Lots has been written recently about how dads feel about work, parenting and their changing role in family life – and it’s brilliant to hear their points of view, and see the conversation move beyond the usual stereotypes.
And it seems they want a lot of the same things mums do: to be involved equally at home and the opportunity to work flexibly and take parental leave. According to a recent survey, 58% of dads plan to take SPL in 2018 – an exponential increase on the previous year. And they are loving spending time with their young children, and are growing in confidence looking after them. As I wrote recently, it feels as though we are reaching a tipping point for dads’ roles.
This is important for mums as well. Dads who work flexibly and parent equally are one of the major keys to our ability to thrive both at home and in our careers.
Dads are also beginning to experience many of the feelings that mums know well:
At home (on parental leave or as a stay at home dad)
- social isolation,
- Need for adult contact
- the feeling of diminished ‘intellectual value’
Equalparent’s blog articulates these feelings very clearly.
- They worry about the impact on their careers when asking for flexible working or shared parental leave
- They worry about how they are viewed if they leave on time to do childcare pickups, or take time off for school assemblies… particularly in more ‘macho’ working cultures. Over half even admit to lying about their whereabouts.
And they have some extra issues to contend with:
- They feel badly out of place in daytime spaces and parent networks – many report being the only dad at baby groups, being ignored, and feeling intimidated by ‘big groups of mums who all know each other’
- Related to this, there are relatively few dads doing childcare, and they find it hard to build support networks.
- They feel patronised by praise for ‘being a good dad’ from strangers when they are out and about with their children in everyday situations
- Parenting resources aimed at dads are few, and often stereotype them as incompetent and reluctant carers.
- Nurseries, heathcare professionals and schools often treat them as a secondary parent, even when they are primary carers
- They worry that they are ‘taking away’ mums’ rights – for instance with SPL there is a concern that mums will not want to give up leave
Just as women have had to carve out a space in the male world of work (a project that is still ongoing!), dads are now carving out an equal role in the domestic/ childcare sphere. And there is more we could be doing to help them.
So what will help?
Empathy on both sides – as parents we have more in common than divides us. Just because mums have been facing some of these challenges for a while doesn’t mean we should feel bitter or unsympathetic to dads – quite the opposite! It means that we have twice as many people batting our corner – and now the guys will understand some of what we’ve been complaining about all this time…
We can all do our bit as individuals to change the culture around us – speak to and treat dads looking after their children in exactly the way we would a mum. No surprise, no gushing praise – just matter-of-fact friendliness or professionalism – whether the situation is the local playgroup, the doctor’s surgery or the work canteen.
Workplacesthat respect working parents’ commitments outside work: enabling flexible working and prioritising quality of work over hours spent in the office. This attitude pays dividends for employers as well as parents – and there is some great research from Avenir Consulting and Henley Business School on how companies can make it happen.
Organisations and platforms that help dads connect with each other both online and in real life. Mums have a plethora of online forums, local NCT groups, and apps such as Mush and Peanut. Any of these organisations has a huge missed opportunity to grow, and to help improve society. UPDATE: I’ve started a Twitter account to help find and share weekday activities, places and groups where dads congregate: Places Dads Go
Properly funded and use-it-or-lose-it Shared Parental Leave – so that it becomes the norm rather than the exception. Sweden is blazing a trail with their parental leave policy – and groups of ‘latte pappas’ are almost as common a sight as mums with small children.
It’s in everyone’s interest to help dads feel more comfortable with their evolving role. If we can give them the support they need it will transform the lives of working families, and pay dividends for the whole of society.
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