Open post

New fathers in lockdown – a golden opportunity

By Dr John Barry

First published as a BPS blog here

If you are like me and became a new dad in the past year or so, you may well have found yourself with unprecedented amounts of time at home with a baby.  For most people this will be a challenge and even trigger depression (see helpline details below), but in fact there can be a silver lining, or even golden opportunity, in being locked down with baby.

A recent meta-synthesis of 13 studies looked at the experiences of new dads of babies up to 12 months old (Shorey & Ang, 2019). Three themes emerged:

 

Development of the father-infant relationship

Bonding started at around two months when infants began to be able to smile and interact with their dad.

In my experience, it was surprising at how much a baby is able to communicate nonverbally, showing a range of facial expressions that I had presumed must be socially learned. Babies ‘talk’ a lot more than you think.

On reflection, in my experience the bond started the day I very clearly saw my son on a 4D scan, moving around in his mum’s womb in real time. I would recommend 4D scans, especially to prospective dads, because a 4D scan makes the reality of the child much more personal and tangible, and allows men a greater sense of the physical reality of the child before they are born.

 

Obstacles to getting involved e.g. work

Although reportedly often treated as helpers or even “bystanders” by healthcare professionals during visits to hospital after birth, lots of new dads felt “joy and closeness” when playing, taking care of, or holding their child. Reluctantly in many cases however, work had to come before childcare. This raises the thorny issue of how much a man can afford to take time off work before his career begins to suffer. This is a complex reality that is not easy to resolve. However, lockdown gives many men a great opportunity to get more involved with their child without it impacting their career. Yes, working from home still means you focus on work, but it also means that breaks from work can be much more fulfilling than a quick visit to the canteen.

Becoming a family man

Many new dads felt that the helplessness of their baby caused them to feel protective, responsible, and family-orientated. Furthermore, “fathers were found to intentionally neglect their feelings so that they could focus on their spouses and infants” (Shorey & Ang 2019, p. 15). This occurred in situations ranging from being calm when the mother was nervous and upset, to supressing sexual feelings until the mother felt ready for sex again. This finding is interesting because it is common today for men to be criticised for being stoical, whereas this study shows that strategic stoicism can be altruistic and beneficial, though I should add that talking about your stressful experiences is important too (Liddon & Barry, 2021).

In summary, bonding with your infant can be a uniquely rewarding experience. If you think babies are boring because they can’t talk, stop and think about how much they might be able to tell you with a smile when you cuddle them. Whatever you might think of lockdowns, if your employer is making you stay at home, please do yourself a big favour and don’t let the opportunity to enjoy being a dad pass you by.

For men or women dealing with the stress of being a new parent, contact the PANDAS free helpline: 0808 1961 776. Or for info for new dads contact Fathers Reaching Out

About the author

Dr John A. Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Honorary Lecturer in Psychology at University College London, clinical hypnotherapist, and author of around 80 peer-reviewed publications on a variety of topics in psychology and medicine. John is a professional researcher and has taken an interest in improving the teaching of research methods and statistics. He has practiced clinical hypnosis for several years and is a member of the British Association of Clinical and Academic Hypnosis. His Ph.D. was awarded by City University London, on the topic of the Psychological Aspects of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which is also the topic of his new book (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). He is co-founder of both the Male Psychology Network and the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society (BPS), lead organiser of the Male Psychology Conference, and co-editor of The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (London: Palgrave Macmillan IBSN 978-3-030-04384-1   DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1). His new book, co-authored with Louise Liddon, Perspectives in Male Psychology: An Introduction, is published by Wiley in early 2021.

Open post

The provider role indicates that masculinity is prosocial

by Belinda Brown

For decades now, masculinity has been under assault – largely by visionaries who anticipate a new gender-free social order. Creation of the new involves destruction of the old, so ‘new man’ can arise phoenix like from the patriarchal dust.

And masculinity is, after all, an easy target. Men appear to be more physically violent than women, they are more likely to kill themselves and they are much more likely to commit crime. All this has provided ballast for the concept of toxic masculinity, and has had potentially damaging consequences for male self-understanding by drawing attention to stereotypes of dysfunctional male behaviour and treating them as if they are the true nature of all men

My chapter From Hegemonic to Responsive Masculinity; the transformative power of the provider role  for The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental health takes a different approach.

In the chapter I ask why it is that since the beginning of recorded history men have, by and large, done the hardest most gruelling labour, given the proceeds of their labour to women and children, usually deriving little benefit for themselves. I also ask why it is that, despite earning less than men, women have extensive control over resources and, why even welfare is largely spent on women and children while the taxes to pay it are earned by men.

All this points to extraordinarily altruistic behaviour by men and this, I argue, is mystery which we should explore.

A clue to male motivations lies in men’s family role. A rich seam of data has shown that partnered men earn more than unpartnered men, married men earn more than those who are cohabiting and married men living with their own children trump the lot. And this is not simply a case of female selectivity. The data show that men appear to be responding to female preferences and need.

In order to understand why men should do this I turn to the vineyards of evolutionary psychology. This field explores how our psychological adaptations are rooted in genetic and neuroendocrine systems, which have evolved in ways that help to ensure that our descendants survive.

One of the mysteries for evolutionary psychologists is paternal investment – why do human males invest so much time and effort in women and children, when the majority of primate males do little for their own offspring. This has spawned a great deal of creative thinking about the benefits of paternal investment to evolutionary fitness, and theories have focussed on mechanisms which have brought this investment about.

My own explanation is that males have evolved to be responsive to human females. As human females choose mates who can provide for them, the corresponding desire to provide may have become biologically embedded in males. Males then become deeply attached to those infants, who they help to socialise and provide with food. The result is that men are in hock to potentially self-sacrificial behaviour because this is what ensures the survival of their genes.

If men are impelled to be responsive to females and possibly to provide for and even become attached to their children, we would expect some accompanying biological scaffolding to have evolved. My paper is only exploratory but some clues point us in directions to look.

Firstly, there is evidence to suggest that little boys start out in life more sensitive and responsive than little girls. Later, men and women experience emotion to the same depth and in similar ways. So why is it that when it comes to emotional literacy or emotional awareness women tend to assume men are second best?

The key difference is emotional expressiveness; this is the domain in which women have the upper hand. When we think of men as stoical this is only in contrast to female emotional expressivity – the other side of the coin. Female emotional expressiveness is ultimately evolutionarily adaptive. It involves the rapid translation of cognitive information into a form of behaviour which will spur others into a response.

It is not just that this female emotional expressiveness appears inbuilt. So does the male capacity to respond. Men have been found to have higher levels of empathy for women than they do for other men. If male empathic responsiveness is particularly honed to female need, then males are likely to be vulnerable to female emotional expressiveness in ways that elicit altruistic behaviour. Even where this incurs a cost.

If masculinity is essentially responsive, what underlies male providing is not the desire for status or dominance but rather to be desired by women themselves.

And this too is supported by the data. Some of the most extensive studies conducted in the social sciences are on mating preferences. And what these incontrovertibly show is that women are looking for men who will be a good financial prospect. Men respond to female cues by providing them with resources because this will further their own genetic fitness.

But what I suggest is that the value of male provisioning does not necessarily lie in its nutritional content. Male provisioning stimulates paternal attachment in the same way maternal attachment is stimulated; through the experience of having others dependent on you. Male provisioning is the cornerstone on which fathering work is built. It is linked with paternal care and having a father in the home.

That men are primed to develop paternal attachment is again suggested by the male physiological response. As men marry and have children their levels of testosterone drop which is thought to facilitate a nurturant behaviour. Research on couvade has shown that men experience many of the symptoms of pregnancy as well. Men are primed to respond to infants. Not only is there evidence they experience hormonal changes in response to the cries of their infant but they can also recognise their infant by touch.

Research from the animal kingdom has found links between provisioning behaviour and reductions in testosterone. If this was found in humans, it would provide a biological link between the act of provisioning and a nurturant response. Although such evidence may not yet exist,  there is evidence to show that when it comes to childcare it is those men who have more traditional attitudes, or those men who are actually engaged in providing for their families, who are more likely to be involved.

There are a number of hypotheses in my handbook chapter which need to be explored further and tested. They raise the possibililty that the male provider role is not simply a social construction belonging to a bygone age. Rather the provider role may be not only socially, but psychologically acting as a trigger for nurturing behaviour. It may even, as I suggest in my chapter, play a vital role in transforming a more immature and potentially ‘hegemonic’ dimension of masculinity into a more socially responsible, co-operative and nurturing form.

For these reasons, the provider role – as an important dimension of masculinity – deserves further investigation. If it emerges that it is not only socially but also psychologically salient, then perhaps we need to start encouraging provisioning in men.

 

About the author

Belinda Brown is a Social Anthropologist who writes about family and gender issues.

Belinda’s chapter, From Hegemonic to Responsive Masculinity; the transformative power of the provider role, appears in The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental health, is available here https://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9783030043834#aboutBook

DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1

 

 

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