Young dads and their partners

1 April 2005

The key to young men making a successful transition to fatherhood is the health of their relationship with their partner, finds a Bristol University study.

The research team, which interviewed 92 women and 74 men in depth, found that it was the men’s commitment to the women that sustained them through the difficult time as they became fathers. If that relationship had already broken down early in pregnancy, the man was likely to have minimal or no contact with the child.

The study quotes Mike’s attitude as typical: “Becoming a dad hasn’t changed me much. That happened when I met Tracey. I would have become anything she wanted me to.”

The findings suggest that relationship support and tackling the issues that undermine young couples – lack of independent housing, low incomes, over-bearing grandparents and unemployment– could make a big difference to the long-term involvement of young fathers with their child.

Keeping the couple under the same roof, thereby maintaining their relationship, usually bolsters father involvement, with men in this situation spending more time with their babies. However, living under the roof as grandparents sometimes undermined men’s involvement with their children, possibly because the father became marginalized by the mother and grandmother in caring for the baby.

The study highlights the case of a 17-year old couple, living next door to each other, who had been together for four years. The girl’s mother wanted to look after the baby, while the girl went to college. But the young unemployed father protested that he wanted to look after the child. Meanwhile, his own mother attempted to undermine his good intentions by “banning” him from moving out of their home.

Pat Anderson, one of the research team explained: “Eventually, the young father left home having managed to get a council house for them. He knew that if the relationship was going to have a chance, they had to be together under their own roof. He told me “I don’t feel ready to leave home and set up together yet but I know I have to or her mum will just take over the baby”. The case highlighted a problem – that grandparents often focus on making sure that the baby is being cared for but do not give enough recognition to the importance of the couple relationship and fail to see them as a new family. Perhaps, because the couple are young, they conclude that supporting their relationship is not that important. In fact we believe that it is vital”

Last year’s Prince’s Trust study likewise reported both young mothers and fathers reporting tensions and conflicts in their relationships with each other and their families. Becoming parents had presented them with difficult issues at an age when relationships are normally seen as fleeting and temporary. It called for more couple support.

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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