The authors report no conflict of interest or relevant financial relationships.
The Lived Experience of Fathers Whose Children Are Diagnosed with a Genetic Disorder
Article first published online: 19 DEC 2013
© 2013 AWHONN, the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses
Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing
Volume 43, Issue 1, pages 38–49, January/February 2014
How to Cite
Rivard, M. T. and Mastel-Smith, B. (2014), The Lived Experience of Fathers Whose Children Are Diagnosed with a Genetic Disorder. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing, 43: 38–49. doi: 10.1111/1552-6909.12268
- Issue published online: 15 JAN 2014
- Article first published online: 19 DEC 2013
- Manuscript Accepted: AUG 2013
- father's experience;
- children with genetic disorders;
To describe the father's experience of having a child diagnosed with a genetic disorder.
Interpretive phenomenological analysis.
In-person interviews for participants living within 100 miles of the researcher; phone interviews with participants living more than 100 miles from the researcher.
Six fathers of children diagnosed with genetic disorders.
Participants were recruited with the assistance of nurses, physicians, and genetic counselors. Snowball sampling, Internet and e-mail recruitment, and word of mouth were also used. Semistructured interviews were completed, audio recorded, and transcribed verbatim.
Five themes emerged: the impact of diagnosis, seeking understanding, coping with effects of the disorder, looking to the future, and addressing a father's needs.
Fathers of children diagnosed with genetic disorders described a lack of education and information regarding the diagnoses. They attributed this deficiency to a lack of knowledge among physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals. Coping with the effects of the disorder was identified as an integral part of adapting to meet the child's needs. Understanding the experience of a father whose child is diagnosed with a genetic disorder is necessary to ensure provision of proper intervention and care.
Many parents of children with genetic disorders are wrought with misunderstanding, guilt, shame, and uncertainty (Hallowell et al., 2006; James, Hadley, Holtzman, & Winkelstein, 2006). With a father's realization that a child's genetic anomaly will likely affect the life of his child and his family comes an inevitable emotional response (Skirton, 2006). Past researchers have not been focused on understanding a father's reaction or gaining knowledge to assist fathers in managing repercussions (Dellve, Samuelsson, Tallborn, Fasth, & Hallberg, 2006; James et al., 2006). Conversely, the impact of a child's disease or disorder on mothers has been considered, largely due to the assumption that mothers have greater responsibility regarding child care (Mackey & Goddard, 2006; Neff, 2010). Parental coping differences among those with children suffering from illness have been reported (Pelchat, Lefebvre, & Levert, 2007; Swallow, Lambert, Santacroce, & Macfadyen, 2011). According to Pelchat, Levert, and Bourgeois-Guérin (2009), mothers and fathers generally respond to and cope with a child's illness from different perspectives. These differing perspectives may lead to conflicting effects on the family.
The purpose of this study was to understand a father's experience of having a child diagnosed with a genetic disorder. A phenomenologic approach was used to achieve this objective, more specifically, interpretive phenomenologic analysis.
There is a lack of research related to issues that affect fathers when their children are diagnosed with a genetically transmitted anomaly. Parental guilt and stress are problems associated with disease and disorder in children. Fathers’ responses to having a child with a genetic disorder have not been examined sufficiently.
The needs of fathers when their children are diagnosed with genetic disorders have been largely overlooked by many in the health care professions.
A significant problem was revealed during the review of literature: the needs of fathers whose children have been diagnosed with genetic disorders are not being met. Four general foci were identified related to this issue. First, father's reactions to childbirth and disability in their offspring differ from other family members (O'Leary & Thorwick, 2006; Pelchat, Levert, & Bourgeois-Guérin, 2009; Ware & Raval, 2007). Second, paternal stressors are generally related to financial issues, other family commitments, and feelings of incompetence surrounding the care of a child whether a disability exists (Barclay & Lupton, 1999; Baum, 2004; Neil-Urban & Jones, 2002). Third, a father's needs for education concerning the cause of disease, care of the child, and prognosis are not being adequately addressed (Barclay & Lupton, 1999; Dellve et al., 2006; Fletcher, Vimpani, Russell, & Sibbritt, 2008; Lernmark et al., 2004; Mackey & Goddard, 2006). Fourth, paternal emotional responses, including stress and guilt, have a great impact on family function (Fletcher et al., 2008; Pelchat et al., 2009; Ware & Raval, 2007).
Research findings suggest that guilt can have a negative impact on personal and professional relationships and psychological well-being (Hallowell et al., 2006). According to Tangney, Miller, Flicker, and Barlow (1996) fathers who feel responsible for their children's health, care, and welfare may feel they have misbehaved or failed to provide their children with components necessary to live a healthy and happy life. These feelings may lead to conflict in their relationships (Sanders, Dittman, Keown, Farruggia, & Rose, 2010).
For fathers, stress related to juggling personal and professional commitments is a common reaction to the birth of a child. Add the diagnosis of genetic anomaly, and the result can be overpowering for some (Barclay & Lupton, 1999; Baum, 2004; Hallowell et al., 2006; Neil-Urban & Jones, 2002). The unpredicatable nature of many genetic disorders had the potential to escalate parental stress and create marital discord (Chesler & Parry, 2001; Pelchat et al., 2009).
A qualitative method with phenomenologic design was utilized for this study. Phenomenology was employed because in this approach the researcher seeks to discover meaning from lived experience (Gillis & Jackson, 2002). More specifically, interpretive phenomenologic analysis (IPA) was used. The basis of phenomenology stems from the belief that all persons have a distinct view of reality and that each view is as legitimate as any other. Interactions between situations and individuals lead to understanding and discovery of meaning focused on how a person makes sense of his or her world and the meaning derived from experience (Munhall, 2007). Interpretive phenomenologic analysis was used to understand a father's experience of discovering his child has a genetic disorder. According to IPA, this experience could be considered a major life transition leading to reflection, thinking, and feeling as the father works through its meaning (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). We sought to examine the experience of a distinct case exploring the individual experience of each participant. This allows for fewer participants and permits the researcher to reveal parts of the experience for each individual and to describe the similarities and differences among cases (Smith et al., 2009).
The final sample consisted of six fathers of children diagnosed with genetic disorders. Smith et al. (2009) suggested a sample of between three and six participants and noted that IPA studies are performed on smaller sample sizes in an attempt to locate a “reasonably homogenous sample” which allows for more detailed “convergence and divergence” to be examined (p. 3).
Following Institutional Review Board approval, participants were recruited with the assistance of nurses, physicians, and genetic counselors. Snowball sampling, Internet and e-mail recruitment, and word of mouth were also utilized. Participant recruitment took place from April until October, 2012. Eligibility criteria included (a) biological father of a child with a genetic disorder, (b) unaffected by the same genetic disorder as the child, (c) age 18 or older, and (d) able to speak, read, and write English. All participants were White, married, and college educated. Each was employed with income ranging from $20,000 to $115,000 per year.
After providing written informed consent, four participants were interviewed in person and two via phone. Interviews were semistructured using an interview guide (Figure 1), audio recorded, and transcribed verbatim. Identifying information was removed. Length of interviews ranged from 30 to 60 minutes depending on depth of response. Each participant was asked to describe his experience of having a child diagnosed with a genetic disorder. Additional questions were posed based on responses to questions and comments. Notes were taken describing verbal responses and nonverbal reactions for those interviewed in person. Interviews continued until data saturation was reached.
Data analysis was performed as described by Gillis and Jackson (2002) and began with reading and rereading transcripts throughout the data collection process. During data analysis, experiences were organized and coded into units of meaning. The codes were then organized and integrated into data surrounding central themes. This process allowed for relationships within the data to be recognized (Portney & Watkins, 2009; Starks & Trinifather, 2007). Themes and commonalities or patterns assisted in identifying the structure of the phenomenon.
Trustworthiness of data was assessed according to Munhall (2007) who indicated that to be trustworthy, four criteria must be met: (a) credibility (establishment of truth), (b) transferability (applicability), (c) dependability (consistency), and (d) confirmability (objectivity). Credibility was assured via member checks and review of data interpretation and analysis by an expert in qualitative analysis. Member checks were done via e-mail and/or hard copy review of interpreted and analyzed data by participants. Transferability was met in that findings are expected to be relevant to others experiencing similar situations. An audit trail including field notes, personal notes, and transcribed interviews was used to provide dependability of the study. The audit trail, member checks, and expert review demonstrated confirmability (Gillis & Jackson, 2002).
The participant group consisted of six fathers whose children had been diagnosed with genetic disorders. The diagnosis, time elapsed since diagnosis, prevalence, type of genetic disorder, and definition of disorder are included in Table 1. Examination and interpretation of narratives revealed five themes: the impact of diagnosis, seeking understanding, coping with effects of the disorder, looking to the future, and addressing a father's needs.
|Participant||Time since||Type of Genetic|
|0001||15 months||Galactosemia||Classic galactosemia: 1 in 30,000 to 60,000; Duarte variant: unknown (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2008)||Autosomal recessive: Duarte variant||“A disorder that affects how the body processes a simple sugar called galactose” (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2008, para 1). The disease affects various enzymes utilized in breaking down galactose. The Duarte variant decreases but does not eradicate the activity of the enzyme. Infants typically develop feeding difficulties, lethargy, failure to thrive, jaundice, liver damage, and bleeding (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2008).|
|0002||3.5 years||Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS)||1 in 10,000 to 30,000 people worldwide (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2011)||Partial deletion chromosome 15||“A complex genetic condition that affects many parts of the body. In infancy, this condition is characterized by (hypotonia), feeding difficulties, poor growth, and delayed development. Beginning in childhood, affected individuals develop an insatiable appetite, which leads to (hyperphagia) and obesity. Some people with Prader-Willi syndrome, particularly those with obesity, also develop type 2 diabetes mellitus” (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2011, para 1).|
|0003||2 years||Isovaleric acidemia (IVA)||1 in 250,000 people in the United States (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2007a)||Autosomal recessive||“A rare disorder in which the body is unable to process certain proteins properly. It is classified as an organic acid disorder, which is a condition that leads to an abnormal buildup of particular acids known as organic acids. Abnormal levels of organic acids in the blood (organic acidemia), urine (organic aciduria), and tissues can be toxic and can cause serious health problems” (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2007a, para 1).|
|0004||3 years||Very long-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase deficiency (VCLAD)||1 in 40,000 to 120,000 (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2009)||Autosomal recessive: cardiac variant||“A condition that prevents the body from converting certain fats to energy, particularly during periods without food” (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2009, para 1). Cardiac involvement “typically presents in the first months of life with hypertrophic or dilated cardiomyopathy, pericardial effusion, and arrhythmias” (Leslie, Tinkle, Strauss, Shooner, & Zhang, 2011, para 1).|
|0005||13 years||Down syndrome||1 in 700 (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2012)||Nondisjunction, trisomy 21||“A chromosomal condition that is associated with intellectual disability, a characteristic facial appearance, and (hypotonia) in infancy. All affected individuals experience cognitive delays, but the intellectual disability is usually mild to moderate” (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2012, para 1). People with Down syndrome may have a variety of birth defects” (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2012, para 2).|
|0006||22 months||Osteogenesis imperfecta, type I||All types: 6 to 7 per 100,000 people worldwide; Type I: 4 to 5 per 100,000 people worldwide (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2007b)||Autosomal dominant||“A group of genetic disorders that mainly affect the bones . . . People with this condition have bones that break easily, often from mild trauma or with no apparent cause. Multiple fractures are common, and in severe cases, can occur even before birth. Milder cases may involve only a few fractures over a person's lifetime” (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2007b, para 1). Type I is the less serious form (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2007b).|
The impact of the diagnosis on fathers was greatly affected by the lack knowledge of health care professionals about the disorder.
The Impact of Diagnosis
The impact of diagnosis varied little among participants. Most described feelings of shock, fear, devastation, and worry, and all revealed confusion at initial diagnosis. Several of the men became hesitant, teary eyed, and their voices shook during the conversations. For some fathers, their children experienced serious medical complications related to their genetic disorders at the time of diagnosis that increased their fears and concerns. In all cases, confirmation of the genetic disorder required a minimum of 7 to 8 days, and for some this occurred after newborn screening results were returned.
All fathers reported that health care professionals lacked knowledge of the disorders. One father said, “The first nurse we talked to pretty much said, your son is very, very, very sick and that's all that we could get out of them.” Some fathers also felt a lack of sensitivity among healthcare professionals. A father whose child had isovaleric acidemia (IVA) and was being treated for life-threatening complications stated:
They printed off a sheet of about 4 or 5 sheets of paper and handed it to us and said this tells you about IVA and this is about all we know…. They brought us a folder and they said you need to start looking at this stuff … so you understand what's going on.
All of the participants' children were diagnosed with disorders considered rare, meaning they occur in fewer than 200,000 people in the United States (National Human Genome Research Institute, 2012). The lack of background knowledge about their children's conditions increased their feelings of fear and confusion because they had no foundation on which to base their expectations.
The father's concerns were greatly heightened because many providers had deficient knowledge regarding the signs, symptoms, treatment, and effects of each disorder. This lack of knowledge generally occurred at the initial treatment centers they visited. One father reported feeling “discouraged” by the insufficient knowledge among professionals and noted, “They were just as clueless as we were.” Fathers reported feelings of confusion, frustration, and shock during their children's illnesses following diagnosis, partly because of a shortage of information. One father remarked that once the diagnosis was known, “It was a relief to find out … that it was actually something that somebody knew about.”
Although participants reported feelings of concern, fear, and shock for themselves, many also worried about how their wives would cope with the news and felt the need to provide comfort and support. In one case, the father stated, “I was more concerned about my wife [than I was about my child] at that point.”
Seeking understanding refers to the fathers' desire to obtain enough information to understand their children's conditions as well as prepare for their future needs. Information sources at diagnosis included health care professionals and personal research.
Health Care Professionals
Each father stated that his initial contact and primary source of information at diagnosis was a physician. In most cases, the fathers described this first contact person as lacking knowledge about their children's disorders. This was especially true for those fathers whose children were diagnosed with inborn errors of metabolism and Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS) due to the extreme rarity of the conditions. This lack of knowledge among physicians led to inadequate education about important aspects of their children's health and feelings of fear and concern resulted:
The way it was described to us [by the physicians] is that they had briefly read about it while they were working [in] med school…. We met multiple, multiple doctors that [said my child] was the only occurrence that they had witnessed.
One other father stated, “They were surprised to find out [my child] had it and they, themselves, didn't seem to know a whole lot about it. I was recommended … to just look it up online.”
For most fathers, the majority of information provided by the initial contacts consisted of papers printed from internet databases and websites specific to their children's disorders: “Even the lady who talked to us … said, ‘I've never seen this before … all I can do for you is hand you this sheet of paper and it will tell you what we're talking about.'”
Following initial diagnosis, all of the participant's children were referred to larger health care centers outside their immediate areas of residence, a 1- to 2-hour drive for most. Time from initial diagnosis to consultation with specialists in these centers varied from several hours to several weeks depending on the child's condition. Once able to speak with specialists in these larger medical centers, each father felt he was presented with more in-depth explanation of his child's disorder as well as more reliable information concerning the child's condition and outlook.
Fathers also had contact with genetic counselors once they reached the larger medical centers. Fathers found this group of professionals helpful in teaching them about their children's conditions as well as advising them regarding the probability of having another child with the same disorder. Nurses and other health care professionals were also mentioned as sources of information, although their contributions were related to care of the child rather than information about the disorder.
When health care professionals were unable to provide adequate information, fathers gathered their own materials to assist them in understanding the diagnosis. In some instances, they sought knowledge from family and friends. One father stated, “A friend of my wife's actually had [the disorder]. We called her … just to see what struggles and things that she had in her life, so we just educated ourselves.”
The fathers also felt they became adept at Internet research. Most were able to locate websites specific to their children's disorders as well as support groups and forums where they could communicate with others experiencing similar issues. This ability to locate information seemed to create a sense of accomplishment although fathers appeared agitated because they had to locate the material on their own. Knowledge empowered them to cope with the ramifications of their children's disorder.
Effect of Time
When participants were asked how they felt about their children's diagnoses now, after time allowed them to assimilate the information, all indicated that they realized these genetic disorders were not something they could have foreseen. The fathers were vigilant about checking into their family histories, but none found a definitive link. In cases where the disorder was passed on from the parents, the fathers appeared comfortable in their knowledge that they were not at fault for causing the condition. Three fathers used exactly the same words, “It is what it is.” Two fathers acknowledged feelings of guilt because of their children's conditions. In one case, the feeling was related to the knowledge that the disorder was the result of a deletion of genetic material in the father's sperm. Although he admitted to feeling guilt, he was quick to qualify the remark by saying, “It was nice to know what caused it but also, at the same time, it basically was telling me that yes, it was my fault … [but] it's not like I could have done it on purpose.” The other father, laughingly stated, “I think the guilt kind of … I didn't have a problem with it. I mean it's not my fault it's my mom and dad's fault, they gave it to me.”
When their children were first diagnosed, most fathers felt overwhelmed by their lack of knowledge leading to fear and confusion about their children's health and futures. With time however, they were able to overcome those feelings by locating knowledgeable healthcare providers and information sources. One father commented, “It still scares me, but I know how to live with it.”
Coping with Effects of the Disorder
The third theme, coping with effects of the disorder, involved maintaining the marital relationship, adjustment to caring for the child's special needs, and advocating for and teaching others about the condition.
Maintaining the Marital Relationship
Fathers in this study were all married to the mothers of the children at the time of diagnosis and remain married at the time of interview. When asked about changes in their relationships with their wives, these men either described becoming closer or having no change as a result of their children's genetic disorder. None acknowledged that the stress of the disorder and/or raising a child with special needs had a detrimental effect on the relationship. For four fathers, diagnosis came soon after birth. These men described feelings of greater concern for their wives' welfare rather than their own or their children's. One father stated, “I understand that God's going to take care of things here, but I don't know what I'm going to do with my wife if [our child] dies.”
Adjustment to Caring for the Child's Special Needs
In each situation, learning to care for their children's special needs was a necessity. Each disorder had unique effects that had to be dealt with accordingly. For the fathers this meant adjusting everyday life to include provision of care for their children.
In some cases, such as the child with galactosemia, the adjustment was felt by the father to be relatively simple: “[My child] can't have dairy milk. That was the only real change we needed to make that I was aware of.” In other cases, multiple adjustments were necessary. One father stated, “Chances are, that with that syndrome, they'll never be on their own, they can't be.” Another commented, “You're so tired. I mean, we still wake up every night with [our child], you feel like a zombie.”
For two of the couples, adjusting to meet the needs of their children meant adapting the family situation so the mothers would not have to work. This adaptation allowed both parents to meet the needs of their children while maintaining the family relationship and reducing the stress of finding appropriate care.
Advocating for and Teaching Others about the Child's Condition
Because of the rare nature of these genetic disorders, the participants had to care for their children and also act as advocates to ensure the children were getting appropriate care elsewhere. For example, when one father's child was hospitalized, he acknowledged:
We're real leery, we don't trust doctors; we don't trust nurses…. I think we've probably gotten that way just because they're not as well-versed on [our child's] condition…. The doctors obviously have all the control or whatever, but we have learned to be active choreographers in all of the events.
One father stated, “A lot of people think … when is [my child] going to grow out of having [this disorder] and that's not possible,” so he felt it necessary to educate those who did not understand.
Looking to the Future
The fathers in this group also discussed the ramifications of their children's disorders related to future issues, including what to expect, reaching out to others for support, and uncertainty about having more children.
What to Expect
These fathers still had questions about their children's futures. One father pointed out that understanding what to expect was helpful only up to a certain point: “I can read all I want but to really understand it I'm going to have to live it. I can't just read other people's accounts. I mean, each one of them is different. You never know how they'll develop.” Most of these fathers felt similarly and remarked that they would seek out and learn information as it became available and/or necessary as their children grew.
Reaching Out to Others for Support
For many fathers, seeking support from others was a useful technique for coping. Support was received from several sources, including Internet support groups and forums, family, friends, and health care professionals. Many fathers commented on the importance of this support in helping them understand, work through, and deal with their children's conditions.
Uncertainty about Having More Children
With genetic conditions, the question of having more children can be filled with uncertainty. This issue concerned many of the participants, although at the time of interviews, five of the six fathers had gone on to have additional children. They understood the risk but felt the chance of having another child with the disorder was not an issue. The sixth father did voice concern about the risk of having another child with the same condition. For this man, the main issue was having the energy to cope with another child with the same genetic disorder.
Addressing a Father's Needs
Meeting the unique needs of fathers whose children have genetic disorders requires an understanding of those needs. Interference with work and need for support as an integral part of the family unit were of great importance.
Interference with Work
The majority of participants indicated they would prefer to have more flexibility in their jobs to allow them to participate in child care. They also felt increased flexibility would allow them to be more involved with medical appointments and treatment. One father stated, “I want to go to everything … basically [I am] just letting them down not being able to be there.” Another father stated, “I would rather stay home every day all day and help but I just can't do that to survive.” Yet another father sadly revealed that he had not been able to attend any appointments with his child for more than a year.
In most cases, fathers described feeling they were not the focus of educational efforts regarding their children's diagnoses and care. Many participants described feeling “left out” because everyone focused on the wife, and one felt the mother had “more pull” with the health care professionals they encountered. Another commented:
Well I don't know that they necessarily cared about me that much. I think that they were more concerned … about my wife because she was the one that was carrying the child and having to deal with the issues. You know, they let me know what was basically going on but I was kind of odd man out.
One father felt excluded from the health care professionals he encountered and from his wife, “I'm just a spectator in the whole thing.”
The impact of having a child diagnosed with a genetic disorder was profound and brought unique and exceptional issues of concern. In the past, a father's distinctive perspective, needs related to the understanding of his child's diagnosis and care, and health and life outlook were not addressed. To properly prepare fathers to cope with this major life change, it is important to provide the basic necessities required to meet their needs.
The impact of diagnosis could be greatly improved by providing fathers with information from the beginning. All participants recalled professionals who lacked knowledge and sensitivity when their children were first diagnosed. Some described a lackadaisical attitude from professionals. To decrease stress and promote coping and understanding, protocols that direct nurses and other health care professionals' actions and responses, including sensitivity to parents' emotional needs, are needed. Additionally, both parents must be included in conversations. Fathers want to be involved in their children's care and addressing their needs will assist them in transitioning to the role of father and coping with the diagnosis (May, 1996; O'Leary & Thorwick, 2006; Perry, Hockenberry, Lowdermilk, & Wilson, 2010). The issue of time to confirm the diagnosis might have also had an effect on the fathers;' reactions. In several cases, the children developed complications related to the genetic disorder, but the presence of the condition was not known or confirmed for several days or weeks. As reported by Skirton (2006), waiting for results of testing is one of the worst stressors for parents.
Emotional support at the time of diagnosis and beyond is imperative for fathers. Although the literature suggested that guilt could be an issue for these fathers, most of the men did not describe this emotion, although, body language and voice inflection indicated feelings that were not acknowledged during the interviews. Health care providers should be aware of fathers' verbal and nonverbal cues because they will frequently attempt to hide their feelings due to fear of losing control, or being seen as ineffectual or weak (Perry et al., 2010). Anticipatory guidance, emotional support, assistance with stressor identification, and development of coping mechanisms and problem solving strategies can help fathers to feel empowered and better able to manage their own needs as well as those of their child (Perry et al., 2010).
Contrary to the literature, for this small, nonprobability sample of fathers, marital relationships were not detrimentally affected by the diagnoses. The couples managed to maintain their relationships without allowing the stresses of their children's disorders to become a barrier to communication and caring. Follow-up examination of these relationships over time might prove to be valuable in identification of whether alterations in relationships occur as the child ages, consequences of their disorders change, and/or long-term stress becomes an issue.
Education should be a priority in provision of family-centered care. The fathers interviewed felt let down by many in the health care profession. The lack of experience with the children's conditions and lack of professional education about what the disorders involved led to a shortfall of information for parents. Therefore, enhanced education regarding genetic transmission and disorders should be a priority for health care professionals and patient/family educators. Educators must also be aware of the constantly changing climate in genetic and genomic information and research. Knowledge of changes and advances can then be passed on to patients and families, helping them to remain up to date and increasing their comfort and competence in providing and receiving care for their children (Guttmacher, Porteous, & McInerney, 2007). Nurses are instrumental in providing education, in part because they are frequently the initial health care professional encountered by families.
Keeping fathers involved is essential to helping them cope with their children's disorders. It is important to remember that fathers are frequently the sole or major source of family income. Families with children who have special needs often have additional medical costs and juggling the demands of work and family can have a detrimental effect on fathers and their families (Barclay & Lupton, 1999; Neil-Urban & Jones, 2002). Inclusion may help a father feel more a part of the health care team and important in maintaining his child's well-being. Nurses could help to implement flexible office hours and appointments to increase paternal involvement.
Fathers expected that professionals would provide the information necessary to help them understand the diagnosis.
Further research of this nature is needed. Investigation of fathers and their roles in child health and care is imperative to provide nursing professionals with the knowledge necessary to deliver effective, evidence-based care for families. A follow-up study including a more diverse group and a larger number of participants could prove useful and provide for generalization of this research to a larger population.
Limitations of this research included the use of phone interviews for two participants. This technique allowed for the inclusion of fathers from other areas of the country though it may have reduced the richness of interviews due to the absence of visual observation. In addition, the sample population was culturally homogenous. All fathers were White, college educated, worked 40 or more hours per week, and were married to the mother of the child with the disorder. As a result, findings cannot be generalized to other groups.
Fathers are frequently forgotten in the midst of conversations about children born with genetic anomalies. Fathers need to understand the diagnoses and have unique coping abilities and distinctive needs. Nurses, as an integral part of the health care team, should be instrumental in ensuring that fathers are included and their needs are met. Being mindful of a father's unique needs during and after diagnosis of his child's genetic anomaly must be an integral part of the healthcare plan. His role, although different from the mother's, is an important element in providing for the child's well-being and family-centered care.
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