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Parenting and Relational Well-being During the Transition to Parenthood: Challenges for First-time Parents

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Abstract

The transition to parenthood is a momentous time that has numerous repercussions for new parents, as a couple and as individuals. This qualitative exploratory study examines new parents’ experiences and perceptions of the challenges in assuming the parenting role and maintaining relational well-being. Twenty-three new parent heterosexual or same-sex couples, belonging to various ethnocultural groups, with a child aged from 6 to 18 months, and residing in the Greater Montreal Area (Québec, Canada) underwent semi-directed dyadic interviews followed by individual interviews. Topics addressed concerned their trajectories before, during, and after the child’s birth. Thematic analysis revealed three central challenges during the transition to parenthood: (1) loss of individuality and couplehood, given the primary identity as parent; (2) parental equality in terms of childcare and the associated tasks: a significant source of irritation; and (3) managing expectations: the influence of social norms and judgments on parental self-development. Gender, the fact of having borne the child or not, and identification as a homoparental family influenced the experience of the transition to parenthood. These challenges were amplified by factors that impeded their adjustment to the new parenting role: fatigue and lack of sleep; social isolation and feelings of solitude; and the work–school–family balancing act. Recommendations aimed at the sharing of tasks, the distribution of parental leave and the gendered nature of maternity are proposed to make new and future parents aware of these game-changing transformations during the transition to parenthood.
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Journal of Child and Family Studies
ISSN 1062-1024
J Child Fam Stud
DOI 10.1007/s10826-020-01727-z
Parenting and Relational Well-being
During the Transition to Parenthood:
Challenges for First-time Parents
Sylvie Lévesque, Véronique Bisson,
Laurence Charton & Mylène Fernet
1 23
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Journal of Child and Family Studies
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-020-01727-z
ORIGINAL PAPER
Parenting and Relational Well-being During the Transition
to Parenthood: Challenges for First-time Parents
Sylvie Lévesque 1Véronique Bisson1Laurence Charton2Mylène Fernet1
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2020
Abstract
The transition to parenthood is a momentous time that has numerous repercussions for new parents, as a couple and as
individuals. This qualitative exploratory study examines new parentsexperiences and perceptions of the challenges in
assuming the parenting role and maintaining relational well-being. Twenty-three new parent heterosexual or same-sex
couples, belonging to various ethnocultural groups, with a child aged from 6 to 18 months, and residing in the Greater
Montreal Area (Québec, Canada) underwent semi-directed dyadic interviews followed by individual interviews. Topics
addressed concerned their trajectories before, during, and after the childs birth. Thematic analysis revealed three central
challenges during the transition to parenthood: (1) loss of individuality and couplehood, given the primary identity as parent;
(2) parental equality in terms of childcare and the associated tasks: a signicant source of irritation; and (3) managing
expectations: the inuence of social norms and judgments on parental self-development. Gender, the fact of having borne the
child or not, and identication as a homoparental family inuenced the experience of the transition to parenthood. These
challenges were amplied by factors that impeded their adjustment to the new parenting role: fatigue and lack of sleep; social
isolation and feelings of solitude; and the workschoolfamily balancing act. Recommendations aimed at the sharing of
tasks, the distribution of parental leave and the gendered nature of maternity are proposed to make new and future parents
aware of these game-changing transformations during the transition to parenthood.
Keywords Parenthood Challenge Couplehood Transition Qualitative research
Highlights
Both parents found it rather challenging to combine and balance their different roles and identities (parent, self, partner).
Striking a fair balance in terms of childcare is a challenge: (1) its burden seemed to depend on gender, and (2) parents
tended to fall into stereotyped parenting roles.
Gender is not the only angle to explore the sharing childcare tasks and responsibilities, as the mental burden was heavier
for the mothers who had borne the child in same-sex couples.
There is notable paradox in the social norms for parenting. On the one hand, there is a strong social pressure to fully
invest in this new role and to devote themselves to their baby. On the other hand, they face strong social pressure to be
more than just a parent and continue to accomplish things in other life spheres.
Albeit a common experience, the transition to parenthood
(TtoP) is a far from insignicant rite of passage. It con-
stitutes a major developmental stage and a life event that
inuences aspects of psychological functioning and well-
being across individuals, couples, and families (Meleis
2010; Mercer 2004). Bringing new tasks and greater
responsibilities in its wake, it wreaks havoc on the daily
routine (Gameiro et al. 2011). Most rst-time parents sur-
vive the transition well enough and adapt adequately to their
new parenting role (Petch and Halford 2008; Shorey et al.
*Sylvie Lévesque
levesque.sylvie@uqam.ca
1Department of Sexology, University of Quebec at Montreal,
Montreal, QC, Canada
2INRSUrbanization, Culture, and Society Center, Montreal, QC,
Canada
1234567890();,:
1234567890();,:
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2017). However, others nd it harder to manage (Cowan
and Cowan 1995; Petch and Halford 2008). A review of the
literature on the main perinatal vulnerabilities shows that
the chief complaintsmostly by womenare fatigue and
exhaustion, psychological distress and high stress, and
being saddled with too many new tasks and responsibilities,
particularly when social support is lacking (Hamelin-Bra-
bant et al. 2015). For some, the heavy pressures of social
judgments only exacerbate these problems (Hays 1996;
Wall 2010).
Some changes are more likely to contribute to lower
relationship satisfaction: changing roles within the couple
(trending to gender-specic and traditional), less time for
couple communication combined with more negative and
conictual communication, reduced household income,
painful or uncomfortable sexual relations after the birth, and
lower quality and frequency of couple time (Petch and
Halford 2008). Marital satisfaction is an important factor for
couple maintenance as well as investment in the parental
role (Gameiro et al. 2011). In this sense, the TtoP is a tricky
time for couples: rst-time parenthood erodes marital
satisfaction (Doss and Rhoades 2017; Lawrence et al. 2008;
Nonterah et al. 2016; Twenge et al. 2003), which can be a
source of tension between couples (Nelson et al. 2014). It
can also amplify existing problems in the relationship
(Bronte-Tinkew et al. 2009; Doss and Rhoades 2017) and
engender an unsatisfactory coparenting relationship (e.g.,
arguments about child rearing) (Atkinson et al. 2000).
In addition, the accumulation of different identities (self,
parent, partner) can be hard to handle, and it can take time
to feel comfortable and competent as a parent (Doss and
Rhoades 2017). The birth of a rst child obliges both
partners to redene their roles, expectations, and interac-
tions (Doss and Rhoades 2017). The more pliant routine
before the babys arrival now demands a more prescriptive
style (de Goede and Greeff 2016). As the parenting role
becomes the priority, parents often neglect their own needs
in favor of the childs needs, which can have repercussions
for the well-being of the partners (de Goede and Greeff
2016; Delicate et al. 2018). New parents often complain that
they no longer have the freedom nor the exibility to
schedule their lives as they would like, enjoy free time, or
do activities outside the family sphere (i.e., me time) (de
Goede and Greeff 2016). Parents often feel overburdened
with tasks: there is not enough time to do everything they
would like to do, or to take care of themselves and the
couple relationship (de Goede and Greeff 2016; Delicate
et al. 2018; Neves Carvalho et al. 2017). Consequently, they
may feel like they have lost control over their own life
(Darvill et al. 2010).
Studies have addressed new parentsperceptions of
social pressures and judgments and the inuence of these on
parenthood and marriage (Brown 2010; Damant et al. 2012;
Garcia 2011; Trice-Black 2010). The research shows that
women in particular are subjected to heavy pressures to
conform with, measure up to, and comply with social
denitions of the ideal mother who perfectly meets her
childs needs. However, this exacting representation of
motherhood fails to account for a wide range of social
contexts and a diversity of life experiences (Lapierre and
Damant 2012; Romagnoli and Wall 2012). Women must
also cope with social norms and judgments concerning their
ability to balance their roles as mother, partner, and pro-
fessional (Trice-Black 2010). Mothers are expected to
devote all their time and energy to their child, but still be
independent women with their own career and interests
(Brown 2010). Hence, they are not free to choose the
maternal role that suits them best. Instead, they attempt to
conform to the new momism,dened as a set of ideals,
norms, and practices, most frequently and powerfully pre-
sented in the media that seem on the surface to celebrate
motherhood but which in reality promulgates standards of
perfection that are beyond your reach(Douglas and
Michaels 2004). Fathers, for their part, are under heavy
social pressure to provide an adequate family income and be
the main economic support for the family (Kushner et al.
2017). This ideal masculine identity as the breadwinner
limits the possibilities of enacting other parenting roles
(Kushner et al. 2017), such as stay-at-home dad.
The majority of studies on the TtoP have focused on
repercussions for the psychological and physical health of
new parents and relational satisfaction, mainly using sur-
veys of mothers, and often in the context of stable hetero-
sexual relationships (Doss and Rhoades 2017; Doss et al.
2009; Lawrence et al. 2008; Mitnick et al. 2009; Twenge
et al. 2003). However, contemporary parenthood has
departed from traditional models, introducing new family
congurations and diversied trajectories (Bastard 2006;
Charton 2006). Studies have also demonstrated the impor-
tance of considering the fathers experience (Brady et al.
2017; Entsieh and Hallström 2016; Ledenfors and Berterö
2016), and in the case of lesbian couples, of the other
mother (Baiocco et al. 2015). Furthermore, only a few
studies have taken the couple as the unit of analysis, which
limits the understanding of the potential repercussions for
couples. In addition, studies have demonstrated that the
context in which the TtoP takes place exerts considerable
inuence on the adjustment to parenthood. For example,
being an immigrant (Glick 2010), a member of a sexual
minority (Goldberg and Smith 2011; Greenbaum 2015), or
in a precarious socioeconomic situation (Oxford et al. 2005)
modulates the TtoP pathway.
To better document the perspectives of rst-time con-
temporary parents from a dyadic perspective, we conducted
a qualitative exploratory study. Couples who had become
rst-time parents within 18 months prior to the study were
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asked to share their perceptions about the main challenges
they encountered in assuming their parenting role and
maintaining relational well-being. We adopted the life
course approach (Elder et al. 2003; Heinz and Marshall
2003), a theoretical perspective that considers various tra-
jectories (e.g., family, professional), transitions (between
social status and roles), key events and turning points
(forks in the road), reversals, and the social inuences and
constraints that bend these trajectories. This approach
allows capturing the complexity of a trajectory or process
via four basic principles: (1) time and place; (2) linked lives;
(3) human agency (i.e., the ability to construct ones life
through choice and action), and (4) structural constraints
(e.g., public policies, institutions) that shape individual lives
(Elder et al. 2003; Gaudet et al. 2013). We chose this
conceptual framework as an effective method to shed light
on the individual and couple trajectories and the experiences
of new parents across a variety of social contexts, and to
grasp the complexity of their journey toward parenthood
(Carpentier and White 2013).
Methods
Participants
The participants comprised 23 couples who were inter-
viewed about the contemporary transition to parenthood
(TtoP) in Montreal (Canada). Participants were recruited
from February 2017 to March 2018 by staff at community
centers providing perinatal services, perinatal resource
centers, daycare centers, and family community groups.
Notices were also posted at these facilities and on social
networking sites. The parents who were interviewed were
also invited to contact other new parents among their
acquaintances, according to the principle of network sam-
pling, or snowball sampling(Miles et al. 2019). In
addition, organizations with more specic mandates helped
recruit participants to provide more diversity within the
sample (e.g., LGBTQ+and immigrant families). While
intended to represent a diversity of cases and to illustrate a
mix of social standings, the sample comprised couples who
were still together at the time of the interview and who met
the following inclusion criteria: (1) parents of a rst child
aged from 6 to 18 months; (2) able to express themselves in
French; and (3) living in the Greater Montreal Area (Pro-
vince of Québec, Canada). Some couples were married and
others were in a common-law partnership (de facto union)
or else a cohabitation arrangement.
Of the 23 interviewed couples, 19 identied as hetero-
sexual and 4 as same-sex couples, either lesbian or queer.
Of the 46 new parents, 23 mothers had borne the child and 4
mothers and 19 fathers had not. The participants are
representative of Montreals diverse cultural population: 31
were French Canadian (majority Caucasian), 4 were French
Canadian but of a visible minority (First Nations, Black,
and Latino), 5 were French (European, majority Causca-
sian), 1 was African, and 2 were Latin American. Average
duration of the couple relationship was 6.5 years, ranging
from 2 to 14 years. Participantsage varied from 27 to 49
years, for an average of 31.9 years. Of the 46 parents, 34
had completed a university degree, indicating a high edu-
cation level for the sample. The main occupation at the time
of the couple interviews presents several congurations. Of
the heterosexual couples, both partners worked full-time in
7, the father worked full-time and the mother was on par-
ental leave in 7, both parents were students in 2, both
partners were looking for work in 1, the mother worked full-
time and the father was a student in 1, and the mother was a
student and the father worked full-time in 1. There were no
couples in which the mother worked and the father was on
parental leave. Of the same-sex couples, both mothers
worked full-time in 2, the mother who bore the child was a
student and the other mother worked in 1, and the mother
who bore the child was looking for work while the other
mother was a student in 1.
The vast majority of participants deemed their nancial
situation satisfactory. Data are presented in Table 1.
Procedures
Two interviewers met with the participants for about 3 h
total, following a four-step process. First, the parents par-
ticipated in a dyadic interview lasting one hour on average.
One interviewer led the interview while the other inter-
viewer observed. The two partners then underwent indivi-
dual simultaneous interviews lasting 90 min on average.
Interviews were held either at the participantshome or in a
dedicated room at the principal researchers university. The
main themes addressed in the dyadic interviews were
marriage, sex life, challenges encountered during the TtoP,
and the couples coping strategies. The individual inter-
views focused on the development of the parental identity,
perceived impacts of the babys arrival, main individual
challenges encountered, and individual coping strategies. At
the end of the interviews, participants responded to a brief
sociodemographic questionnaire. They were also ques-
tioned about the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy
and whether or not they wanted to have more children; the
couple relationship; and the presence of violent behavior
between the partners. One question asked which topics the
participants had discussed with health professionals at
prenatal consultations. Participants received CAD 40$ in
compensation at the end of the interviews. Certain details in
the interview transcriptions were changed to protect parti-
cipant anonymity. Any information that could identify the
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participants has been removed (e.g., name, date of birth,
address), and all participants have been assigned pseudo-
nyms. No participant withdrew from the study.
Data Analysis
Inspired by thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke 2012), we
used an iterative process with alternating data collection and
analysis. This allows detecting missing data in time,
adjusting the subsequent data collection in consequence,
and verifying initial data conclusions to ensure plausibility
(Mukamurera 2006). A mixed coding grid was developed in
Nvivo 11. The rst three interviews were coded by two
members of the research team and then submitted for dis-
cussion to obtain satisfactory interjudge agreement within
the team. All interviews were coded by two members of the
team. Matrices and visual representations were created to
better understand the phenomena that emerged from the
data, extract signicant categories, and revisit the more
salient aspects of the considered phenomena. This analysis
Table 1 Participant
sociodemographic
characteristics by gender
(n=46)
Characteristics %
(Total sample;
n=43)
Number of men
(n=19)
Number of women
MWBC
(n=23)
MdnBC
(n=4)
Age (years)
2529 30.4% 5 7 1
3034 47.8% 9 12 1
3539 13.0% 3 4 0
4044 6.5% 1 0 2
4549 2.2% 1 0 0
Education level
Universitygraduate degree 26.0% 4 7 1
Universitybachelors degree 47.8% 9 11 2
College 19.6% 4 4 1
High school 6.5% 2 1 0
Sexual orientation
Heterosexual 73.9% 19 15 0
Lesbian 13.0% 0 3 3
Bi-curious/bisexual 8.7% 0 4 0
Queer 4.3% 0 1 1
Self-reported ethnocultural groupa
French Canadian (majority Caucasian) 70% 10 17 3
French Canadian of a visible minority 9% 3 1 0
French (European, majority Caucasian) 11.6% 2 3 0
African 2.3% 1 0
Latin American 7% 2 1 0
Main (actual) occupationb
Full-time job 62.2% 15 10 3
Parental leave 15.6% 0 7 1
Full-time school 13.3% 2 3 0
Seeking employment 6.7% 1 2 0
Part-time job 2.2% 0 1 0
Degree of nancial satisfactionb
Very satised 15.6% 4 2 1
Somewhat satised 68.9% 12 19 0
Somewhat dissatised 13.3% 2 2 2
Very dissatised 2.2% 0 0 1
MWBC mother who bore the child, MdnBC mother who did not bear the child
an=43
bn=45
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procedure also allowed identifying repeated relationships
between the dimensions of the conceptual categories.
Consistent with the guiding theoretical framework, special
attention was paid to gender, sexual orientation, and age to
better discern how they differentiated the trajectories,
notably by contrasting participantsstatements about these
social markers.
Results
The analysis of the dyadic and individual interviews
revealed three major challenges during the TtoP and high-
lighted the contexts that weaken this transition. Formulated
as conceptual categories, they are: (1) loss of individuality
and couplehood due to the primary identity as a parent
during the TtoP; (2) parental equality in terms of childcare
and related tasks: a signicant source of irritation; (3)
managing expectations: the inuence of social norms and
judgments on parental self-development; and (4) various
contexts that impeded the adjustment to parenthood (see
Table 2for a summary of the conceptual categories).
In the extracts, the respondents are identied as follows:
F=father, M =mother who bore the child in a heterosexual
couple, M1 =mother who bore the child in a same-sex
couple, and M2 =mother who did not bear the child in a
same-sex couple. These designations were combined with a
corresponding interview number. Due to space constraints,
the adaptation strategies that the parents used to cope with
the new challenges are not presented here. Nevertheless, it
is worth mentioning that they tried many different approa-
ches, individually and as a couple, to mitigate the negative
impacts.
Loss of Individuality and Couplehood: The Primary
Identity as a Parent During the Transition to
Parenthood
From the participantsstatements, the majority felt that
becoming a rst-time parent resulted in feelings of loss:
they lost themselves as both individuals and as a couple.
Generally, they blamed the priority they gave to the par-
enting role over their other identities. In their depictions of
how they organized and managed the realities of day-to-day
family life, the baby reigned supreme. The challenges in
juggling their identities (selfparentpartner) were numer-
ous and major. In this section, we illustrate how the TtoP
generated feelings of loss of individuality and weakened the
couple relationship. The themes fall into two subcategories:
(1) raising a child requires considerable selessness; and
(2) balancing the roles: no easy task.
Raising a child requires considerable selessness
The majority of the parents said that the baby was a major
interruption in their life as it was before the pregnancy: they
had to shift the focus of their activities and priorities from
themselves to the new arrival, as reported by 12 couples. As
parents, they felt they had to forget about themselves, or put
themselves aside. Many explained that the most difcult
role-balancing act was to nd some alone timeor me
time.The daily agenda centered around providing the baby
with plenty of attention and care, leaving the parents little
respite. This could make them feel that they were at the
beck and call of the babys needs. The lack of time and
respite also meant that less time was available for social life
and exercise. It became hard to nd time for themselves or
to do things they enjoyed without the baby. Even though
this change was not a surpriseit was expected, it was
more signicant than they had anticipated.
Its the personal life that gets tossed out, my personal
life. [] I dont really have any time for myself. For
me, as a person, its kind of hard. Its really my role as
a father: to help out, to try and help out. To ght
tiredness, to, [] go make supper even if you dont
feel like it. Then give him his bath, even if you feel
like having a nice relaxing shower instead. (F,
Couple 4)
Table 2 Summary of conceptual categories
Themes and subthemes
Loss of individuality and couplehood due to the primary identity as a
parent during the TtoP
Raising a child requires considerable selessness
Balancing the roles: no easy task
Parental equality in terms of childcare and the associated tasks: a
signicant source of irritation
Responsibility for childcare according to gender
Stereotyped mothering and fathering roles
Managing expectations: The inuence of social norms, judgments,
and pressures on parental self-development
The parenting role and properchild development are shaped by
numerous norms
Social norms, judgments, and pressures have multiple negative
repercussions for new parents
Various contexts that impede the adjustment to parenthood
Fatigue and lack of sleep as a continuous state of body and mind
Social isolation and feelings of solitude: a threat to well-being
Financial precariousness and discrimination at work: stresses that
render the partners vulnerable
Balancing work, school, and family life: an additional task in an
already lled life
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Its true, its a big challenge to, [] feel kind of, a
little negative, almost, about it, because youve got a
child. You feel like you only exist through him, but
youd still like to be a person in your own right. So
its really quite hard for the rst few years, I nd, to
get that validation somewhere else, [] To, you
know, []Its fun to be a parent, but, [] Lets say
that youd also like to be living another life. (M,
Couple 8)
Balancing the roles: no easy task
The parents were unanimous on one point: it was difcult to
balance the partner and parenting roles. The parenting role
took up all the space, to the detriment of the partner role. As
the parenting role took precedence, the babys routine and
fullling the babys needs became the top priority. This left
considerably less place for the needs of the partner and the
relationship, or for couple time. This dynamic transformed
the relationship: We have [the baby] with us now, and we
dont get much couple time, because I feel like the couple
has turned into a family(M, Couple 22). As reported by
14 (of 23) couples in the dyadic interviews, the babys
routine and needs came rst, which meant less and less time
left over for couple life: The couple is no longer the
priority. Its more the baby or the family, the unit. [] The
baby [rst], then after, the girlfriend stuff. Thats all over
(M1, Couple 18). Moreover, they reported that even when
they managed to nd some time to be alone together,
mainly at night when the baby was asleep, the parenting
role continued, because they had to respond to the babys
needs if necessary.
Yeah. Yeah, because even at night, even when its just
the two of us, we cant say, OK, lets eat out,
because the babys there asleep. Its like were alone
with each other, but the parenting role still kind of
hangs over us, because if [the baby] decides to start
crying at 8:30, shes gonna cry. Its like the sword of
Damocles over your head, because she could start
crying at any second. So anyway, shes at home, so
we cant go out. And that sort of limits us. (M,
Couple 14)
It took sizeable effort to play the partner role, to spend
time with the partner and nurture the relationship. This
mother described how she planned her day to include some
time with her partner:
I follow an agenda. I have my priorities. The rst
priority is my baby. Once Ive nished all the baby
chores, I can start doing things around the house, like
planning meals or nishing the cooking. Sometimes, I
try doing two things at once, like cooking and being
with my baby. So the last thing on my list is my
partner. At the end of the day. Then I can give him a
little more, [] a little more time. Its like a schedule.
Like a calendar of activities. (M, Couple 23)
These illustrations demonstrate how the many new
responsibilities of parenthood forced the partners to plan
and organize their family life, schedules, and routines in a
more structured manner. This greatly diminished their
spontaneity and freedom, which many of them missed, as
well as the frequency of their activities and outings as a
couple. In addition, many couples reported that in order to
avoid using a babysitter, they had to go out individually
while the partner stayed home (reported by couples 5, 8, 12,
and 17), as this extract illustrates:
Yeah, theres less time to do other things, too. We go
out less. [] We see our friends separately, Id say,
and thats a big difference. Before, we were like
everybody else, but now we do more things alone. We
do them together too, but actually a lot of things
individually. She sees her friends, I see my friends
when I can, and the other one minds the baby. (M1,
Couple 12)
It is important to mention that the mothers who bore their
child were less inclined than their partners to use a baby-
sitter or to do activities without the baby. Some partners
recounted how they had to persuade their partner of the
importance of putting aside the mothering role from time to
time so they could enjoy some couple time:
But at the same time, I have to try to make it happen,
like, its because youre not just a mother. There are
other things in life. [] She says, Yeah, its true that
its been a long time since we went out, youre right!
How long has it been? Its been two months since we
went out alone, or together. I told her, Id like it if we
could get your family to babysit.[] I think we
deserve a break. OK, sure, when our babys asleep,
well go see a lm, cozy and cuddly, but itsnot,[]
The problem is, its routine. Its fun to change things
up, to just get up and go. Yes, its couple time, but we
could do more than that. (M2, Couple 19)
The rst time that I talked to her about it, she took it
badly. Because sometimes when you say something,
sometimes it comes out all wrong. So anyway, it was
taken the wrong way. So then after, I explained to her,
Id like to spend some time together. Idlikeustogo
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to a restaurant. Id like us to spend at least a day doing
something.So then, she agreed. It just took some
discussing, [] some communication, but its hard to
tell your partner, Hey, you take your role as a mother
too seriously.That sounds harsh, I think. Because
youre a parent, but at the same time we have to nd
some time for ourselves, too. And in the end, we did it
one time and we were super happy. I found that things
went better for us as a couple. We found some breathing
space for ourselves too. (F, Couple 10)
The new planning and organizational constraints that
parenthood imposes, the lack of couple time, and the
demotion to second place (after the baby) can create tension
and conict between the partners and erode their relational
satisfaction.
M2: I just get the impression that parenthood has
accentuated our differences.
M1: Yeah, maybe. Me being more structured,
controlling also, I think that this comes out. And
you being more disorganized. [] I gave everything I
had to [sons name]. I forgot about myself, and then
she criticized me for not being there enough for her.
[] Sometimes she came home from work and said,
Im going out for a beer with a colleague. I need a
break,while me, Id just spent all day and night [].
We were, like, living on two different planets, and that
made me detach [from her]. (M1 and M2, Couple 12)
Parental Equality in Terms of Childcare and Related
Tasks: A Signicant Source of Irritation
As the new family structure emerged, the partners found it
considerably challenging to strike a fair balance in terms of
childcare and the related tasks. They tended to report that
they were dissatised on two main counts: (1) the burden of
childcare seemed to depend on gender, and (2) they tended
to fall into stereotyped parenting roles.
Responsibility for childcare according to gender
Among other challenges, several mothers said that they had
to assume the majority of the mental burden of childcare.
They were in charge of organizing and managing the day-
to-day family and domestic life. This meant taking care of
the housework, scheduling (e.g., medical appointments),
shopping, meals, and the bulk of the childcare. In addition,
this burden was associated with the childs development, as
illustrated by this extract:
For everyday challenges, certainly, Im the one who
deals with them, because my boyfriend, hes not really
[]hes not really the type to get involved and say,
Hmmm, what should her rst solid food be?or
What should she be doing now?or How come
shes not sitting up yet?He doesnt really do that
kind of thing. Its more me. Thats how it is. And I
was in charge of that, and I did all that, more than him.
(M, Couple 3)
Moreover, this mental burden went beyond the day-to-
day tasks and responsibilities to include protection of the
family. For example, one mother, despite her desire to
resume her studies, decided not to quit her job because it
came with social benets (e.g., health insurance, sick days,
family holidays) that she might need. She mentioned in the
same breath that her male partner was in a position to look
for a new job without worrying about any of that.
This differentiated burden that the mothers described had
begun even before the childs birth, during pregnancy, and
is consistent with the reproductive burden. This differ-
entiated burden refers less to the childbearing process itself
and more to all the surrounding circumstances. For exam-
ple, one woman explained that she had to attend all her
medical appointments, with or without her partner: I
understand, but in my case, I have to go. Ive got other
things to do with my life. But Ive got no choice. Im the one
whos having the baby, you see(M, Couple 2). Three other
mothers said that their pregnancy had necessitated changes
in their nutrition and lifestyle (e.g., alcohol or cigarette use,
sleep habits), whereas their partner made no such changes.
These situations could give rise to feelings of unfairness, as
this respondent testied:
I got pregnant, so for me []. I found it hard to stop
drinking []. So for me, it really pissed me off,
because hed tried to stop smoking. But then, at a
certain point, he started again. [F: I couldnt do it.] So
me, I was really mad. (M, Couple 16)
It is interesting to note that only one mother, who was in
a same-sex couple and who stopped smoking while preg-
nant, reported that her partner completely quit smoking as
well (M1, Couple 18).
Although the mothers who had borne the child said that
the burden of childcare was not shared equally with their
partner, some attributed this to their own character, which
would explain in part the division of tasks. Others thought
about what they could do to achieve a better balance
between the partners, while at the same time wondering
whether the game was worth the candle. Both situations are
well illustrated by this mother:
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But at bottom, Im more organized, and Ive got a
better memory than he does. So its completely natural
that it all falls on me. But, sometimes, its hard to bear
it all by myself. The fact is, hes [the baby] still
young. You know, I dont have to plan, you know, my
courses. And school and all that. But [] you know,
to tell him, Call the doctor and make an appoint-
ment,it takes so much more energy than if I just pick
up the phone and call the doctor myself. So, at times, I
ask myself if its really worth the trouble for me to
push him to do it when it doesnt really ease my mind,
because I have to remind him to do it, you know
[laughs]. (M, Couple 5)
However, gender is not the only angle from which to
explore the system for sharing childcare tasks and respon-
sibilities. The mental burden was also heavy for the mothers
who had borne the child in same-sex couples, according to
the childbearing mothers in these couples (3 of 4). For one
such mother (M1, Couple 18), her partner expected her to
read up on child development and so on and then tell her
what to do. She was also responsible for managing the
family schedule, including not only the babys medical
appointments and activities, but couple and family life as
well. Another childbearing mother in a same-sex couple
explained:
Because shes not the one who initiates the washing
up, the housework, the meals. So even if I try to let it
go, if I havent made supper, then theres nothing to
eat, or shes going to wake up at six-thirty and inquire,
Whats for supper?And nothings ready. The fact
is, somebody has to take on this role. I nd it hard,
because in a perfect world, it would be shared, and I
dont feel that it is. The fact is that the mental burden
we hear a lot about thatIve got a heavy one to
bear. So that things get done. Thinking about
everything. I mean, when we go out, Im always the
one who prepares the baby bag [] the diaper bag. I
prepare for whatever. [] If anything happens, Im
ready. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of
cure, so to speak. (M1, Couple 12)
Stereotyped mothering and fathering roles
Some parents described how their parenting roles followed
stereotypical patterns. For example, mothers were more
comforting while fathers played more with the child. One
father assumed that women were innately in tune with their
babys needs: I get the impression that [] women are
sort of, they sort of have an innate ability to hear them
[babies crying] better than men. I get that impression, but,
[] So thats why its really, really hard for me to wake up
the way she does(F, Couple 5). In general, the mothers
who bore the child said that the division of parental leave,
the fact of having borne the child, the childbirth itself, and
breastfeeding went a long way to explain the stereotypical
division of roles and tasks. For the parents who had not
borne the child, the main explanatory factors for the dif-
ferentiated roles and tasks were breastfeeding, the division
of parental leave, and time spent with the baby, but not
gender. As one mother explainedI think the fact that the
baby usually spends more time with the mother means that
maybe the baby feels more reassured whens shes around,
and more quickly. But in the reverse situation, it would be
the father, in the same way(M, couple 8). Many parents
felt that these different roles could have been inuenced by
the parental leave. A mother on parental leave could end up
spending considerably more time with the baby, and more
so for a breastfeeding mother. These two contexts enable
the mother to build closer bonds with the baby, which could
lead to task specialization. This naturized mothering role
would never end in equitable roles, according to this
mother:
Even if everybody wants to make things fair, the baby
is still going to, [] is going to want its Mommy. And
[partners name] even told me, I want to help, but I
dont have your breasts. What do you want me to do?
If he cries, its because he wants your breast.And
that was that. At night, when we started giving him
formula, I told him, OK, tonight, if the baby cries,
youre getting up and youre giving him the bottle.
Because me, tonight, Im sleeping.But no, he gave
the baby the bottle and the baby kept on crying, and
crying, and crying. Just because he [partner] wanted
me to feel his pain.So its never a fair deal. Never.
But if Daddy could nd a little more time to spend
with the baby, that would be nice. (M, Couple 23)
Whereas the majority of the fathers who took parental
leave (5 months) took it at the same time as the mother so
that both parents could take care of the baby, one couple did
things differently. The parental leave can be shared between
the two parents: the mother can spend about ve months
with the baby and the father can then take an eight-month
leave in rotation. This couple said that it was a way for each
of them to build their parenting skills and get to know the
baby. Consequently, they did not crystallize their parenting
roles by gender:
I stayed at home with her for 8 months. [] Her
mother wasnt there. So, I woke up in the morning,
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gave the baby her bottle, and made her breakfast. Me,
you know, [] everything that my girlfriend can do, I
can do too. Give the bath. Comb her hair [laughs].
[] But what I liked the most is that I didnt have her
at the beginning. I had her at 3 months. She was
awake more of the time, so I could really spend time
with her. And I got to know her, and she got to know
me. And she got really attached to me. I think thats
very important. Really. At rst, I was, like, Oh, Im
doing this to learn, or to help out, or its my turn.
But in the end, its really, its very important. So Im
happy that I did it. (F, Couple 3)
And its really something, the separate parental leave.
Its something that was important for me. Because I
found that it was also important for my baby to
develop a very strong attachment bond with her father,
because I didnt want to be [] I dont want to be
[] you know, I dont want to feel like if I go out or
something comes up, then the babys in deep doo-doo.
Because Daddy wont know what to do. Whatever I
do, I want to know that he can do it too. So thats it.
Its something we discussed ahead of time. Ive
always said that, in my opinion, a family where the
mother does everything and the father doesnt know
whats going on around him and the children just
listen to their mother is not the kind of family that Im
interested in. (M, Couple 3)
One challenge that was raised by a same-sex couple
concerned the value given to the mothering role. This
challenge was not mentioned by the fathers in the hetero-
sexual couples. Although some of these fathers mentioned
that the baby seemed to be more attached to the mother or
preferred to go to her for reassurance, they appeared to feel
that no harm was done. However, one mother who did not
bear the child felt that the parenting roles within her same-
sex couple were harmful. She explained that her baby
responded differently to the two mothers. One was identi-
ed as the source of reassurance, and was called Mama. The
other was called Poppa. But both partners wanted to be
mothers. Poppa had not borne the child, and performed less
of the routine childcare due to the demands of her job. She
reported that Mamma and child were closely bonded
because of all the time they spent together. However,
Momma said that if she could have foreseen these different
parenting roles she would have started bottle feeding earlier
so that the other mother would be more involved in caring
for the baby.
Managing Expectations: The Inuence of Social
Norms, Judgments, and Pressures on Parental Self-
development
The analysis of the testimonies revealed that the parenting
role as well as the childs well-being, development, and
upbringing were subjected to numerous social norms. The
participants described how, thanks to these omnipresent
social norms and judgments, it was difcult to harmo-
niously develop their identity as a competent parent. In this
section, we present the challenges in developing the par-
enting identity and feelings of parenting competence under
the inuence of a plethora of social norms, judgments, and
pressures. The identied themes again fall into two sub-
categories: (1) the parenting role and proper child devel-
opment are shaped by numerous norms; and (2) social
norms, judgments, and pressures have multiple negative
impacts for new parents.
The parenting role and proper child development are
shaped by numerous norms
Three sources of pressure were extracted from the parents
testimonies: (1) medical opinions about optimal child
development; (2) social pressures to invest in parenting; and
(3) family pressures based on cultural norms. First, spe-
cialists in early childhood health, development, and learning
develop medical and developmental standards and norms.
These in turn set up expectations and exert substantial
pressures on parents to comply with prescribed child-
rearing practices. In addition, they establish developmental
milestones for children to attain and learning stages to
achieve. As one mother described it, That too, it was
another stress, because the vaccines, and checking that the
baby was OK, if he lost weight or not. That too, I nd it
stressful. He has to follow the growth curve(M, Couple
10). In addition, health professionals strongly encouraged
the mothers to breastfeed, for the babys well-being. This
meant that some mothers who didnt want to start breast-
feeding, or who didnt want to continue because they
experienced problems, felt obliged to breastfeed: About
the breastfeeding, well, I just talked myself into it. I told
myself, It just takes a few minutes. Its not all the time. Its
good for the baby.’” (M, Couple 15). In this respect, it is
important to mention that of the 19 mothers who bore their
child, 18 chose to breastfeed.
Second, the parenting role and the required skills to
ensure proper child development and encourage learning
were also subject to social directives and pressures. These
came in the form of advice, rules, opinions, and judgments,
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sometimes asked for and sometimes not. They were based
on experience: what experienced parents had done, what
they knew, what had worked for them, and what had
resulted in good outcomes. The majority of the couples (13
of 23) said that they had received plenty of prescriptive and
diversied advice and opinions from their family and
friends, other parents, and even strangers about the best
ways to do things, to be, and to behave with their baby: So
we discovered that there were plenty of people who had
advice to offer. Who knew more about what we should do
than we did!(F, Couple 11). Whether talking with friends
and family or visiting social media sites, new parents
received a barrage of advice and rules about what (and what
not) to do with their baby: Everybody tells you something
different: Dont let him cry; let him cry; do this; do that’”
(M, Couple 10); So many people tell you how to feed your
baby, how he should sleep [](M, Couple 20).
The participantsstatements also revealed a notable
paradox in these social norms for parenting. On the one
hand, there was strong social pressure on them to fully invest
in their new role and to devote themselves to their baby,
particularly for mothers who bore the child: Its like I say,
me, I put myself second, but it seems as if society as a whole
wants you to put yourself second(M, Couple 9). On the
other hand, they also faced strong social pressure to be more
than just a parent. In other words, they should not overinvest
in the parenting role. They should continue to accomplish
things in other life spheres, such as couple and social life.
A woman has to be a little bit of everything at the
same time. So, you have to have a career and you have
to be good lovers, you have to be, that is, [] Your
husbands lover, but at the same time an independent
woman. So, youre supposed to have time for
everything. So thats it, yes. [] So, I have to, []
You have to spend time as a couple, just the two of us.
Like, we go to a restaurant, a lm, or whatever, and
we get someone to watch him [the baby]. And then I
have to have some alone time for myself as an
independent woman. It doesnt matter what the hell I
do with that time. I could have a coffee at Starbucks,
or I could go do whatever, and that would be my
independent womantime. (M, Couple 22)
Third, parents who had immigrated to Canada felt par-
ticular cultural pressures from their families, who wanted to
preserve their cultural heritage and customs. One participant
who had immigrated to Canada from France recounted how
she had to measure up to French cultural standards, which
differed from Canadian ones. Her friends and family exerted
lots of pressure to comply with French child-rearing
practices:
M: In France, theyre really contra breastfeeding. My
mother is really against breastfeeding and everything.
So I wasnt brought up like that at all. [] Every time
I call her, shes always trying to convince me to stop
breastfeeding.
F: To put him in daycare []. (M and F, Couple 22)
Many parents resented these social judgments and pres-
sures concerning the parenting role (11 fathers and M2s; 19
mothers and M1s). Although more of the childbearing
mothers complained about these pressures and judgments,
many non-childbearing parents reported them as well,
indicating that not only biological mothers are subject to
these evaluations. Today, both parents are targeted by such
comments and pressures, which we may add to the list of
challenges during the TtoP.
Social norms, judgments, and pressures have multiple
negative repercussions for new parents
Social norms and judgments exerted undue pressure on these
new parents. For 12 of the 23 couples, this pressure ham-
pered them from achieving a harmonious TtoP. The cultural
norms and judgments of family and friends created a feeling
of having to constantly justify their choices if they departed
from the dominant social norms. Sometimes the participants
concealed their choices from their family and friends.
Every time I called her before, she tried to convince
me to have the baby in the hospital [instead of a home
birth]. I was happy with what I was doing. Its just a
little annoying to be constantly justifying myself. (M,
Couple 22)
In addition, pressure stemming from the medical eld
and inter-parent comparisons created stress, anxiety,
uncertainty, and doubts about the babys development and
their parenting skills. This pressure greatly affected their
psychological well-being by fomenting feelings of failure
and bad parenting: Lets say that it was more the, [] Not
the failures, but I was, like, I wasnt able to give birth, I
wasnt able to breastfeed’” (M, Couple 10). Furthermore,
the participants stressed that they found that the diversity of
advice, rules, and standards for what a competent parent
should do for the babys well-being and development made
it hard to accomplish everything they were supposed to do.
This caused them to feel guilty and experience performance
anxiety, as this extract illustrates:
Am I making the right decision when I do this, when I
do that? But its especially with the baby, but also in
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the couple. Should I ask him to do more? Should I ask
him to do less? Its all the time, all the time, all the
time. My head is spinning. Its about everything. []
I compare myself, yes. Yes. In my circle, weve got a
lot of friends whore going through the same thing.
We all have young babies, but in our families, were
the rst two to have a baby. We dont get, like,
another perspective. Its really all about supercial-
ities, depending on who you talk to. Its like,
everything is perfect for everybody. This makes you
question everything. Do I have what it takes to be a
mother? For any reason. All the time, the same thing.
[] So that puts pressure on me. I said earlier that I
wanted to perform. [But] Its hard to say, OK, Im
gonna take a break now.(M, Couple 17)
Social norms and judgments appear to have wielded a par-
ticular impact on the same-sex couples, especially regarding their
legitimacy as a family and the babys well-being. This posed an
additional challenge for them in the TtoP. Two couples
emphasized that they felt morally judged in terms of their
homoparental lifestyle, the repercussions on the child, the het-
eronormative expectations of their families, and the challenges in
departing from this norm. This strained their relationships with
their family and created further stress concerning the potential
impacts on their child, such as bullying:
M2: We already felt like less than normal parents, in
our minds.
M1: Yeah, a second-class family. Something like that.
Thats right. I had forgotten how hurt we were by
all that.
M2: And constantly. For example, the landlordsson
came to x something [and said] Whos the real
mother?Thatswhatits like. Basically, its prejudice.
M1: Its about the legitimacy of our family.
M2: Right, and at many levels, too. In public, for
instance. When we went for a hospital follow-up
appointment, we met an extremely homophobic nurse
who kept talking to [M1] and referring to her as the
husband.(M1 and M2, Couple 1)
Gay parenting is still hidden and taboo, big time. You can
be a lesbian. Thats alright. But people, in their minds,
sometimes, I get the impression that its, Hey, wait a
second. Two women or two men cant have a baby! Thats
gonna screw the kid up! []Immoreoutthan my
wife, but I know that it stresses her. Sometimes, she talks
to me about it: Is he going to be judged, at school,
because hes got two mothers?(M2, Couple 19)
Various Contexts that Impede the Adjustment to
Parenthood
The participants reported some key contextual challenges
that impeded successful adjustment to parenthood. Four
situations appeared to be particularly difcult: (1) fatigue
and lack of sleep; (2) social isolation and feelings of soli-
tude; (3) nancial precariousness and discrimination at
work; and (4) balancing work, school, and family life.
First, most of the couples (19 of 23) said that they had
put off starting a family until their circumstances were
favorable. They nished their schooling, found steady jobs,
got engaged or married or lived together, moved to a sui-
table neighborhood, and achieved a satisfactory relationship
that would provide a decent child-rearing environment.
Both partners felt that they were also nancially comfor-
table. For the three couples whose pregnancy was unplan-
ned and unexpected and for one couple of which one
partner was not yet ready to have a child, the TtoP unfolded
in circumstances that were less favorable, which required
some adjustment. For example, for Couple 16, an unplan-
ned pregnancy occurred very soon in their relationship. The
partners had to move in together and learn how to get along
as a couple at the same time as they were going through the
TtoP. Moreover, the father couldnt take any parental leave
from his job, an added hardship that impeded his adjustment
to the fathering role. On top of that, because both partners
were still studying, their nances were further stretched to
cover the high cost of daycare:
F: He wasnt even at the daycare yet. It seems like
nothing, but even $7.75 a day, for the daycare []. In
our case, it was private, subsidized. That gets
expensive by the month.
M: Its really expensive.
F: Even though its supposed to be provided. Theres
a big difference between that, and free. Its about $200
a month. (F and M, Couple 16)
In addition, one of these mothers who found it hard to
balance her school and family life ended up dropping out of
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school, which she had wanted to nish before starting a
family. For Couple 23, having a baby at this time created a
big problem for the father, who had to juggle a part-time
job, full-time school, and family life. Because he was
unable to devote much time to the family or household
chores, the couple relationship was under considerable
strain. These more specic circumstances and the tensions
they engendered appeared to be particular to these couples.
Fatigue and lack of sleep as a continuous state of body
and mind
Almost half the couples (12 of 23) complained about lack of
sleep as well as physical and psychological fatigue in the
rst months of the babys life. They explained that fatigue
and lack of sleep made the TtoP harder because they
affected their physical and psychological well-being as well
as day-to-day functioning:
Sleep. Especially sleep, I think, yeah. When you sleep
well, you feel good, actually. [M: Yes.] Everything
seems more doable, actually. But when you dont
sleep, everything is, [] Not insurmountable, but
still, a lot harder, yeah. (F, Couple 22)
F: There was this one day, one time, when I couldnt
go to work and I had to stay here because she was
really at the end of her rope. []
M: I was at the point where I was afraid to fall into a
depression. []
F: It was too tiring, and [] that really knocks you
out. Like it or not, being tired can make you sick. (F
and M, Couple 5)
Fatigue and lack of sleep also had negative impacts on the
couple relationship, notably in terms of physical and emo-
tional intimacy and on how the partners interacted and
communicated. Fatigue also spoiled their time together as a
couple, because when their energy reserves were low, the
partners tended to do less demanding activities such as
watching TV, reading, or spending time on social networking
sites, to the detriment of activities they could do together.
Sometimes, we have days when Im, like, We dont
even tell each other, I love you,or kiss or anything.
[] Because were so tired at night, were both on our
screens, or I read, to turn my brain off. (M, Couple 10)
And lets suppose, you tell yourself that tonight hes
gonna go to sleep really early, so then you tell
yourself, I can have some 100% girlfriend time.
But at the same time, youre not feeling 100% because
youre tired. You know, its like, [] you dont always
feel like it. Youre like, After all, Id rather go to
bed.I mean, my day takes a toll on my body. So
thats the problem there. (M1, Couple 2)
Social isolation and feelings of solitude: a threat
to well-being
The participants reported that parenthood considerably
reduced the time they could devote to outings and activities
with family and friends. No longer being able to go out to
socialize as often as they wished or as often as they had before
the babys arrival generated feelings of isolation and solitude
(8 of 23 couples). The mothers who bore the child, and who
took the large majority of the parental leaves, more frequently
reported that social isolation, intense feelings of solitude, and
lack of intellectual stimulation during the parental leave
undermined their psychological well-being. For example:
Yeah, its really something, that. The solitude during
the parental leave, I mean [] For sure, 90% of your
day, you spend it with a baby that cant talk. (M,
Couple 5)
M: And then, when he went back to work, then,
honestly, me, I ended up alone with a ve-month-old
baby and I was bored stiff. Its a real pain. No, a ve-
month-old cant do anything. Its awful.
F: Well, of course, intellectually, its not []
M: Right, not at all! My brain, it was dissolving. It
was horrible. (M and F, Couple 14)
Two couples (8 and 18) also brought up the point that the
TtoP reduced their circle of friends, more particularly by
weakening ties with those who didnt have young children,
thereby increasing their social isolation.
It changes things in our circle of friends, too, of
course. In our relationships. We both went through
this. We both have friends that we dont hear much
from anymore. (F, Couple 8)
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We go out a little less often. We see the outside world
a little less. And we feel like we get fewer invitations,
with the baby and all. [] Our friends no longer think
to say, Hey, were going out for a drink. Want to
come?Because they know that its more compli-
cated for us. (M1, Couple 18)
Having immigrated to Canada, some parents (couples 6,
14, 22, and 23) were lacking the assistance and support of a
family network. This led to strong feelings of isolation,
which they found psychologically difcult. Moreover,
because no family was on hand to help with the daily
household chores and management, they got little respite,
which contributed to impede the TtoP.
I was well prepared for the pregnancy and the birth,
but motherhood as such, there, I got a big, big shock,
lets say. [] I wasnt prepared for that at all. And the
fact of not having a network, [] Of, of, [] Well,
thats it. Not having a network, the isolation. I found
that very hard on my mental health. [] So, us, we
dont really have anyone here to take over for us. []
And also, its not being able to take a breather. (M,
Couple 6)
Financial Precariousness and Discrimination at
Work: Stresses that Render the Partners Vulnerable
A few couples reported that nancial and/or professional
precariousness was a major challenge during the TtoP. This
was a particular worry for autonomous workers, who
accepted work contracts as they came in for fear of not
getting enough work later. This meant occasional work
overload, absences from the home, and hence less invol-
vement in childcare and less support for the partner.
I think that a situation of nancial security, also. Yeah,
were in a precarious situation, and because my
studies are completed and my grants have ended,
theres no more funding. That was really a source of
stress for us. Basically, lots of work for no pay. It was
like [] it was a hard time. [Partners name] had to
work a lot before, and she knew that she had to work a
lot after, as the family breadwinner. I think that this, it
didnt help us imagine, project ourselves into the
future. [] Whats going to happen, its as if we were
standing in front of a precipice. Not knowing whats
coming next. I think that it didnt help us make the
transition, because you dont know what kind of
transition youre heading for. (M2, Couple 1)
Other mothers recounted situations of discrimination at
work in connection with the pregnancy and childbirth. One
mother did not have her job contract renewed, and she
learned this some time after she had announced her
pregnancy:
Me, I think that the biggest challenge that I had to
face, its the dispute with my employers at my job
when I told them that I was pregnant. And they left it
till later, so it didnt leave me much time. You could
say that this caused me a lot of anxiety. It took me by
surprise. I was working in [a sector]. They knew.
They had preventive withdrawals. They knew how the
system worked. They knew that I was a young
woman, that I hadnt had any kids yet, and that I
wanted them. Because Id already told them that. I
really wasnt expecting this to happen, so I was
shocked when it did, and I had to deal with it. (M,
Couple 8)
Another job-related situation was reported by the non-
childbearing mother in a same-sex couple. When she told
her employers about her partners pregnancy and her
intention to take parental leave, she had to consent to dis-
close her homosexuality, which she had been concealing
from her professional circle. Furthermore, her contract was
not renewed, and with no explanation:
No reason, two weeks in advance. [] Thats when I
really started to do something about it. File the
paperwork, but [] No! They didnt need me
anymore! So I dont know. [] In my opinion, []
Me, I dont think that it was my immediate boss,
because she gave me very positive feedback. I get the
impression that this comes from higher up. [] I found
it bizarre. []Itellmyself,What the hell! Yknow?
Are they homophobes up there and I just dontknow
it?[] It brings me down! And yknow, []IfIwas
a guy, they wouldntdothat!Sothats how it is, and
theres nothing I can do about it. And I donthaveany
proof. Ive got nothing! (M2, Couple 19)
Balancing work, school, and family life: an additional task
in an already lled life
Added to fatigue, the balancing act between work, school,
and family life was challenging for 16 parents who had not
borne the child and 3 mothers who had. However, we
should mention here that several mothers who had borne the
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Author's personal copy
child were still on parental leave at the time of the inter-
view. They found it hard to strike a harmonious balance
between these life spheres and to juggle their schedules.
This balancing act drained their time and produced much
anxiety.
Yeah, yeah, its, both of us, weve got demanding jobs
in terms of time and heavy workloads. So its already
like that, [] It was already exhausting even before
[the partner] got pregnant, in terms of the workload
and the commitment. But then, on top of that, with the
baby that sometimes cries late at night or maybe
wakes up once during the night, then its even more
fatigue piled on. And, were always in a rush. (F,
Couple 13)
Its a lot more work. You have to be a lot more
disciplined, for sure. If he [the baby] didnt sleep
during the night, I can understand that, of course, but
Ill still have to go to school in the morning and Ill
have to take my exam just the same. [] But because
I go to school full-time, I have to study and do my
assignments nights and weekends. I dont have a
choice. (M2, Couple 19)
Not all workplaces have policies to accommodate or
coordinate the workfamily balance. Some of the non-
childbearing parents recounted challenges in this respect. A
minority of them said they felt that they underperformed at
work, mainly due to fatigue. Consequently, they felt pres-
sured by their employers. In addition, they placed pressure
on themselves to keep up to date and prove their worth as
employees. Others mentioned that it was hard to balance the
demands of their job and parenthood. Especially in the rst
few months after childbirth, they were concerned about the
babys well-being and thought about the baby often during
the workday. Moreover, many of them described challenges
related to the workfamily balance, mostly concerning work
organization. They found it difcult to telework, or else
they had no control over their schedule. For example, some
of them worked shifts or on the weekend, which prevented
them from seeing the baby. It also placed limitations on
their ability to be involved as a parent and to support their
partner. The following extract illustrates a signicant gen-
erational gap in the workplace regarding the fathering role
and the arrangement of work schedules to allow paternal
involvement in child rearing:
Well, different people view it differently. Thats what
happened to me with guys who say, Oh no, me, the
day after my girlfriend gave birth, I went right back to
work.And me, knowing that this wouldnt make her
very happy, [] That, that was a guy from another
generation, too. But it can put pressure on you. (F,
Couple 20)
Discussion
This study examines the testimonies of new parents con-
cerning their experiences of rst-time parenthood and the
perceived repercussions. The results reveal that they
encountered numerous challenges, both as individuals and
couples. The main contribution of this article is the
demonstration, based on dyadic and individual interviews,
of the many similarities between the two partners in the
challenges they encountered, while not forgetting certain
gender-related differences and differences related to the
type of family and the fact of having borne the child or not.
Thus, both parents found it rather challenging to combine
and balance their different roles and identities (parent, self,
partner). During the transition to parenthood (TtoP), indi-
viduals and couples alike downplayed their other needs and
prioritized their new parenting role, from both an organi-
zational (daily management) and a psychological (mental
workload) standpoint. The TtoP involved considerable
selessness, which in turn induced feelings of loss of
individuality. As demonstrated elsewhere (de Goede and
Greeff 2016; Delicate et al. 2018), when the parenting role
becomes the priority, individual needs are overshadowed by
those of the child. Our results highlight how difcult it is for
new parents to carve out some me timefor themselves
when the daily routine revolves around the baby and the
babys needs, in line with other studies (de Goede and
Greeff 2016; Delicate et al. 2018; Neves Carvalho et al.
2017). Moreover, many participants pointed out that they
remained highly aware of the babys needs even when they
were doing activities on their own.
Fatigue was reported by both partners. The challenges
associated with the workfamily balance were also reported
by both partners, albeit from different angles. In contrast,
the mental burden was mentioned more by the mothers.
What is interesting here is that the mental burden, as
reported in the interviews with the study participants, was
described by all the women in the heterosexual couples who
had opted to take a lengthy parental leave, as well as some
of the mothers in same-sex couples who had borne the child
and who took a lengthy parental leave. This suggests that
the mental burden could be partly associated with a lengthy
parental leave. The longer time spent with the baby, while
enabling the mother to build a strong motherchild bond
and to initiate and continue breastfeeding, in short, to
devote herself to the baby, could also generate a specialized
childcaring role. This would reinforce certain stereotyped
Journal of Child and Family Studies
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parenting norms, whereby a mother who spends more time
with her baby is identied as the parent who best meets the
babys needs. In other words, shes the childcare expert.
Accordingly, the childcare is delegated to her. The mother
buys into this mindset, recognizing that she has more time
to devote to the baby than her partner. Yet at the same time,
she wishes that the duties could be shared more equally
between the partners, and more importantly, that this burden
should not be delegated to her from the start. In sum, the
problem appears to be that this task specialization tends to
continue beyond the end of the parental leave and the return
to work, as corroborated by previous studies (Charton and
Zhu 2018).
The norm of parental responsibility (and the associated
burden) appears to be essentially a maternal norm, and the
best parenting practices are meant primarily for mothers. A
study reveals that mothers (compared to fathers) were more
present with their child on a day-to-day basis, and this was
equally true for the mothers in the heterosexual couples in
our sample. More fathers worked and were therefore less
present physically (Essadek et al. 2016). The unequal
division of the parental leaves could have contributed to the
differences in the directives laid on mothers versus fathers,
such that the mothers bore the greater part of the child-
rearing duties. In Québec, although a parental leave can be
shared between two parents, the mother usually takes it
(Conseil du statut de la femme 2015). Consequently, it
would be worthwhile to deconstruct this inherent stereotype
in the parental leave and to rethink how the leave is allotted.
In future, awareness raising at the workplace and at the
schools and universities that parents attend could help
change social and professional norms for parenthood. It
would also be advisable, as Charton and Zhu (2018) pro-
posed, to divide the parental leave more equitably. For
instance, it could be taken as successive periods that would
be non-transferable to the partner. This could enable a fairer
division of parenting and household tasks. For mothers, it
could help prevent lengthy periods of disconnection from
social and professional networks. In addition, it could
reduce feelings of social isolation as well as the rates of
professional or academic dropout for some women (Charton
and Zhu 2018).
The parents also described various sources of pressure
(medical, family, and social) and their repercussions. Pres-
sures from friends and society concerning child-rearing
practices are not new (Brown 2010; Damant et al. 2012;
Garcia 2011; Hays 1996; Trice-Black 2010). However,
these pressures were amplied in our participants through
an internalization of performance pressure. The notion of
good parentingis a social and cultural construction that
pressures parents to behave correctlywith their child
(Lamm and Keller 2007). Consistent with other studies, our
participants emphasized that they had listened to a great
number of normative discourses on the art of good parent-
ing: apparently, vast knowledge and multiple skills would
be required to do a proper job (Chauffaut and Dauphin
2012; Le Pape 2014). However, these ndings depart from
those of a recent population survey study in Québec on the
parenting experience for parents with children under 5 years
old (Lavoie and Fontaine 2016). These authors found that a
majority of mothers and fathers had not been pressured by
their friends, colleagues, or the media. In fact, only 10% of
them said that they felt a lot of pressure concerning par-
enthood in the last 12 months. Nevertheless, we should
mention the high education level in our sample, which could
have made our participants more sensitive to such pressures
and more inclined to live up to high parenting standards.
This parenting lore has been dened and oriented according
to optimal supportive and socialization conditions for the
child (Martin 2014), and systems of institutional and public
programs have been established to guide parents to raise
their children accordingly (Chauffaut and Dauphin 2012).
However, although both parents felt these pressures, the
lesbian couples appeared to be more deeply affected due to
fears of social judgment and discrimination that could target
their family. Also more affected were parents who had
immigrated to Canada or who belonged to a group whose
customary parenting practices diverged from the majority
culture. Finally, similar to other studies (Brown 2010;Le
Goff and Levy 2016; Romagnoli and Wall 2012), our
results underline the fact that women are under heavy
pressure to conform and comply with social criteria and the
social denition of the ideal mother. The mothers we
interviewed testied that the social media played an
important role in this sense. More mothers than fathers
followed parenting groups on Facebook, where they were
highly exposed to pressures, norms, and judgments. They
said that they received a lot of advice (sometimes unwanted)
there, as well as negative judgments.
The parents described being under substantial social
pressures to invest heavily in their parenting role and to
wholly dedicate themselves to their child, which contributed
to feelings of loss of self, both individually and as a couple.
This dictate to act as hyper-parents, furthered by social
norms that grant the child top priority (Hays 1996), urges
parents to allocate substantially more time to childcare than
to individual and couple activities. At the same time, new
parents may be subject to social directives that are contra-
dictory, as other studies have underscored (Brown 2010;
Chauffaut and Dauphin 2012; Le Pape 2014). Indeed, the
ndings of the present study reveal a signicant paradox in
the social norms that operate. This echoes Browns(2010)
study of mothers: in a contradictory and conicting fashion,
parents were expected to give all their time and energy to
their child and at the same time remain independent indi-
viduals with their own careers and interests.
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The analysis shows that both mothers and fathers in the
present study were affected by these pressures. In this sense,
shifting social customs appear to have inuenced certain
traditional gender norms for some of the families. Whereas
the fathers assumed more responsibility for childcare, they
would also be more vulnerable to criticism for deviating
from traditional gender norms. For example, a father who
decided to stay at home to care for the baby might receive
stronger disapproval than a mother who decided to pursue
her career. This expanded double standard was also
observed by Deutsch and Saxon, back in 1998, who found
that parenting behaviors by both mothers and fathers were
criticized when they did not conform to traditional gender
roles (Deutsch and Saxon 1998). However, further analysis
revealed variations according to gender, and our results
align with Chauffaut and Dauphin (2012): men and women
were not subject to the same parenting directives.
Our participants described signicant social pressures
and norms as well as moral judgments that hampered them
from constructing their parental identity and building feel-
ings of competence. The inuence of medical and devel-
opmental benchmarks (the democratization of best
practices), while informing the parents, appears to have
negatively affected their autonomy and feelings of parental
competence. Thus, even as the democratization of knowl-
edge and the valorization of experts and specialists provided
them with valuable information, it made them feel less
autonomous and competent. The recognition of expert sta-
tus has enabled both the crystallization and dissemination of
scientic knowledge (Gori and Del Volgo 2009). Scientic
discourse has created medical and developmental directives
to which children should correspond, but which become, for
their parents, sources of stress and doubt regarding their
parenting skills (Razurel et al. 2011). It would therefore be
important for health care providers who work with parents
to be more aware of the potentially negative impacts of their
advice on parenting. They should also be aware of the need
for supportive communication that valorizes the parents
expertise. Similarly, they should adopt an open and
respectful stance: diverse child-rearing practices should be
acknowledged and accepted without judgment. All these
approaches could help reduce the pressures on new parents.
In terms of the couple relationship, our results indicate that
the babys arrival transformed the daily life of these new parents,
bringing numerous additional tasks and responsibilities that
prioritized the baby to the detriment of the couple. The babys
daily routine and needs required a major reorganization of time,
space, tasks, and responsibilities, which eroded the couplehood.
Thus, the lack of couple timeand me timewas a major
challenge. Consistent with de Goede and Greeff (2016), the
overshadowing of the parentspersonal needs by the babys
needs undermined their relational well-being. The lack of time
contributed to exhaustion and the impression that they were
devoting themselves entirely to the baby. Some couples noted
that the very little time they had without the baby reduced their
relational satisfaction and created tension between them. This
amplied existing problems in the relationship, in agreement
with other studies (Doss and Rhoades 2017;Lawrenceetal.
2008;Nelsonetal.2014; Twenge et al. 2003). The prenatal
consultations that are offered to residents of Québec, where this
study was conducted, tend to focus on pregnancy, healthy life
habits during pregnancy, birth, and neonatal care. However, little
attention is paid to the medium- and long-term postnatal period
(Institut national de santé publique du Québec 2011).
Different areas of intervention can be identied in the
light of the results obtained. First, it seems important that
future parents be better informed of the challenges asso-
ciated with the transition to parenthood. This awareness
could take the form of testimonies offered by new parents
during prenatal sessions and by the inclusion of chapters
dealing with these subjects in a more exhaustive manner in
the publication From Tiny Tot to Toddler, a book given to
all new parents by the Quebec government (Institut national
de santé publique du Québec 2020). For the moment, these
contents are scarce. Community workers and health pro-
fessionals working in perinatal care could also be more
sensitive to these challenges experienced by new parents
and address these concerns more regularly during postnatal
follow-ups. However, those actions that focus on indivi-
duals and couples will probably be less effective if they are
not part of a more general reection at the societal level on
parenting and gender equality. The testimonies we have
collected show that motherhood and childcare still have, for
many people, an essentialist character which seems strongly
associated with the act of carrying the child, giving birth
and breastfeeding. Societal awareness of the gendered nat-
ure of parental roles could help deconstruct these ideas, and
move from motherhood and fatherhood to parenthood. It
could also generate a reection within families on the dis-
tribution of parental leave in a more egalitarian manner,
where each parent spends alone time as the main parent to
develop their parenting skills and get to know their child.
This could allow a more informed and egalitarian sharing of
tasks, based on the possibilities, wishes, and interests of the
parents, as well as on the childs needs. Greater societal
considerations on parenthood and awareness of the chal-
lenges associated with it could also help reduce social
norms, pressures and related judgments.
Limitations and Future Directions
Certain limitations should be taken into consideration when
interpreting the ndings of this study. The rst concerns the
potential effects of the interview sequencing. We held the
dyadic interviews before the individual interviews. It is
possible that meeting the parents rst as a couple limited
Journal of Child and Family Studies
Author's personal copy
their ability to express their views about their own chal-
lenges in the subsequent individual interviews. Second,
there was potential social desirability bias: the participants
may have wanted to present a positive image of their family
and couple life, and therefore withheld some information
that could have captured a more comprehensive portrait of
the challenges encountered during the perinatal period and
the contexts in which the pregnancy occurred (planned vs.
unplanned). Moreover, our sample is highly educated (74%
hold a university degree), which could have inuenced the
participantsstatements. Their desire to learn about child
development and optimal childcare could have biased the
results on their feelings of being pressured and their drive to
become competent parents.
In conclusion, this qualitative exploratory study on how
the transition to parenthood is experienced by couples
presents a variety of proles, while revealing certain key
messages: both parents, regardless of their gender, type of
family, or origin, found it challenging to become rst-time
parents. The had problems combining the different roles
that they had to assume (e.g., parent, partner, professional).
They also had to navigate between the demands of self-care
and childcare in the babysrst months of life. On top of
this, they had to cope with numerous social pressures and
norms regarding parenthood. Although fathers and non-
childbearing mothers also reported these challenges, the
childbearing mothers felt the burden more strongly. A
second signicant source of aggravation, which particularly
affected the childbearing mothers who took a longer par-
ental leave than the other partner, was the responsibility for
organizing the sharing of childcare tasks between the two
partners. These tasks were not equitably shared, and they
tended to be divided according to stereotyped parenting
roles. These ndings inform strategies for sensitizing and
informing future parents on these issues.
Acknowledgements The authors would like to thank the participants
for generously and frankly sharing their stories. They would also like
to thank the community groups for helping to recruit the participants.
Funding This study was conducted with funding from the Social
Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (430-2016-
00945).
Author Contributions S.L. designed and executed the study, assisted
with the data analysis and wrote the paper. V.B. participated in the data
collection and analysis and wrote part of the Results section. L.C. and
M.F. collaborated in the writing of the manuscript.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conict of Interest The authors declare that they have no conict of
interest.
Ethical Approval All procedures involving human subjects in this
study were performed in accordance with the ethical standards of the
institutional and national research committee. This study was approved
by the Institutional Review Board of the Université du Québec à
Montréal.
Informed Consent Informed consent was obtained individually from
all the participants in this study.
Publishers note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to
jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional afliations.
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Journal of Child and Family Studies
Author's personal copy
... Transition to parenthood is a major developmental period that includes practical and psychological challenges for new parents [1][2][3][4][5]. First, they must understand and act according to the needs of the newborn, modifying their daily routines to deal with new tasks and greater responsibilities [6]. ...
... As the parenting role assumes priority, mothers often postpone their own needs to respond promptly to their child's needs, which can affect the mother's well-being and her relationship with her partner [14,15]. For this practical and psychological reason, new mothers often report fatigue and exhaustion, psychological distress, and struggling with too many new tasks and responsibilities [4]. ...
... When a child is born, mothers are asked to change their habits, understand the child's signals, respond to his needs [32,47], and develop a maternal role that could take some time to be learned and internalized [18,55]. The transition to motherhood has been theorized as connected to mothers' fatigue, physical exhaustion, psychological distress, and less perception of their mothers' capability [4]. All these aspects could be an explanation for the high levels of stress that the mothers of the current study experienced. ...
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Article
A mother’s responses to her newborn and her confidence in the child’s caretaking depend on her attachment security, general parental stress, and perceived self-efficacy. However, few studies have analyzed maternal confidence in caretaking and how it is influenced by some mothers’ characteristics. We aimed to examine the association between maternal adult attachment and confidence in a child’s caretaking and to understand whether this relationship was mediated by parenting stress and maternal self-efficacy. The sample consisted of 96 mothers with a mean age of 33 years with newborn children aged between 3 and 30 days. The instruments used were the Experiences in Close Relationships-Revised (ECR-R), the Mother and Baby Scale (MABS), the Parenting Stress Index Short Form (PSI-SF), and the Maternal Self-Efficacy Questionnaire (MEQ). The results showed a positive association between attachment avoidance and lack of confidence in caretaking, and this association was mediated by parenting stress. Conversely, attachment anxiety appeared not to influence confidence in caretaking, and maternal self-efficacy did not appear to mediate the relationship between attachment and confidence in the caretaking of infants. Our results could guide new research in studying confidence in caretaking and enable healthcare professionals to recognize at-risk situations early from the first month after childbirth.
... Infant feeding is a prolonged responsibility that often results in stressful experiences for caregivers. In addition to the plethora of infant feeding guidelines proposed by public health agencies, parents often receive a barrage of advice from family, friends, and social media sites (Lévesque et al., 2020). Mothers also tend to experience stress related to an unequal division of labor with their partner, giving rise to a significant source of irritation in their lives (Lévesque et al., 2020). ...
... In addition to the plethora of infant feeding guidelines proposed by public health agencies, parents often receive a barrage of advice from family, friends, and social media sites (Lévesque et al., 2020). Mothers also tend to experience stress related to an unequal division of labor with their partner, giving rise to a significant source of irritation in their lives (Lévesque et al., 2020). Moreover, many women juggle infant feeding with their return to work or study and experience barriers in these settings that lead to the premature cessation of breastfeeding (Burns & Triandafilidis, 2019). ...
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Article
Infant feeding is closely related to children’s life-long health and well-being. It is common for parents to withstand infant feeding challenges and with a plethora of guidelines and advice caregivers can face a great deal of stress. Extra-familial child care and employment circumstances also impact infant feeding, yet little is known about how caregivers experience them. This qualitative study explores working mothers’ infant feeding experiences during their children’s transition to a child care setting. Six mothers with at least one child age 6 to 18 months old in child care participated in semistructured interviews. The themes identified using an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis approach were infant feeding burden on mothers, weaning stress, responsive feeding style, seeking professional support, and child care setting partnership. Mothers experienced a significant infant feeding burden due to a gendered division of labor and lack of professional resources and support. The infant feeding burden decreased considerably once children transitioned to child care and some feeding responsibilities were reallocated. Recommendations are discussed for how child care settings can play a more substantial role in supporting families with infant feeding through knowledge translation strategies and modeling. Future research directives assessing how partners can better assist mothers with infant feeding are suggested.
... A qualitative study of positive solitude experiences showed that the controlled reasons for being in solitude such as escaping from their busy life were more prevalent in adults at younger ages (Ost Mor et al., 2020). In addition to the stress from work and relationship maintenance perpetuating from emerging adulthood (Arnett, 2000), the milestone of being a parent for the first time may further elevate the controlled motivation for solitude due to the commonly identified themes of the loss of individuality and the related stress (Lévesque et al., 2020). The controlled motivation may compromise the quality of the already limited solitude time. ...
... The first question addressed whether there were adulthood phase differences in preference and motivation for solitude between emerging, established, and midlife adults. In addition to emerging adults' controlled reasons for solitude such as escapism (Ost Mor et al., 2020), the milestone of being a parent for the first time in established adulthood may result in the loss of individuality and increased stress (Lévesque et al., 2020), which may further reduce one's autonomy for solitude and elevate the controlled motivation for solitude. Meanwhile, with accumulated solitary activity experience and better self-regulation (Zimmermann & Iwanski, 2014), established adults may be conditioned to enjoy solitude more for its benefits compared to emerging adulthood. ...
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Article
The consequences of solitude depend on one’s preference and motivations for solitude, some of which correlate with high psychological risks (e.g., loneliness, depression) with others relating to low risk or benefits. When life is suffused with stress, people are used to escaping and seeking solitude time for restoration, which is especially true for established adults who are burdened with the heaviest care responsibilities and work stress. However, little is known about the development of preference and motivations for solitude in established adulthood. Therefore, in this study, we investigated the level of preference and motivations for solitude and their potential antecedents and consequences in established (aged 30–45) adulthood as compared to emerging (aged 18–29) and midlife adulthood (aged 46–64). We recruited 465 young to middle-aged adults from MTurk and an undergraduate class (Fall 2019). Preference and motivations for solitude were measured with the Preference for Solitude Scale and the Motivation for Solitude Scale-Short Form. Well-being and social measures were included as potential consequences and sociodemographic, psychological, and physical measures as potential antecedents. Results showed that both preference for solitude and controlled motivation peaked in established adulthood. Same as adjacent adulthood phases, in established adulthood (a) preference for solitude related to mildly compromised well-being, (b) controlled motivation was robustly associated with worse well-being, and (c) self-determined motivation was consistently associated with better well-being. Antecedences for preference and motivations for solitude showed distinctiveness for each adulthood phase. Future interventions on well-being should focus on controlled motivation for solitude and established adults.
... In particular, during pregnancy or after giving birth in the transition to parenthood, these pandemic-related stressors pose additional burdens to an already stressful period. Parents need to adjust to their caregiving role, develop new routines, and adapt their lifestyle to their child's needs (Epifanio et al., 2015;Lévesque et al., 2020). This adaptation already starts during pregnancy. ...
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In the transition to parenthood, the COVID-19 pandemic poses an additional strain on parental well-being. Confirmed infections or having to quarantine, as well as public health measures negatively affect parents and infants. Contrary to previous studies mainly focusing on the well-being of school-aged children and their parents during lockdown periods, the present study investigated how mothers of infants respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and whether this is related to maternal well-being, maternal socio-emotional investment, and infant regulation. Between April and June 2021, 206 mothers of infants (M age = 7.14 months, SD age = 3.75 months) reported on COVID-19 infections, their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, their well-being, socio-emotional investment , and their infant's regulation. Exploratory factor analyses yielded five dimensions of maternal response to the COVID-19 pandemic: social distancing, worrying about the child, birth anxiety, distancing from the child, and information on COVID-19-related parenting behavior and support. These dimensions were related to mother-reported infant regulatory problems. Path analyses revealed paths via reduced maternal well-being and maternal socio-emotional investment. Maternal perceptions of
... Still, this transition requires parents to navigate changes at both the individual and couple level (Doss & Rhoades, 2017;Figueiredo & Conde, 2015), including lack of sleep, isolation, financial, and work-life challenges (Lévesque et al., 2020), as well as strained communication and intimacy (Delicate et al., 2018). Although some of these challenges are individual-level stressors and others are relational stressors, the interrelated nature of family life suggests there are associations between individual adjustment and couple functioning. ...
Article
The purpose of this study was to examine changes in relationship quality and couple conflict in low‐income parents. When welcoming a new child, couples often report increased conflict and a decline in relationship quality. However, some scholars maintain couples can transition to parenthood with few negative effects. Low‐income, unmarried, and experienced parents remain understudied. Utilizing data from a broader parent education project, the study employed dyadic latent growth curve analysis to examine changes over time in relationship quality and conflict. Participants were 216 low‐income couples receiving home visitation services who reported on relationship quality and conflict at three time points. Differences between first‐time and multiparous parents and among married, cohabiting, and non‐residential opposite‐sex couples were examined. Trajectories of relationship quality and conflict were stable over time. Compared to married and cohabiting couples, non‐residential couples reported lower initial relationship quality. When comparing cohabiting and non‐residential couples, couples with higher expectations of marriage had higher initial relationship quality and lower initial conflict. Some couples navigate the transition to parenthood without negative relationship effects, especially those with higher initial quality, lower initial conflict, and greater expectations of marriage. Implications Policy and practice supporting relationship stability in low‐income couples should incorporate a strengths‐based approach.
... For example, in 2018, only 15% of U.S. women between the ages of 40 and 44 years old (i.e., roughly at the end of reproductive age) were childless (Statista Research Department, 2021). Becoming a parent represents a normative and transformative life transition (Doucet, 2009;Kuersten-Hogan & McHale, 2021;Lévesque et al., 2020;Taubman-Ben-Ari, 2012;Westrupp et al., 2022). It is marked by heightened neuroplasticity (Horrell et al., 2021;Rogers & Bales, 2019), shifts in repertoire of identities (Cao et al., 2016;Cast, 2004), renegotiation of gender dynamics in a couple (Baxter et al., 2008;Yavorsky et al., 2015), changes in couple relationship well-being (Kluwer, 2010), alternations in life routines (De Goede & Greeff, 2016), and restructuring of social networks (Bost et al., 2002;Wrzus et al., 2013). ...
Article
For new mothers, coping with infant distress is challenging. Mothers’ self-efficacy in emotion-related parenting plays critical roles in shaping their adaptation and children’s development. Research on antecedents of maternal parenting self-efficacy has been predominantly based on the global self-efficacy theory outlined by Bandura in the 1970s. Despite the utility of Bandura’s theory, subsequent research on emotion-related parenting has highlighted avenues for extending and adapting his model to more adequately elucidate the cognitive, affective, and behavioral processes underlying the development of maternal emotion-related parenting self-efficacy. In view of the basic and applied value of a clearer account of how new mothers’ emotion-related parenting self-efficacy emerges and evolves, the increasing amount of research on this topic, and the absence of syntheses of extant studies, we reviewed relevant literature. First, constructs and propositions in prevailing theoretical perspectives are examined for their utility to elucidate the development of new mothers’ emotion-related parenting self-efficacy, particularly the implicated cognitive, affective, and behavioral mechanisms and how they work together. Second, a framework is outlined that integrates strengths of various theories to delineate processes underlying the emergence and evolution of new mothers’ emotion-related parenting self-efficacy. Third, findings across disparate studies are summarized to provide a foundation for the offered framework. To better inform future research, we demonstrated how to build testable mid-range models with substantive constructs and hypotheses from the proposed framework through deductive theorizing process. We also evaluated the utility of the proposed model for studying new fathers. Last, implications for future research and practice are discussed. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)
... Findings among heterosexual individuals have shown this transition to be accompanied by decreased levels of hedonic well-being and increased levels of eudaimonic well-being [12]. This pattern is usually explained by both an increase in a sense of personal growth (eudaimonic well-being) when embarking on parenthood and more immediate difficulties affecting life satisfaction (hedonic well-being) such as lack of sleep, growing ambiguity regarding child care, and more marital conflicts over task division e.g., [13]. Postnatal depression has also gained much scholarly attention, first among heterosexual women [14] and, more recently, also among heterosexual men [15], showing a prevalence of 17.7% among the former and 8.8% among the latter [16,17]. ...
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Article
This study aimed to explore the psychological welfare, as indicated by postnatal depressive symptomatology, life satisfaction, and posttraumatic growth (growth after contending with stressful birth events), of Israeli gay fathers through surrogacy in comparison to heterosexual fathers. For that purpose, a sample of 167 Israeli fathers (M = 35.6, SD = 4.4) was recruited (68 identified as gay fathers through surrogacy and 99 as heterosexual fathers). Participants completed questionnaires assessing their postnatal depressive symptomatology, life satisfaction, and sense of posttraumatic growth after becoming fathers. Results indicated that gay fathers through surrogacy reported higher levels of life satisfaction and posttraumatic growth than heterosexual fathers. Yet, gay fathers also reported higher levels of postnatal depressive symptomatology than heterosexual fathers when life satisfaction or posttraumatic growth values were low or medium. The findings were interpreted in light of the hardships associated with cross-border surrogacy and the psychological outcomes associated with succeeding to become fathers after contending with them. The study contributes to the limited literature on postnatal depressive symptomatology and posttraumatic growth among gay fathers through surrogacy and provides clinicians and policymakers with relevant information on the psychological strengths and potential difficulties associated with cross-border surrogacy among gay fathers.
Article
Parenthood has often been associated with lower levels of relationship and sexual satisfaction. However, this effect has rarely been studied beyond transition to parenthood and/or in clinical samples and few studies have examined parenthood as a moderator between relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction. Therefore, the objective of this study is to examine whether parenthood (being a parent or not) acts as a moderator of the relationship between relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction among women and men consulting in sex therapy ( n = 219). Results indicated that mothers report lower levels of relationship satisfaction compared to non-parent women, whereas no difference was found for sexual satisfaction. Results also showed that parenthood acts as a moderator between relationship and sexual satisfaction, with differing effects for men and women. More precisely, relationship satisfaction was associated with increased sexual satisfaction in men and in non-parent women only. For mothers, relationship satisfaction was not linked to sexual satisfaction. Findings suggest that relationship satisfaction is lower in mothers compared to non-parent women and is also unrelated to sexual satisfaction in mothers, indicating specificities regarding sexual satisfaction and its correlates in others. These results have implications, particularly for interventions with mothers attending sex therapy.
Article
Aloneliness is the negative psychological state characterized by dissatisfaction with one's lack of solitude, which is connected to well‐being deficits (e.g., depression, stress). From an I3 theory perspective, we expected that aloneliness could predict anger and partner‐directed aggression among persons in romantic relationships, who must, by nature of their partnership, dedicate time to their romantic partners. In Studies 1a and 1b (N = 554), trait aloneliness positively correlated with trait anger, aggression, and violence, but more strongly among persons in relationships (vs. single persons). In Study 2, aloneliness was experimentally primed among 93 undergraduates in relationships. When aloneliness was salient (vs. a control), participants reported higher anger and used more pins in a partner‐representative voodoo doll. These results suggest that solitude is an inhibiting factor against anger and, potentially, the perpetration of partner‐directed aggression. Although subsequent work in this area is needed, we add evidence showing the importance of individual differences in the need for solitude.
Article
The birth of the first child is a period of transformation and adjustments for the whole family system which results in dynamics that influence its development and tend to remain stable during the child's first years of life. The present study sought to identify the impact of the social and health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic on the construction of coparenting in first-time parental couples. To determine the evolution of the dynamics of caregiving tasks, we employed a qualitative and longitudinal methodology in our study of 12 heterosexual couples of legal age who co-resided in Santiago de Chile. The main impact of the social-health crisis was the novel opportunity for the triad to spend the first year of life of the baby in the same space, which is interpreted positively by the parental couple. Even though there persist some traditional representations and beliefs that portray mothers as experts in upbringing, the pandemic context has made it possible to problematize this view, in a process that can be interpreted as a transition toward equitableness.
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Article
Background: the transition to parenthood (TTP) is associated with changes to a couple's relationship. Quantitative evidence shows the TTP is associated with reduced satisfaction and quality of a couples' relationships. Qualitative research provides information on the lived experience of couples in the TTP so can provide a more in-depth understanding of the impact. This review therefore aimed to synthesise qualitative research of the perceived impact of the TTP on a couple's relationship in contemporary Western society. Design: a systematic search was conducted of nine databases and grey literature. Key author, citation and reference searches were also undertaken. Papers were included if they presented qualitative data of romantic partner relationships during the TTP with parents aged 18 or over. Studies were restricted to those conducted from 1996 in Western societies. Analysis was conducted using meta-ethnography. Findings: searches identified 5256 papers. After applying inclusion criteria 12 papers were included in the meta-synthesis. Six main themes were identified: (1) Adjustment Phase (a period of change in the relationship), (2) Focus on the Baby (with a sub-theme of feeling unprepared for the relationship impact), (3) Communication (shifts in communication patterns and importance), (4) Intimacy (changes to sexual relations, romance and closeness), (5) Strain on the Relationship (short-term or prolonged), and (6) Strengthened Relationships (deepening of connection and new affinity). Except for the themes of Strain on the Relationship and Strengthened Relationships, the findings showed the TTP had positive and negative impacts on couples' relationships. Key conclusions and implications for practice: the review highlights a range of TTP relationship issues that couples experience and may require help with. Health care professionals working with parents in the TTP may be able to provide support through antenatal education that includes preparation for relationship changes, and provision of postnatal support to identify and overcome problems.
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Article
Objective. To identify the main difficulties first-time mothers experience in the postpartum period, during the first six months of the baby’s life. Methods. Level I qualitative, exploratory-descriptive study. The sample consisted of 11 first-time mothers of full-term healthy newborns. The data were collected through the “focus group” method. The mothers’ discourse was subject to content analysis, categorizing the registry units. Results. Three categories emerged from the data analyzed that indicate the mothers’ main difficulties in this period: postpartum recovery; baby care; marital relationship. Conclusion. The results indicate that, although motherhood is an event marked by positive emotions, the difficulties that emerge in the mothers’ daily life can interfere negatively in the quality of parenthood. In this scenario, the nurses play a determinant role in the enhancement of interventions that are sensitive to these needs and that, at the same time, favor these mothers and their families’ empowerment, thus optimizing the children’s development trajectories.
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Article
Family routines improve family stability. However, it is unclear what impedes the formation of stable routines after life transitions. In this paper we discuss normative challenges that 10, mostly low-income, couples face in managing routines after becoming parents. Qualitative analysis revealed three themes: temporal incongruence, schedule derailment, and factors that increase task and temporal complexity. The seven sub-themes of the latter theme were transport limitations, workplace schedules, extended family involvement, child-related difficulties, health complications, incongruence between family member needs, and a composite of these factors. Results underscore the need to address context-specific family challenges related to time restrictions and scheduling.
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Article
Between an Outdated Ideal and Imposed Norms: A Solidified Representation of Fatherhood in a Changing Society. What representation of fatherhood in a social institution such as the EAOE? The evolution of laws on paternal and parental authority has generated modifications in the father’s functions. But what about paternal representations - have they evolved at the same time? We shall examine the move from purely paternal to parental authority. Building a new paternal model is a perilous, even uncomfortable project for fathers themselves, but also for mothers and institutions. This article adopts the perspective of a historical approach to legal changes effecting fatherhood in society, as part of a population study carried out with 796 minors from an EAOE service (Educational Assistance in an Open Environment). This approach demonstrates that the representation underpinning the role of fathers in social institutions is outdated. This makes supporting and accompanying them a complex task, and impacts on the process of returning fathers to their roles as parents.
Article
Malgré l’avancée au Canada de lois incitant l’égalité entre les hommes et les femmes, on observe toujours dans toutes les provinces et les régions que la répartition des tâches domestiques reste inégalitaire entre les sexes, les femmes contribuant toujours plus aux tâches domestiques que leurs conjoints. À partir d’analyses portant sur les données canadiennes de l’enquête sociale générale de 2011, cet article met notamment en évidence que si l’autonomie économique des femmes contribue à réduire l’écart entre les sexes dans le partage des tâches domestiques liées à la cuisine et au ménage, cette réduction s’amenuise toutefois à l’arrivée des enfants. Ainsi, parce que les individus rejouent ce qu’ils perçoivent comme nécessaire pour devenir une mère et un père, les femmes et les hommes expriment d’autant mieux un désir d’enfant qu’ils ou elles se situent dans une organisation familiale traditionnelle, soit avec une implication plus forte des femmes dans les tâches ménagères et familiales. La charge domestique plus importante assumée par les femmes semble ainsi les conduire plus fréquemment à repenser leur intention d’avoir un troisième enfant, alors que cette inégalité ou scénario traditionnel semble stimuler toujours le désir d’enfant des hommes.
Article
Aim: To examine the effectiveness of 'Home-but not Alone', a postnatal psychoeducational programme delivered via a mobile-health application for parents during the early postpartum period to improve parenting outcomes. Background: The early postpartum period is often a challenging but crucial period for new parents. Supportive educational programmes delivered via mobile-health applications are needed to improve parenting outcomes. Design: A randomized controlled two-group pre-test and post-test design was adopted. Methods: Data were collected over six months (December 2015-May 2016) from 250 participants in a tertiary teaching hospital. They were randomly assigned to the intervention (n=126) or control (n=124) groups. The intervention group received the educational programme on top of routine care while the control group only received routine care. Parental self-efficacy, social support, postnatal depression and parenting satisfaction were measured using reliable and valid instruments. A linear mixed methods analysis was used to compare the percentage change of all outcome variables from the baseline to four weeks postpartum between the groups. Results: The intervention group had statistically significant improvements for parental self-efficacy, social support and parenting satisfaction at four weeks postpartum compared with the control group. Postnatal depression scores did not show any significant improvement compared with the control group. Conclusion: The mobile-health application was effective in improving parental self-efficacy, social support and parenting satisfaction. Hence, it should be introduced and carried out in routine care by nurses. Further studies should focus on evaluating the effects of this programme in reducing postnatal depression among parents. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.