What fathers worry about

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Money and the upbringing and health of their child are the three storm clouds hanging over the heads of new fathers in Sweden. An increase in support for fathers would promote equality, says the researcher behind the study.

Pappa och barn

Fathers in Sweden are encouraged to be engaged and share parental responsibility. For example, 60 of the 480 parental leave days are reserved solely for fathers, and fathers are invited to be present when the midwife visits in preparation for delivery and to take part in parenting classes and the birth of their child.

At the same time, several studies indicate that it is mostly the mothers who are the focus of care during childbirth, and that fathers feel that support for them is lacking. To find out more about what it’s like to be a father in Sweden, Margareta Johansson, a midwife and researcher at the Department of Women’s and Children’s Health, has on four occasions asked fathers to complete questionnaires about their experiences during pregnancy, birth and their first year as a parent.

The responses showed that a third of the 827 fathers felt worried about parenthood two months after the birth of their child. Their concerns were about bringing up the child responsibly, meeting financial demands and their child’s health. The fathers who were the least positive about having a child and who rated their own mental health as poor were the ones who were most worried about becoming a parent.

“It’s important to encourage men to talk about their thoughts on fatherhood,” says Margareta Johansson. “Initiatives focussed solely on fathers can also be of value, especially for those who feel less positive about becoming a parent. Not only is that of benefit to fathers, it is also of benefit to the children and mothers and to equality as a whole.”

In line with earlier studies, the first-time fathers expressed worry about how parenthood would affect their relationship with their partner and how they would manage with less free time, and a fear that they would not be able to provide the child with a good upbringing. What was more surprising was that this applied to more experienced fathers too.

“Having a child always brings changes to a family and achieving a good work-life balance just seems to get more complicated with the arrival of each new child,” says Johansson, who says that even fathers who have had children previously may need support in their role as a parent. 

Text: Ola Danielsson, first published in Medicinsk Vetenskap nr 3 2016