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

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.

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.

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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.

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Correspondence to Sylvie Lévesque.

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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.

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Lévesque, S., Bisson, V., Charton, L. et al. Parenting and Relational Well-being During the Transition to Parenthood: Challenges for First-time Parents. J Child Fam Stud 29, 1938–1956 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-020-01727-z

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Keywords

  • Parenthood
  • Challenge
  • Couplehood
  • Transition
  • Qualitative research