Voice | Parenting Tools

A better way to become a parent

In a perfect world, every parent would be married. With a respectful nod to all those moms and dads doing their best as single parents, statistics show it's simply better for kids to have two parents at home.

Yet, according to research presented Nov. 16 at "Healthy Relationships, Healthy Families: A Forum on Marriage" (sponsored by the Washington Council for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect), the state of marriage in the U.S. is bleak: 20 percent of first marriages break down after five years, and that number rises to 50 percent after 20 years. For people who divorce and remarry, the breakup rate in subsequent marriages is even higher.

It should be no surprise to anyone reading a parenting magazine that the hardest thing on a marriage is becoming a parent. University of Washington researcher Pamela Jordan, Ph.D., RN, defines the problem simply: "poor preparation for the most important job in the world."

Jordan, who has been in the UW's School of Nursing since 1984, has spent years studying what happens when couples make the transition to parenthood, including the roles of expectant and new fathers. When women are pregnant, Jordan notes, the focus is on childbirth education classes -- preparation on childbirth, labor and delivery, plus instruction on simple tasks like changing diapers and bathing the baby. Jordan contends the emphasis should be on strengthening the couple relationship, to weather the massive changes that occur in the mother-father dynamic after baby arrives.

"Every pregnancy should be considered a high-risk pregnancy because it's a high risk to the parents," Jordan says. She developed the Becoming Parents Program, now in the clinical trial phase with 470 Puget Sound-area parents, aimed at helping first-time parents take care of their couples relationship while they are also caring for a new baby.

Jordan specifically stresses the importance of a biological father living at home. (Notice the emphasis on the term biological: Research shows that children who grow up in stepfamilies don't do much better than in homes with single parents, she notes.)

According to Jordan, kids growing up in homes without biological fathers are:
  • five times more likely to be poor
  • two times more likely to use illegal drugs
  • two to three times more likely to have health, emotional and behavioral problems, and be victims of child abuse.

In addition, these children are more likely to have poor math and reading scores and a lower level of school performance.

Now, we know that these statistics don't always ring true. Each of us could name children living with a single mother who fall into none of these categories, as well as kids having some or all of the above problems despite Dad living at home.

But we agree that better parent preparation -- to ensure that more couples stay together and that more children grow up with both a mother and father at home -- means a better outcome for those undertaking "the most important job in the world."

Give the gift of good parenting

Expecting your first child or know someone who is? Consider giving yourself or others a special holiday gift of better parenting skills.

The Becoming Parents Program opens to the public in January. Registration deadline for the first class series is Jan. 16, with the six-class session starting Saturday, Jan. 21. All classes will be held at the Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N., Room 202, Seattle. Visit www.becomingparents.com for more information or to register. Gift certificates are available.

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