Parents can be vital to young fatherhood

1 April 2005

If you are going to work successfully with young fathers – the key could be to work with their parents, and their girlfriend’s parents. It has long been known that a young mum’s own mother can have profound influence on whether a relationship is allowed to develop between a young father and his baby. Now a Bristol University study, which followed 74 young men aged between 17 and 23 across the transition to parenthood, has found that the young man’s own parents can be vital, too.

Most were very much still part of their lives: 36% lived at home during their partner’s pregnancy and another 51% saw one or both parents weekly. However, relationships with parents were often poor and unsupportive. ‘There was a picture of persistently poor or cool relationships between the young men and women and a fifth to a sixth of their own mothers and nearly a third of their fathers’ say researchers Quinton, Pollock and Golding.

The negativity was often apparent from the moment the pregnancy was announced. Sometimes a woman may resist becoming an early grandmother by actively undermining her son’s confidence in his ability to live independently with his partner and function as a parent. Some refuse to acknowledge the pregnancy. The Bristol research quotes a 20 year old father: “My mum has really upset me. I told her about the pregnancy and she walked into the kitchen and didn’t say anything. She hasn’t mentioned it since or shown any interest. She just don’t care, she doesn’t want to listen or see a scan picture or anything, my dad and I don’t get on but at least he said congratulations!”

Some of the young men interviewed also complained of the negative impact of their own fathers. They said they would use what they learnt from their fathers about parenting – and do the total opposite.

Mark S Kiselika, who has written the key US text on engaging with young fathers, notes that although initial hostility can diminish and parents can become supportive, the anger of one or both sets of parents can take the form of outrage, with attempts to blame and punish the young father in particular. Dealing with these varying reactions represents a ‘significant concern of teenage fathers’. Many also need support coming to terms with distant, absent or abusive fathers – but their fathers are often not the only problem. These young men often experience deep anger at mothers they regard as having made very poor choices in their lives.

However, mothers often still have an influence, and one of the most fruitful routes for engaging with a young father is to convince his mother of the benefits of his engagement with his baby – and with services.

References:

Kiselica M S (1995) Multicultural Counseling with Teenage Fathers: a practical guide. Thousand Oaks C.A.: Sage

Read a PDF of a more detailed report of The Transition to Fatherhood in Young Men by David Quinton, Sue Pollock and Jean Golding

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