Fathers must change the parenting world

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This is an amended version of my most recent Huffington Post blog.

My recent blog article for the Huffington Post outlined just how sexist the world of parenting can be and highlighted some of the barriers us fathers face.

There are without doubt barriers to us men becoming the enthusiastic and involved fathers we would like to be. Sexist product branding, poor childcare provision and ignorant healthcare providers are all guilty of making dad’s life difficult.

It is, however, very simple to point the finger and whinge about the status quo. The truth is that only us fathers can change the world of parenting and break down the ovarian Bastille I referred to. I’ll go a step further and say that sometimes us men should do more to become active parents and make this happen.

Before I continue, I’ll admit that I’ve based this blog purely on anecdotal evidence and personal experience. Never-the-less I like to think it proves my point.

A good example of where men mysteriously fail to engage is the school Parent Teacher Association (or its equivalent for those whose children are at nursery and not school). I’m the only father that sits on my daughter’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and I can never figure out why because plenty of men drop off and collect their children each day.

If you think about your child/children’s PTA, I’ll guarantee the majority of members, if not all, are mothers. The obvious reason for this scenario is that many mothers don’t work full time so have greater availability to get involved with the PTA. This logic doesn’t wash with me and a quick look at any school’s governing body will reveal why.

I was, albeit only for one academic year, a Local Authority appointed School Governor. The role of School Governor is more demanding than sitting on the PTA. It carries a significant legal responsibility and involves attending mandatory training, often organised at the weekend. Pages and pages of background materials need to be read before each meeting and failure to attend meetings will see you losing your post altogether.

You’d imagine fathers in full-time employment would give the governing body a wide birth. In my experience the reverse is true; most school governing bodies have a healthy male to female ratio, especially when compared to the PTA. One can only assume the power and glory of the governing body appeals to the male ego.

The world of blogging and digital communications is a much more simple example. The mummy blogging market is saturated with women writing about parenting and family life. Father bloggers like me are a much rarer beast. I really don’t understand why because there are some fantastic daddy bloggers out there and a few more would not hurt.

Along with a lack of daddy bloggers, men are less likely to use social media to engage on parenting matters. The example that springs to mind is the hugely successful Mumsnet. Despite the website’s name it is open to men and tellingly its strapline is “by parents for parents”. I’ve also seen the site’s twitter feed leap passionately to the defence of us fathers.

Mumsnet has a dedicated Dadsnet section but it is absolutely tiny. Maybe the association with Mumsnet puts dads off signing up. This is a shame because it can be a great source of information on a variety of parenting issues.

I’ve used the example of Mumsnet but the same can be said for similar sites such as Babycentre or Parentdish. Us boys just won’t play with the girls.

A further very simple example is the coffee morning. Mothers will think nothing of organising coffee mornings for their friends and children but I’ve only ever heard of one father doing this for his male counterparts. The thought of getting together with a group of people, encouraging the kids to socialise  and collectively helping out with the childcare for a couple of hours sounds blissful to me but such an invite is yet to arrive.

I’m not for one second saying that everything is the fault of the male. We get blamed for far too many of the world’s ills as it is. Barriers are put in our place because we do not have breasts and ovaries. These barriers are very real and fathers have to tolerate sexism that women haven’t for at least 20 years.

It is up to us dads to change the world. We need to engage with the PTA and provide constructive feedback to the hospital when the sonographer ignores us. We need to complain when advertisers portray us feckless and incapable of changing nappies and we should use social and traditional media to raise the profile of father’s contribution as parents.

It’s a simple call to action. Now who’s in?

7 thoughts on “Fathers must change the parenting world”

  1. I completely agree that the opportunity for Dads to play the role they want to is there for us all to grasp. The more we get involved, the more normal it becomes.

    I don’t know anything about the PTA but I would disagree with some of your comments about Mummy bloggers. I avoid Mumsnet because of it’s reputation for being full of self-righteous, judgmental people. My friend blogs for Baby centre on the UK and US versions (see http://blogs.babycenter.com/author/slewis/) and I have been stunned by the abusive, aggressive comments she receives on her posts. I avoid these community sites because I feel I have nothing in common with the majority of its members not because I won’t hang out with the girls. I interact with other parents (Mums & Dads) on their own blogs and on twitter as I find it much easier to establish a small community of like minded people this way. As a blogger, I am interested in more than just parenting and I don’t want to be tied to any community dedicated to a single topic.

    I’m not sure your coffee morning analogy works that well. I have never been invited around for a cup of coffee by another man and would be surprised if any of my friends started now. However, I have been to watch our local rugby team with a guy I met at the Dads club at the childrens centre. We brought our kids and our wives stayed at home to have some time to their selves. We don’t have to copy everything Mums do to achieve the same results.

    1. Thanks for your response. You make an interesting point about Mumsnet and its reputation. Is it just perception or reality about the users? I have a good friend who is forever slagging it off despite the fact he doesn’t use the site and even more importantly doesn’t even have children! I can only say that my experience has been a positive one and similar sites such as BritMums are definitiely becoming more accepting and supportive of fathers.

      I concede the coffee morning analogy was perhaps a touch clumsy. Overall though, I think us fathers just don’t appreciate the benefits of being sociable with the kids. Oh, and no I’m not saying we should do exactly what our womenfolk do. Much better off to behave in a complimentry fashion.

      There may also be a more deep rooted issue here; that men just aren’t sociable beasts. I used to work for a charity that focused on the needs of older people. One of the most fascinating projects I was made aware of looked at the issue of male social exclusion. It was a depressingly common scenario; throughout married life the wife had kept the social diary. She died first and the husband didn’t have the skills or confidence to arrange his own social life so just faded into a sad lonely existence.

      How often do you hear your male friends say they must “check with the boss” before arranging to go for drnks? My heart sinks every time I hear a friend use that phrase.

      I get the feeling I’m digressing!

      Thanks again for your remarks.

      1. I have been put off Mumsnet by it’s lousy reputation alone so I don’t know if it is justified. At the very least they need to work on their PR. I have used Britmums and found a few nice bloggers but I don’t visit it much. I find twitter much more useful.

        I will have to disagree again about men not being sociable, I just don’t think that is true. Your example about older couples with one set of friends that only the wife keeps in contact with isn’t as applicable to younger generations. My wife and I both had our own circle of friends before we met and still socialise with them all either together or on our own. From my own experiences that is pretty common. I only have one friend who genuinely has to ‘check with the boss’ and he is quite rightly ridiculed every time we meet up. All of my friends have kids so meeting up for family activities is becoming more and more common.

  2. Hi there. I’m the chap who is a stay at home Dad in Germany. My kids are older now – 7 and 9, both in German school. My life is a hundred times easier now than it used to be when they were smaller. I have been so for 7 years, since my son was born.

    I think what you are referring to simply will never exist, a feeling of being in a “tribe” of fellow Dads, at least not in Britain and certainly not in Germany. I do think in progressive parts of the US where the SAHD phenomenon is growing it will grow though.

    Quite honestly when I am out of the house here in DE the last thing I want to discuss is parenting – I want to get away from it. I am an active member of my local gym and chat to members there training or in the sauna. For me the obstacle is the German language for, even though I can speak fluent German, our values are often not quite the same.

    I’d like to draw your attentiion to something i wrote a while back when the “fog” of early parenting began to lift. Greater leisure time now means I am in a better position to analyse it all though, easier than it was back then:


    1. Thanks for commenting Jeremy. I also question whether we’ll ever see a “tribe of dads” in the UK and Germany. Let’s be honest, that could in fact be a bad thing. I do, however, wonder if men through circumstance or choice avoid the practical side of parenting and therefore don’t see the benefit of having a network of like-minded parents to socialise with?

      Also, why do dads engage with the school Governing Body but not the PTA? I think that’s quite a fascinating debate that forces us men to admit some difficult truths about ourselves.

      Oh, and to be clear I must recognise there is a vocal minority of engaged fathers like you and I would sit in the PTA and socialise with other parents. I musn’t generalise too much!

      In the meantime ‘ though I will go and take a look at your blog.

  3. Thanks for the reply. I think it starts out as circumstance but ends up as choice.

    I was just at the local ice rink helping my son get into his skating gear. Not one of the parents chatted with me, though to be fair there are a small minority who do occasionally small talk with me, but the majority are very civil and polite, but don’t bother too much.

    I’ve got used to being cut off now, accept it and focus on my solo life in my mornings off. Yesterday I went cros country skiing on my own and used the time for some head clearing.

    I think dealing with isolation is the hardest thing for us men as alone Dads and you have to really find inner resources to deal with it. This is something almost no woman will ever relate to. You have to simply get used to being alone, and occupy your time accordingly.

    1. Hello again Jeremy. I think your comment possibly makes clear a point that I muddled slightly with my coffee morning analogy; and that’s the point about isolation. Being a stay at home dad or male primary carer is a lonely place.

      More of us fathers are going to four day working weeks or becoming SAHDs and yet we don’t seem to be putting the (social) support networks in place that mothers do. Equally, we’re possibly not banging on the doors of the mothers’ groups and demanding the right to be let in.

      I’m not entirely sure what the solution is, but us men have got to take on our share of the responsibility for changing the world.

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