Becoming a father whilst delving into the deep end of what fatherhood entails is a monumental transition in the lives of men.
Yet, too often, it is barely recognized especially for really hands-on fathers and husbands who are expected to carry on as if nothing has changed after they become new fathers — a disservice not only to the men involved but also their partners and their children.
As they go about adapting to this new identity embedded within fatherhood, there is a complex web of contradictory expectations regarding the roles fathers are expected to play both within families and in society.
They are expected to provide, for example, but are met with surprise if that comes in the form of being the primary caregiver.
They’re given praise for tasks that mothers do thanklessly when they are just doing what they should be doing — being a parent.
Various researches by sociologists have beamed light into how paternal mental health impacts father involvement and child well-being has further illuminated the systemic challenges that contemporary parents face when attempting to share equal responsibilities.
But, just as women had to demand space for themselves in the workplace and world, men need to address the obstacles that are preventing them from engaging in fatherhood.
Rather than simply accepting outdated societal and cultural expectations around gender, lagging workplace policies that assume only mothers are primary caregivers and the ways in which we stereotype fathers, we need to work together if we ever hope for true egalitarianism in families.
Preconceived Notions Within The Society Makes Fatherhood A Chore, Rather Than An Enjoyable Experience
Socialization into gendered behaviours around caregiving, household labour and other tasks associated with parenting begins in childhood.
Although a new generation of fathers is pushing back against these norms, these institutions are strong, their policies are deeply ingrained in our society and change is slow.
Often, the society intuits that dads are lesser parents and this notion is further reinforced by institutions where moms and dads interact — which can negatively affect how fathers engage with their children and families.
For example, many fathers report feeling excluded, ignored and un-welcome by caregivers and nurses during prenatal care.
Often, this treatment can send a subtle message that discourages dads from taking on more family responsibilities, engaging in more care and being an equal co-parents.
Certainly, it is understandable that care is focused on the health of mothers and children.
However, caring for mothers and acknowledging their partners are not unrelated, considering engaged parenting by fathers is associated with improved maternal health and child well-being.
There Is A Need To Focus On Fatherhood As A Means Of Healthy Family Integration
It is proven that mothers double up the time fathers spend on educational tasks.
They are also more likely to volunteer in classrooms, join the PTA, attend parent-teacher conferences and be highly engaged in other aspects of their children’s school lives.
While some mothers tend to have more daytime flexibility than some fathers, simply expecting this to be the norm reinforces the structures that many working mothers are still working to overcome — such as the fact they still make less money than their peers and are often (wrongly) viewed to be less committed to their careers.
Instead, we need to expect that fathers and mothers will both participate in their children’s school lives. This can be deeply valuable to both fathers and their children.
Much like child health and wellbeing, children are cognitively and academically benefited by having fathers that are engaged in their schools and education.
The Thorny Issue Of Work-Life Balance
Many fathers I have spoken to expressed a feeling of being torn between their responsibilities at home and their careers. This is, perhaps, unsurprising. Work and family are inextricably linked with one another.
Despite significant changes in expectations around men’s parenting, the pressure to economically provide remains real and substantial.
This means that employers play an important role in how fathers interact with their families.
Even when fathers can take a leave from woek, they often do not. Work cultures can discourage fathers from taking the time they are entitled to, pressuring men to put their careers ahead of their families.
On the other hand, it’s clear that workplace cultures impact how men parent.
Policies that help parents balance their responsibilities shows that even the most reluctant fathers become more engaged in their families when they are encouraged to do so at work ergo, enjoying the perks of fatherhood in the process.
Societal Changes Also Needed
Attitudinal changes within the society are also needed in order to avoid shaming men who want to be fully hands-on towards the care of their wives and children.
For example, programmes for fathers at schools and targeted invitations can do significant good.
Providers that serve families should make a concerted effort to not fall back on the status quo, but instead integrate all family members into their efforts.
Other changes are more difficult but necessary.
For one, we still require substantial cultural shifts, including changes in media portrayals that emphasize fathers as equal co-parents, not secondary parents or partners that “help” moms.
They are not and such attitudes are harmful to mothers, fathers and children alike.
Similarly, we need sustained efforts to ensure that problematic and toxic masculine behaviours are changed.
Despite these needed and necessary changes, men maintain responsibility for becoming good fathers.
Dads need to realize they are more than a paycheck and must become increasingly engaged in the lives of their children, despite the many barriers which exist.
Fathers must work hard to be seen, overcome these barriers and work to make important changes.