Opportunities and losses in the transition to parenthood: Family formation, social connectedness, work and mental wellbeing

Dr Liana Leach – Research Fellow, The Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health (NCEPH), the Research School of Population Health, The Australian National University

This presentation will explore the transition to parenthood as a time of both vulnerability and opportunity in terms of social connectedness, workforce participation and job quality, and parent and child mental health. Becoming a parent is a time of transition. It is accompanied by the addition of new stressors, requires new skills and therefore necessary adaptation. While the majority of new parents maintain good mental health as they negotiate the transition to parenthood (and the addition of further children), there are a significant proportion who experience mental health difficulties. Addressing mental health problems at this time of life is crucial, as problems can cascade to cause ongoing disadvantage for both mothers and fathers, and across generations to impact children. The role of employment, and workplace environments, in either promoting or harming mental health across the transition to parenthood is an area of growing interest. Data from the Australian Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) clearly shows that social disadvantage and unemployment are associated with poorer mental health for both parents and children during the early parenting years, but there are also indications that being in poor quality work and/or experiencing high work-family-conflict has negative impacts. The transition to parenthood presents government policy and workplaces with opportunities and challenges to achieve the dual goals of both workforce participation and establishing the basis for healthy, happy families.