Challenges and opportunities in using generativity
Using transition periods
Men may resist accessing support services due to their lack of knowledge about the possible benefits they could receive. However, they are more likely to overcome this resistance when they face a crisis that differs from the predicted path in their life. It is during these transitional periods (crises) that men are more likely to overcome the suspicion of being judged and access support services. These transition periods include situations where they:
experience relationship difficulties
experience family separation
have expectations of how life should unfold that are very different to what occurs
wish to live life differently to how they grew up.
It is the authors’ experience that men have increased motivation and interest in family counselling programs when service provision is linked with the father’s underlying desire to have a closer relationship with his children. During these transitional periods many other factors will ultimately determine if fathers engage with support services. Table 1 identifies four stages of male involvement in community/family services, the key processes and difficulties that men face and the supportive steps used by community welfare/health professionals.
Table 1: Processes in engaging men
Key behaviours and issues
Supportive steps for workers
Barriers/pressures are likely to exist
Men access services when inner conflict/turmoil is very high
Regular accessible advertising to inform men and other key family members or supports about the existence of relevant services
Can be either in person or over the phone. Men are likely to have many questions and be suspicious of being judged
Key processes are:
create initial engagement
provide some basic information and problem solving as required
ensure easy access to program or service
make a welcoming environment at your centre
inform men of available choices and options
provide clear information and description of the support program
Attends program or counselling/groups. Initial problem may be alleviated and a new purpose or direction discussed before the men cease accessing the program
Key processes are:
clarify a clear purpose
reflect on situation and life-long learning
explore the on-going challenges
mean what you say
follow through with commitments made by the worker
connect situation with key values–respect, support, empathy and equity to their relationship and work life
Stage 1: Pre-involvement
Many agencies find early intervention working with men difficult as they usually seek help during a crisis, rather than beforehand. Some of the effective strategies to promote early intervention are:
Using regular advertising and promotional articles in local newspapers. Other gatekeepers in men’s lives such as family members and friends often read them and encourage men to access those services as issues arise
Ensuring your program/service is well known among other organisations that have contact with men. Many services have little knowledge of where they can access appropriate support services for men. Encourage referrals that use a person’s name and direct-line phone number
Developing great practice in your program or group work. Word-of-mouth promotion between men who are participants and their friends or work mates, is one of the best forms of validation and promotion. This can account for 30-70 per cent of new referrals
Ensuring that informal or formal men’s or father’s groups are run regularly in your program. It may take six months to develop the necessary awareness to make the first group happen, but subsequent groups are more viable when people know they can be easily accessed. Working in partnership with other agencies can provide a stronger infrastructure to maintain father’s groups in the area.
Stage 2: Initial contact
When men contact a service, they may look for immediate answers to their problems. Many men will have a degree of suspicion and concern about the organisation that they have contacted. They will ask themselves questions such as ‘Will I be lectured to?’ ‘Will I be made to feel inadequate?’ etc. These concerns need to be appropriately addressed for successful engagement. If they are interested in participating in a men’s group, they need to know when and where it will be. If the wait for a group is too long, they will disengage and the window of opportunity to engage will pass. A man’s decision to access a service will be initially affected by age, socio-economic, cultural and language differences between themselves and the service.
Professionals need to focus on these following points:
As a majority of first contact occasions will be over the telephone, ensure that calls are returned promptly.
Tackle these initial concerns or questions with a simple explanation about what your organisation provides, and what is involved when men access the service.
Provide men with a variety of options. Making choices regarding the type of services available is likely to enhance a man’s motivation as he will have more control.
Ensure that you mean what you say, as it will reduce suspicion.
Recognise possible strengths or attempted solutions that the man has already used.
Stage 3: Decision making about further involvement
During this stage, the person will process the information and ideas he has received and make a decision about further involvement. Life experiences can create difficulties for his on-going involvement in programs such as including ‘generative chill’, life crises, and the need to juggle multiple demands.
Extreme threats to an adult’s parental generativity will result in ‘generative chill’, a type of anxiety resulting from a perceived or real danger of losing the child or children one has helped to create (Snarey, 1993). ‘It seems likely that brief or extended threats to generativity will have a significant impact on a father’s selfhood...’ (Snarey, 1993). Family breakdown presents separated fathers with a threat that often results in depression. Generative chill is further discussed later in topic 6 — working with separated fathers.
Mike is a separated father in his early 40s who came very close to throwing himself in front of a train due to his depression. He recognised that the relationship problems in his life and the lack of contact with his children were a continual struggle for him. He battled between giving in to the depression and his inability to change the situation. He ended up attending the father’s group for 34 sessions out of 38. He spoke about the group being a vital place where he could be himself regardless of how the week had gone. He stated ‘It has been a good 12 months. I have received good support over the past year as it has helped me to keep sane while I battle to see my son. Attending the group has turned around my whole relationship with my older son. I still play the memory game with my boy, he loves it. I feel a lot closer emotionally to him. I now understand why he reacts that way’. He also added, ‘The kids are my main priority. I now accept that Sue and I have finished our relationship. I am sleeping a lot better now.’ He changed his Employment and moved to a new area where he values all the child contact opportunities that are possible.
Other life crises (e.g. addiction issues)
Mental health and/or addiction problems have a significant affect on men’s motivation to be involved in support services. Some fathers will drop out of a group due to these issues, while others use the group experience as part of their recovery program. In order to meet the challenge of supporting a participant’s recovery program, father’s groups need to be flexible enough to allow longer term involvement. Instead of running psychoeducational groups that are limited to eight weeks, therapeutic/ educational groups can be provided that allow some fathers to engage for 12 to 18 months. Some of the participants will be at different stages of recovery from their addiction. Three major tools for dealing with addiction issues in these groups are:
the development of a group culture that allows participants to challenge each
other regarding lifestyle and drug and alcohol issues
the reinforcement of relapse prevention strategies in the group
the adoption of basic core values such as respect, empathy, support and equality for the participant’s family and work life.
Peter is a young stepfather with a dependence on marijuana. Peter stated one week, ‘I gave up pot for three days, but I have had a challenging week. I’m trying to do the right things but no one gives me any credit.’ He talked about the challenge of the family and social context in which he lives, ‘I want to say ‘f... it’ and leaves. But the love you have stops you. The kids really love me.’ ‘It’s been my life, smoke a few cones, drink beer and watch TV. I cannot get a job as I need to learn to cope first with hassles at home. Dad overdosed last year – since then things have gone downhill.’ He went on to talk about the daily battle he has regarding his choices. ‘I don’t want to walk out of the front door as the neighbours will say, ‘come and have a smoke (dope)’. ’ After four months, Peter still resisted seeing a drug and alcohol counsellor and he recently left his relationship. This is the tragedy that often impacts on families where there are addiction issues.
It is important for groups to be able to work simultaneously with recovery issues, relationship and child protection issues.
Dads and the early years - The Infants Home Dads Playgroup
Juggling multiple demands
Men, like women, often juggle a variety of roles and pressures in the normal course of the day. Men may choose not to access support services due to time constraints. The only real solution is to provide choices in the range of groups/services that are available. Some groups may be intensive, some may be psychoeducational groups and some may be one-day workshops. Professionals may then discuss with men these choices and the possible outcomes for them.
Stage 4: Ongoing involvement by accessing programs
The involvement that most men have in programs varies over time. It is valuable to allow men the choice to either receive information, attend a short one-day workshop, or access medium or longer term weekly programs. When longer term group work programs are provided, new membership and the revitalisation of commitment to the program is maintained.
Some participants will leave the group at the end of the school term while other participants will commence their attendance. The ongoing nature of a longer term group format ensures that there is usually capacity for new referrals to join the group instead of waiting for long periods. It is also valuable for ensuring that men have enough time to make significant changes. This type of group is valuable for men who are interested in becoming the primary carer of their child but are not currently living with their child.
When child protection issues occur with the mother of the children and her current partner, it is worthwhile considering the biological father as a possible placement option. These fathers may have left the relationship years earlier and will need additional support to deal with their own feelings and ‘generative chill’ issues to present themselves as an appropriate primary carer.
Tim is one such father who is 38 years old. He had to battle with a Child Protection Agency to become the primary carer of his child. Over a 12 month period, Tim attended a number of community-based fathering workshops and programs. The Child Protection Agency psychologist completed two psychological reports over a 12-month period, and stated that ‘in 20 years of clinical experience he had never seen anyone change as much as Tim had’. Tim’s determination and dedication in using these ideas and new learning was apparent to many people. Tim reflected, just prior to becoming the full time carer of his child, ‘Taking my daughter home will be the best experience in my whole life. It’s like winning the World Cup. Everything else in life has always been taken away from me – that’s why I’m paranoid. I have had to learn patience.’ Tim also commented about his involvement in the fathers’ group, ‘Thanks for your help. I don’t think I would have made it without the group. This group has impacted on me; it speaks about life the way it is. It wasn’t pen or paper stuff. My dream has come true. It is achievable if you are determined. At lots of times you can’t see the end of the road, but you just have to keep going’.
Men’s groups that combine psychoeducational and open discussion sessions in the group format allow for the development of new ideas as well as ensure that the individual explores his own life challenges. It is in this combination of sessions that learning with men is maximised. This blend of group work format allows for:
the better integration of psychoeducational material to the real life situation of the participants. Greater opportunities exist for the discussion of difficulties and achievements especially when multiple problems exist in the participant’s life
a non-competitive environment in the group that allows men to relax and engage in the group and with new areas of learning
time to use storytelling to validate new ways of talking about life experiences and discussing other options for managing real situations. Storytelling is used significantly by men in a wide range of environments; in the workplace, at pubs and clubs. It allows a culture of equality and open communication that is important because of the difficulties that are created by the competitiveness men experience as they grow up
the modelling of cooperative responses in family communication and the development of confidence in using different solutions to problems
the participants to develop a culture that validates appropriate actions and responses in their wider life.