Is It Time To Stop Asking If He’s A Hands On Dad?
Parenting has changed a lot in the last 50 years; and in families, a father’s job is no longer to be the sole financial provider, with little day to day involvement. Parenting is a tough job, and dads shouldn’t be seen as merely the breadwinner, and (possibly worse) the occasional inept babysitters. Of course, this isn't to say that many single moms aren't superwomen, who more than make up for absent fathers; but it's still worth questioning how the traditional view of dads, affects their role today?
For some reason, it still seems normal to ask if someone is a 'hands on' dad. But shouldn’t we be more surprised if he isn’t, than impressed if he is? Surely if we wouldn't ask it about a mom, then it should be no different for a dad?
Is the way we talk about dads, that different to the everyday sexism women deal with?
We’re used to the discrimination of women, especially moms, in society and the workplace: Women lack any practical/DIY skills (in fact, my builder finishes every conversation with ‘I’ll go through it with your other half anyway’;) have an innate gooeyness over babies and puppies; and may cry at any moment. Women require mansplaining, but boss everyone around at home.
But aren’t the stereotypes of dads being inept, burly, disorganised, manchildren, just as bad? All too often there are jokes that: ‘Daddy must have dressed him today’ if your little one is wearing odd socks; or comments that dads are ‘babysitting’ or 'daddy-daycare’ if they’re left to mind the kids. We won't be able to truly fix the negative stereotypes of moms, until we rethink dads too.
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As Giovanna Fletcher excellently put it in a Father’s Day post on Instagram: “Don’t dumb down my husband or any other dad ... Don’t treat dads who interact with their children like they’re doing something alien that warrants your praise. If you wouldn’t do it to a mum, don’t do it to a dad.”
Do dad stereotypes lower our expectations, and theirs; of their role?
When preparing for parenthood, moms have a very clear role to prepare for; plus classes, books, and resources like eumom to support them. Meanwhile, though the same classes are just as invaluable for dads; too much advice offered to expectant dads assumes a short attention span, and warnings that (shock horror) there will be less time for football and beer.
But does the way dads behave lead to this stereotype; or does the stereotype encourage the assumption that certain elements of raising children are not part of their ‘role’? Most (live-in) dads share the duties of nappy changing, feeding, and raising children; so why is the question of ‘hands on’ dads still an issue? And why are there certain elements, such as caring for your little one when they’re sick, or potty training, still often left to mom? With the responsibility for raising children increasingly split 50/50 in today’s society; it is important that our discourse on the role of dads continues to develop as their involvement does.
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And in the words of the incredible Giovanna Fletcher: “No one would ever ask Tom what I was like as a mum, or ponder over my involvement, or dare to ask if I was any good at it. So the fact Tom, and all dads, are having their skills questioned as though being ‘hands-on’ is optional is a murky area for me … He is one half of the parenting team and we very much do everything together. I feel fully supported in the knowledge that parenting, for us, is a mutual responsibility. I wouldn’t be able to have children and keep working in the way I am without having Tom to tag team with."
Could A Rise In Paternity Leave Levels Be The Key?
Recent figures showing the uptake of the new paternity benefit scheme, which came into effect in September 2016; shows that only around a third of new fathers have taken the two weeks on offer, since the scheme was introduced. The Social Protection Minister, Regina Doherty, urges new fathers to claim the benefit of €235 a week (on top of existing maternity benefit;) and take the time away from work to spend the time at home, bonding with their baby. The benefit is available for up to 26 weeks after the child’s birth or adoption; and is also available to same-sex couples.
Speaking recently on RTÉ's Drivetime, Minister Doherty explained that just over 20,000 fathers have availed of paid paternity leave since last September; yet there were 60,000 babies born in Ireland last year. As only certain companies top-up the benefit to ensure that new Dads aren't losing out on wages; some may be concerned about taking time off work at an expensive time. However, there is also a sense that many men don’t feel they can take so much time away from work; and are concerned with the stigma and damage to relations with employers if they take two weeks leave on becoming a dad.
It may take time to see paternity leave anywhere near the levels seen in countries like Norway and Sweden (if this is the direction Ireland wishes to move in;) where couples are eligible for up to 480 days leave between them, paid at 80% of their salary. 90 of these days are non-transferable days for fathers only, and there’s a ‘gender equality bonus,’ where parents receive slightly higher pay if they split the time evenly.
According to one NY Times article, approximately 85 percent of Swedish fathers now take parental leave; and those who don’t face questions from family, friends and colleagues. Employers have come to expect staff to take leave irrespective of gender, and in turn, women’s pay has benefited. A shift in dads’ roles is also said to be playing a part in the lowering divorce rates, and increasing joint custody of children.
We have come a long way from a woman’s place being solely in the home, and a man’s place being in the office/pub. But like so many things; with equal responsibility of parenting, and how we talk about; there’s still a long way to go. So let’s remember that ‘hands-on dads’ don’t deserve a gold star; they deserve just as much sleep-deprivation, just as many ‘tricky phases’, and just as much love, pride, and joy; as every mom out there.