A mother's criticism may discourage dads from baby care

Laura Mappas
Monday, June 16, 2008
Image: Getty

Mums who nag and critique their partner's childcare skills might be doing themselves an injustice — research shows that a woman's criticism or encouragement dictates their partner's involvement.

Words of encouragement
Every parent experiences feelings of self-doubt during the first few months of a baby's life, but new research suggests new dad might be particularly at risk — and that the new mums might be to blame.

Dr Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, an assistant professor of Human Development and Family Science at Ohio State University in Columbus in the US, and her team, monitored 97 couples, about two-thirds of which were first-time parents. They found that the dads who had partners who encouraged and complimented were more involved in the baby's care, while the dads who were critiqued were less confident, and as a result less involved.

Mum's the word
Considering mums get a nine-month head start on parenting, it's not surprising the fairer sex often seem to adjust more swiftly to their new role. Dads on the other hand are left playing catch-up.

"You really can't underestimate the importance of the mother carrying that child for nine months, and what that does to prepare her for caring for that infant," says Dr Jay Fagan, an associate professor in the School of Social Work at Temple University in Philadelphia.

"That little baby has been with the mother 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So it's a very different relationship; it's a very intense relationship," says Dr Fagan. So intense, in fact, that dads are often left out in the cold, unclear of exactly how they fit in and what their role is.

"For dads, their role is anything from bringing home a big pay cheque and no child care, to being very actively involved," says Dr Schoppe-Sullivan. "Some dads want to be involved, but they're not sure what the point of entry is."

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