Why don’t most men have as much to do with their children as their female partners? Why is parenting often seen as women’s work as opposed to something shared equally between both parents? These and other questions are tackled in the recently published book Dads Don’t Babysit, Towards Equal Parenting.
The book was written by freelance journalist and gender campaigner James Millar plus David Freed, who was a very new dad at the time the book was written. I did a detailed review of the book a few months ago but James has been kind enough to speak to me about it in more detail. During our chat, James reveals the book almost never made it into print because many publishers saw no value in producing family-focused books for men, although I will come on to that.
Before I get on to my chat with James, here’s some more detail about Dads Don’t Babysit. The first thing to mention is that it includes contributions from some very impressive people including outspoken MP Jess Phillips, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats Jo Swinson MP and co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Fatherhood, David Lammy MP.
Contributors don’t simply come from the world of politics. There are contributions from everyday mums and dads who share the ups and downs of their lives (yes, okay, I do indeed appear on the book’s pages once or twice myself). The charity and research sectors are represented by organisations such as the Fatherhood Institute.
In other words, there are a variety of opinions from a variety of sources. This makes it a very well researched and argued title.
Easy to digest
Dads Don’t Babysit is also easy to digest because of the way it has been written. Millar and Freed have split the book into six parts:
- Part one argues for more equality in parenting
- Part two explains why there is a paternity gap (essentially, why dads are not always as involved with family life as they could be).
- Part three considers whether dads face biological hurdles as carers and whether they are naturally better to act as providers for their families (spoiler alert: they conclude this is rubbish)
- Part four looks at other hurdles men face such as paternity rights and rights to flexible working
- Part five asks why women are put under pressure to do childcare
- The finale, part six, concludes by putting forward ideas as to how society and the parenting world could be changed and made more equal for both genders.
I will leave you to discover the book yourself (you can buy your own copy here). Suffice it to say, it is very well argued and it does propose certain challenges. This is not a whinge-fest designed to justify men feeling downtrodden, it sets out ways men, along with women, politicians, policy makers and others can change the world of parenting in a way that would benefit everyone.
That’s what I have to say about dads Don’t babysit, but what about James? I start by asking him to introduce himself:
“I’ve been a journalist for 20-odd years, which is a fairly terrifying length of time. I moved into political journalism in 2011 and have found myself being called a ‘lobby veteran’!
“My partner and I published a book called The Gender Agenda in 2017 and Dads Don’t Babysit followed in 2018. We’ve two kids: A daughter aged 11 and a son aged 8. Recently I’ve been reading a lot of books about how to handle teenagers….”
James goes on to explain that he and his partner Ros noticed how their son and daughter were treated differently: He being given jumpers with dinosaurs on them, she getting fluffy soft toys. Inspired by a book called Living Dolls by feminist writer Natasha Water, they kept a diary on twitter of how their two kids were treated differently at @GenderDiary.
To cut a very long story short, David Freed was on Shared Parental Leave having recently become a dad. David had negative experiences such as being ignored at rhymetime sessions and was sometimes told he was “babysitting.” This was classic @GenderDiary territory. Somehow, nobody can quite remember how, the two men got in touch with each other, met up for coffee and the idea of Dad’s Don’t Babysit was born.
I ask James what he and David were hoping to achieve with Dads Don’t babysit. The response was very telling:
“It’s quite an ambitious book! We knew we liked being fathers, by that I mean the actual day to day stuff as well as the pride that comes with just making your own people. We knew that there is polling evidence that more men say they want to spend more time with their kids like we did. But we could also see clearly that men are still not doing as much childcare as women, so we wanted to interrogate what’s going on with that disconnect.
“From the beginning it was to be a manifesto. It wasn’t going to be just a whine, it had to have clear instructions, some for parents, some for policy makers, that if followed would improve things for everyone.
“The other vital ingredient was that it had to be readable rather than just a dry trawl through policy and that. So there’s lots of snark at the expense of mens rights activists, sideways looks at workplace culture and anecdotes from our experiences as dads, some of which involve poo.”
As stated above, having read the book I feel it achieves these aims. Interestingly, the book almost never happened, as James explains:
“We really struggled to get a publisher interested. We had some hilarious rejections like the big name that told us: “There’s no market for parenting books for men.” That one only made it more clear what the problem is and made us more determined to get the book out there!
“In one of those weird twists of fate we’d had a meeting and decided to shelve the project for a bit due to the lack of interest. Literally the next day a publisher emailed to say there were keen and the whole thing was back on again!”
With time racing on, I ask James if he is hopeful that equal parenting between the genders will become more commonplace in future:
“Hugely,” he says before expanding on the point.
“Policy is moving in the right direction. Shared parental leave was a huge leap forward. The take up remains poor but the fact it’s there on the statute books is great and already people are thinking about how to expand it and drive take up. Because we know that if more men spend more time with their kids everyone benefits – the men, their partners, their children, and society as a whole becomes more equal and more prosperous.
“I’m not complacent, I know Brexit and Trump and populism and all that sort of thing could see attitudes go in reverse, but I’m very hopeful.”
Dads Don’t Babysit Towards Equal Parenting by David Freed and James Millar is published by Ortus. It is widely available and has a cover price of £11.99.
Disclosure: This commissioned post was produced in association with Ortus.