Monday, 26 October 2015

Why Dad isn't helping Mum at all

It's something you hear all the time:
  • Mums chatting about how great their partners are for helping with the baby.
  • A Dad giving his wife a break by taking the children out on a Saturday morning.
  • The Dad at a playgroup being told that he's an amazing father for taking the toddler out while Mum's on maternity leave.
  • Baby clothes with "instructions for Dad"
  • Mum writing a how to list before leaving Dad in charge for the day.
A lot of Dads do spend more time with their children these days, and that is fantastic for the children, for the father, and yes for the mother as well. But they are not "helping out", nor are they "babysitting".

To say Dads are helping means that caring for children is the Mum's job, it's her responsibility and by default she would do it 100% of the time. The Dad is reduced to the role of second, helping out now and again if given clear instructions but always with Mum a phonecall away should he be unable to cope. That is not fair on Mums, who shouldn't be expected to do it all, but even more so it is unfair on Dads.

The thing is, men are just as capable as women. Dads can look after babies and children just as well as Mums can, sometimes better. But society teaches them not to, we collectively train men to feel that they can't do a good job and then complain if they feel that perhaps they should just let Mum (the "expert") get on with it.

Just think about those early days with a newborn. Mum has time off work and plenty of people to turn to if she needs help learning those new skills. Dad, on the other hand, has just a few days at home. Before you know it Mum has perfected the art of nappy changing, burping and settling to sleep. So when Dad comes home and fumbles a little bit of course he turns to Mum for advice. And there you have it, the pattern has been set. Mum knows the perfect way to calm a crying baby and Dad doesn't.

Of course it wouldn't be an issue if we didn't encourage everyone to continue on that path. Dad can learn to change a nappy and burp a baby, he could be the expert at bathing the toddler or the only one who knows the best local walks. But currently a Dad seems to be fighting against stereotypes when he takes an equal role. Even when people intend to be encouraging and supportive they damn by over praise, becoming patronising as they express surprise at his ability to handle bedtime or provide a healthy meal.

Parents are parents, male or female, biological or adoptive, single or in partnership. We are all doing the same job, we all have strengths and weaknesses. Let's just support each other instead of assuming that some are the real parents while others are only helpers.