Today, in western industrialized nations, the decision whether or not to have children is, as Berk (2004) describes it a “. matter of individual choice” (p. 460). This contrasts with many non western nations where what Michaels (1988, cited in Berk, 2004) describes childbearing as, “an unavoidable cultural demand” (p. 460). Research on the New Zealand population suggests that couples are having children at a much later phase of life. The median age for a woman to give birth is now 30. 3 years, compared with her counterpart in the early 1970’s who gave birth at 24. years. There is also an increasing amount of individuals foregoing parenthood altogether.
Statistics also show a trend towards later marriages and smaller families (www. stats. govt. nzfertility-rates) and couples living together especially in the early stages of the relationships (www. familiescommission. govt. nz). Many factors contribute to the marked shift from early to delayed childbearing. Berk (2005) suggests financial circumstances, personal and religious values and health conditions are influencing factors.
While Barber; Tangri & Jenkins (cited in Berk, 2004) suggest that women with high-status, demanding careers will less often choose parenthood than those with less time consuming positions. Other factors may include how the parents feel a new baby will impact on their lives in terms of disrupted sleep, caregiving tasks and the couple’s relationship. Harry was 36 and Sally 34 when Sally fell pregnant. The previous 10 years were spent forming an intimate relationship, travelling, working and saving money for the future. Both focussed through their schooling years, earned high paying jobs and travelled intermittently.
Both came from high socio-economic families and aspired to their parent’s life achievements. Being able to raise a child without concerns over money was the main motivation behind both Harry and Sally’s joint decision to delay childbearing. Financial independence, they felt would be achieved through owning their own property and having money in the bank. Once pregnant Sally suffered from morning sickness and her employer encouraged her to take time off when needed to rest; and at eight months pregnant Sally finished work, while Harry continued to work evenings and weekends.
Harry’s long working hours had not previously impacted on the relationship. The couples spare time was spent preparing the babies room, attending antenatal classes, watching television, shopping, enjoying socialising with friends and family and discussing the exciting upcoming event. Sally developed a relaxed routine of cooking, cleaning, reading and resting and Harry enjoyed Sally’s happy disposition and became accustomed to the routine. The couple rarely discussed how a new baby would impact their lives.
Baby Edward was born two weeks past his due date and had initial breathing difficulties. Although doctors stated there was nothing for them to worry about, Harry and Sally still felt anxious about their child’s health and felt it their responsibility to be proactive and keep Edward close to them at all times to monitor and tend to his needs promptly. They decided to place his bassinet alongside their bed at night and kept him in the lounge during the day so when he cried they could attend quickly.
Sally spent the majority of her time inside the house perfecting the art of breastfeeding, bathing and getting to know and care for her baby which she enjoyed. In support of this Harry tended to the cooking and other domestic duties both inside and outside the house. Harry stayed at home for the first week after the birth, but difficulties his company was facing left Harry feeling obligated to return to work. Sally’s mother Dot (aged 66) offered to stay for a few weeks and help out. Dot cooked, cleaned, offered praise and encouraged Sally to rest.
Although enjoying time with her daughter and grandson, Dot returned home after the two weeks as she herself felt tired. Sally, now on her own strived to maintain the routine of cooking, cleaning and caring for Edward, but tired easily as she found no time to rest during the day which caused her to felt uptight and teary. She looked forward to when Harry came home, who himself found it hard to come home to a tense, tired partner, a less than perfect house and often a simple cheese on toast dinner with an argument. Not what he had become accustomed to.
By six weeks old Edward enjoyed his night feeds and had incorporated a happy wake time into his night-time routine, where he would wave his arms around and make noises. Although entertaining, frequent awakenings left the couple sleep deprived. Harry’s suggestion that Edward move to his own room caused annoyance to Sally who still preferred to be near Edward. This ongoing conflict caused tension in the relationship and often resulted in Harry sleeping in the spare room. This made Sally resentful of the rest Harry was receiving and the lack she was.
Debates about differences in childrearing emerged at a gradual pace, causing more pressure on the relationship which was spiralling downwards. Harry began to feel (although guilty) that Edward had taken his fun-loving partner away from him, while lack of sleep and support left Sally feeling isolated and uninterested in intimacy with Harry. Sally found comfort in her local baby support group which her midwife encouraged her to join. Harry’s employer pressured him to work late and in weekends, only causing more tension between the two and impacting on the quality of time he had with his son.
The frequency of the arguments left the couple to re-evaluate their future together. The couple agreed on their commitment to each other and talked through ways to alleviate the pressure, such as part-time childcare, a nanny or part-time work for Harry. Both decided that they wanted Sally to raise the child and in the end Harry submitted a proposal to his employer which was accepted which enabled him to work from home with review in three months time. Additionally the couple attended counselling together. Harry spent more time with Edward and Sally helped Harry with his work where she could.
They developed a workable routine so that each had enough time for rest, enabling them to think more rationally, communicate better and enjoy their new family together. Sally and Harry took a very individualistic approach to their decision when to bear a child and felt no external pressures to do so at any particular point in time. During pregnancy the transition saw Sally partaking in more feminine roles in caring to the infant, shopping, housework and cooking, whilst Harry continued to work and provide financially for the family.
Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model suggests that the developing person is simultaneously influencing and being influenced by five levels; these being, the microsystem’, mesosystem’, exosystem’, macrosystem’ and chronosystem’ (Berk, 2004), with both the model and individual in a state of reciprocal change. A macrosystem influence, which refers to the larger cultural context, is evident in Harry and Sally’s decision to delay childbearing. The couple felt it important to not be dependent on the government for financial assistance.
The financial support offered at that time would be dependent on the countries greater values and beliefs and both felt that current policies would not render sufficient to maintain a level of lifestyle they desired. Thinking about the future is supported by Berk (2005) who states that, “the weighing-up of the pros and cons of parenthood means that many more couples are making informed and personally meaningful choices” (p. 462). This suggests that such a trend should increase the chances that people will have children when ready, enriching their own lives.
The Microsystem refers to a setting where people engage in face-to-face interaction (Hutchins & Sims, 1999). It consists of activities and interaction patterns in the person’s immediate surroundings. The microsystem would include the way Sally interacted with Edward, how Sally and Harry interacted with each other at home and the way Dot interacted with Sally and Edward. The home was a place where face-to-face interactions occurred. The quality of the interactions impacted on each individual.
For instance Dot’s encouragement made Sally feel competent at childrearing, which in turn fostered the healthy development of Edward in that she interact with him positively. The Mesosystem refers to two microsystems in interaction. This is evident in pressure for Harry to work late and weekends, affecting the relationship he had with Sally and his son and causing him to be tired. Also the support Sally had from her employer to take time off when needed during pregnancy, ultimately affected the way she felt and supported the development of her unborn child.
The Exosystem refers to social settings which do not include the developing person but affects experiences in the immediate setting (Berk, 2005). An example being Harry’s employers agreeing to allow him to work from home. This was a decision made at Board level within the company with the outcome either way impacting on the development of the family unit. The Chronosystem refers to the aspect of time. Edwards breathing difficulties impacted on the way Harry and Sally choose to care for him; being their decision to place his bassinet in their room, which in turn caused other issues for the couple, such as sleep deprivation.
Also, Edward was born at a particular point in time where medical intervention was possible to monitor his breathing. Harry’s ability to work from home is an example of a history graded influence. Harry’s work involved computers, the internet and telecommunication, a job which could be done remotely from home due to technical advances. The impact of this history-graded influence was that Harry was able to spend more time at home and have more available slots throughout the day to spend with his family and rest for himself.
The support received from Dot indirectly supported the family and fostered positive development in Edward. Dot responded warmly to Edward, offered reassurance and advice to Sally and performed many helpful activities. This kind of help documented in findings by Heath (2005) suggests that, “new mothers often turn to their own parents for advice and help in childrearing” (p. 65). Berk (2005) refers to these types of interactions amongst the family as indirect influences’. Suggesting, depending on their nature they promote or inhibit positive development.
Dots kind, patient communication evoked a cooperative harmonious response in contrast to harshness which would foster angry, resistive behaviour. This typical way Dot interacted with Sally throughout life can be related to by Berk (2005) as intergenerational transmission of attachment patterns’, which suggests that securely attached infants become parents who are able to care responsively for their children – that there are intergenerational effects. How we were parented is likely to be the same way we parent.
The decision to put Edward’s bassinet in the main bedroom stemmed from the traumatic birth. This type of influences Berk (2005) refers to as non-normative’ influences; suggesting that because these events occur haphazardly they can affect us in powerful ways; evident in the strain on the couple’s relationship due to continuous disrupted sleep. Erikson devised his psychosocial theory which in contrast to Freud’s theory encompassed the entire life cycle and recognized the impact of history, culture and society on an individual’s personality.
He suggested individuals move through psychosocial stages throughout life and at each stage require attitudes and skills that make us an active, contributing member of society. As a newborn Edward was within Erikson’s first psychosocial stage of basic trust versus mistrust’. Sally fostered the positive development within this stage by responding promptly and appropriately to him when he cried. Edward learnt to signal his needs in a way which were met. According to Erikson (cited in Berk, 2006), “mistrust occurs when the child has to wait too long for comfort or handled harshly” (p. ).
In keeping the baby close Sally was also supporting evolutionary survival in that the need for the caregiver to remain close so the infant would be, “protected from danger, fed, and provided with stimulation and affection necessary for healthy growth” (Berk, 2005, p. 22). Prior to purchasing a property and conception Harry and Sally focused building a relationship and saving money, paralleling Erikson’s stage of intimacy versus isolation’, (Berk, 2005) which suggests young people work on establishing intimate ties to others.
The next stage encountered supports Erikson’s assumptions that as the person matures each stage has its special time of emergence, the stage in question being that of generativity versus stagnation’ (Berk, 2005). The couple made the decision to give to the next generation through childrearing; a process which Erikson suggests brings a sense of meaningful accomplishment in life. Having Dot come and stay also provides another example in that having already raised her own children; Dot was able to give again through assisting the family, giving her a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
Havighurst (1972) extends on Erikson’s ideas by his development of a series of developmental tasks that need to be sequentially mastered and highlighting that such tasks are demands placed on individuals by society. By learning Edward’s cues Sally discovered a tired baby did not feed well and as a result highlighted Sally’s need to develop a routine which best fitted the development of baby at this stage. Havighurst refers to this notion as a task for the period of infancy and early childhood, which outlines that the child works to achieve physiological rhythms in sleeping and eating’.
Within Havighurst’s period of young adulthood’ Harry and Sally were successful in courting and selecting a mate’. Once they felt stable in their relationship and financially secure the couple choose to purchase a property and with this came the requirement of assuming home management responsibilities’. The decision to enter the realm of parenthood Havighurst refers to as the stages of starting a family and assuming the parent role’. Additionally, Sally’s decision to join a local baby group demonstrates establishing a social network’, another task within this period.
After their travels and financial security they purchased a property and prepared for marriage and family life’, although not in this order. The arrival of the baby brought new adjustments as the couple had to live happily with partner’, a task within young adulthood’. The adjustment to physical changes in pregnancy, the preparation for the birth and preparing the home environment suggests the couple were in the process of Havighurst’s stage of starting a family and assuming the parent role’, which continued when the baby arrived and Sally attended to Edwards needs.
Sally’s involvement with her baby group suggests she was attending to the task of establishing a social network’. Also Dot’s involvement brought a realisation to her that she was not as full of energy as she use to be, demonstrating Havighurst’s development period of old age’, in that individuals have to adjust to physical changes’. Bowlby (1969) developed the idea of attachment theory and Ainsworth (1978) developed the tool to evaluate the quality of attachment relationships in infancy (Berk, 2005).
Berk (1997, cited in Hutchins & Sims, 1999) described attachment as, “the feeling we have for special people in our lives that brings us pleasure and joy when we interact with them and comfort in times of sadness and stress” (p. 71). By staying close to Edward, Sally was supporting the natural attachment process. Bowlby would suggest that when Edward cried he was in fact using a social signals’ that would encourage the parent to approach, care for and interact with him – supporting evolutionary history.
Edward was what Bowlby identifies as within the preattachment’ phase, lasting from birth to six weeks – evident as he was happy to be comforted by Dot, Harry or Sally. In the prompt response Edward received his sense of trust was fostered, which supports the foundation to develop emotional stability, a strong sense of self, as well as trust in themselves and the world around them (Hutchins & Sims, 1999). Such trust assists the child in providing a secure base for exploration and play.
One of Levinson’s (1978, cited in Berk, 2004) key concepts is the underlying design of a person’s life, consisting of relationships with significant others, referred to as the life structure’. In supporting this, prior to conception both Harry and Sally felt it important to work, travel, learn about each other and gain financial security. Harry’s parents worked as mentors for Harry as they had encouraged him to gain a good education, work hard and not rely on others for financial security.
Levinson suggests that such mentors are able to guide the person with values and customs. In achieving financial security and forming a secure relationship with Sally, Harry felt prepared for the next phase of life, that being childrearing. Levinson suggests that this is a common path in that individuals feel that by concluding the previous era prepares the person for the next.
Sally’s dream of having her own family supports Levinson’s idea that people construct a dream, an image of themselves in the adult world that guides their decisions. For Harry work commitments, decline in fulfilment from Sally and drastic change in lifestyle led him to make serious decisions about what future paths to take; supporting assumptions that adulthood is the era of “greatest energy and abundance, contradiction and stress” (Levinson, cited in Berk, 2004) (p. 7).
Cognition, as described by Lefrancois (1999) is the, “art or faculty of knowing” (p. 45). Edwards cognitive development falls within Paiget’s sensorimotor period which spans from birth to age two, suggesting Edward is learning to understand his world largely through immediate action and sensation, focussing on the here and now with no notion of objective reality (Lefrancois, 1999). Breastfeeding brought Edward pleasure and as a result he developed a sucking scheme.
Paiget believes that through a process of accommodation and assimilation Edward will add other experiences to his sucking scheme and make changes to his thinking structures when experiences do not fit this scheme – a process Paiget refers to as accommodation and assimilation. Cognitive development was fostered in the caregiving Edward received as his brain was developing rapidly and continuously building essential connections, called synapses. This synaptic growth occurring each time somebody interacted with Edward.
When Sally responded to Edwards need for food she promoted healthy brain growth, leading to new connections between nerve cells (Berk, 2005). Edward’s fascination at night with his waving arms demonstrates Paiget’s sensorimotor substage two in that the infant’s actions are oriented toward their own bodies and such an action helps the child gain voluntary control of their bodies (Berk, 2005). The strain the relationship was under prompted the couple to discuss possible solutions.
Deciding to make changes supports research suggesting that different ways of thinking emerge in adulthood, which combine logical thinking abilities with intuition and emotion – referred to as postformal thought. The decision to work from home over other possible options demonstrated what Sinnott (1984, cited in Papalia & Feldman, 2001) refers to as, “multiple causality, multiple solutions” (p. 502), which suggests that Harry had a awareness that most problems have more than one solution and that some solutions are more likely to work than others.
This type of cognition reflects awareness that there are no predetermined right answers, and no absolute rules (Heath, 2005). Developmental theory helps us evaluate Harry and Sally’s transition to parenthood at a deeper level, by identifying aspects and applying appropriate theories. Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Model highlighted how the macrosystem impacted on the decision to delay childbearing for financial reasons. The mesosystem was a supporting influence in the way Sally’s employer fostered the health of Sally by encouraging her to take time off work.
A turning point in Sally and Harry’s relationship was the ability for Harry to work. Technological advances at that particular time made his job possibly from a remote location. As a result all the family were benefited in differing ways. In applying psychosocial theory we are able to understand what stage of life the characters were at and understand the importance of each stage. For Edward developing trust in infancy was relevant and directly related to attachment theory, fostered through the way Sally stayed close and tended to Edwards needs promptly and appropriately.
In applying Levinson’s seasons of life in adulthood theory we can see how Sally held a dream to have a financially secure family and how this dream motivated her through her college and employment; while Harry’s parents became mentors for reaching his own family and financial goals. In applying cognitive theory we can identify what Edward was learning as he waved his arms around in the air in his bassinet late at night and cognitive theory helps us to understand the higher level of mental thought, known as postformal thought Sally and Harry demonstrated when faced with a situation which needed attention.
Overall, the transition to parenthood and the birth of a new baby brings many changes to the existing family structure. Influences such as the extended family, the couples workplaces, the support within the community, social services available and the overarching belief of a nation at that particular time all work together and ultimately provide a notion of how well the individual and the family unit adjusts.