Locke, Abigail (2008) Constructing the role of fathers in ‘parentcraft’ antenatal classes. In: 2008 Qualitative Methods in Psychology Section Inaugural Conference, 2nd-4th September 2008, University of Leeds. (Unpublished)

This paper examines how the role of fathers is constructed within antenatal classes. Antenatal or ‘parentcraft’ classes provide a forum whereby expectant parents learn about issues around managing labour, feeding and caring for a new baby. There is an assumption that as these classes, in essence, teach about the early stages of parenting, that what is recommended in these classes constitutes ‘desirable’ or normal parenting. Therefore, the roles afforded to the mothers and fathers in the classes may be assumed to represent the ‘ideal’ and normative approach to parenting. In our changing society, with more women entering the workforce to forge careers, the literature is noting the increasingly involved role of fathers in caring for their children (e.g. Dienhart, 1998; Doucet, 2006; Lupton & Barclay, 1997). However, in an extensive search of parenting magazines and literature given out to expectant and new parents, Sunderland (2000) notes how fathers are consistently constructed as ‘part-time’, ‘baby entertainers’ or ‘bumbling assistants’. Using actual audio recordings of antenatal classes run by the National Childbirth Trust, approximately 50 hours of recordings in total, and analysed through a discursive perspective, the analysis examines how the role of new fathers is constructed through discourse. The findings suggest that fathers, on the one hand, are set up to be the mother’s carer, rather than the baby’s carer, and linked very closely to this is the inference that the father has to be instructed by the class leader as to what his role should be at particular stages of early parenting, rather than knowing this for himself. The paper contributes to ongoing research about the constructions of parenting in institutional and popular forums, and notes although the role of fathers in society appears to be changing, at the level of communicating parenting, the more traditional gender roles of ‘father as provider’ and ‘mother as main carer’ are presented as the norm

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