Parents: gender issues



There is a dearth of information on fathers’ reactions to having a child on PICU (and more generally in paediatric settings1) and therefore little is known about differences between mothers and fathers in this situation. Riddle et al (1989) found in a sample of 155 couples that mothers exhibited more stress as measured by the Parental Stressor Scale:PICU than fathers2.

Research to date

  • Comparisons between mothers and fathers (n=17 couples) showed that mothers reported higher stress at time of admission and higher post traumatic stress 8 months after their child’s discharge3.Qualitative analysis of these parents' descriptions of their experiences on PICU revealed that mothers spent more time on the unit and were more likely to believe that their child could die4
  • However in a recent study following up 70 couples from Southampton PICU5 overall rates of post-traumatic stress were found to be similar for mothers and fathers, 21 months after discharge
  • In the Southampton study, the relationship between parents' answers on the COMPASS*  at the time of admission and post-traumatic stress 9m – 2yrs later was examined. Different aspects of the PICU experience were associated with the risk of a higher post-traumatic stress score. Specifically fathers reporting a need for financial help at the time and mothers who found it stressful talking to the doctors were likely to report higher post traumatic stress scores at follow up5

* Questionnaire developed by PICU staff at Southampton General Hospital UK, which measures stresses, coping strategies and needs of parents on PICU

Ideas for future work

If the results above are replicated, it might be possible to use these findings to develop and evaluate interventions designed to help mothers and fathers in different ways.


  1. Phares et al (2005)
  2. Riddle et al (1989).  Stressors in the pediatric intensive care unit as perceived by mothers and fathers. Maternal -Child Nursing Journal;18(3):221-34.
  3. Colville GA, Cream PR and Gracey D .Psychological reactions of parents after Paediatric Intensive Care: differences between mothers and fathers. British Journal of Anaesthesia 90: (4) 548.
  4. Colville et al (2008)
  5. See 'Predictors of long term post-traumatic stress in mothers and fathers after a child’s admission to PICU' presented at PICS Annual meeting, Nottingham 2007 ppt/handout
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