007 and Delmore-Ko, P., Pancer, M., Hunsberger, B. and Pratt, M. 2000). All of these factors is what causes the transition to parenthood so stressful for majority of parents, especially first-time parents.

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First Time Parents Experience. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from
“First Time Parents Experience.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022,
First Time Parents Experience. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Nov. 2022].
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