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Family health competence: Attachment, detachment and health practices in the early years of parenthood


  • Veltkamp, Gerlieke
  • Karasaki, Mutsumi
  • Bröer, Christian


During the first years of a baby's life, parents develop ways of caring that affect the child's health later in life. In this paper, we focus on eating and sleeping, as social practices that mediate between socioeconomic and cultural conditions and health outcomes, such as weight status. We argue for an analysis of what we call ‘family health competence’, meaning emerging know-hows and resources relevant to healthy living produced, embodied and shared by household members, to understand the development of health practices of first-time parents and their children. In an ethnographic panel study in the Netherlands, we follow households pre-birth until the first child turns age four. Our analysis suggests that across different families, competences develop enabling parents to balance a) attaching and b) detaching in particular ways. Parents learn how to observe and interpret their new-borns, bracket doubt, build trust, manage time pressures and mobilize support networks. These competences are partly class and gender-specific while there is also significant diversity within class and gender. The competence to balance attachment and detachment can be understood as the effect of contradictory social norms and institutional (labour market and care) provisions typical for late-modern welfare states.

Suggested Citation

  • Veltkamp, Gerlieke & Karasaki, Mutsumi & Bröer, Christian, 2020. "Family health competence: Attachment, detachment and health practices in the early years of parenthood," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 266(C).
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:266:y:2020:i:c:s0277953620305700
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2020.113351

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    References listed on IDEAS

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