While sharing tea and biscuits with a group of children’s centre staff a common and widely heard assumption raised it head again…
Them: “Men just don’t to be engaged”
Me: “what with?” (thinking they meant their services)
Them: “ Their children. They just don’t want to do it”
Me: “Do they not? How do you know this?”
Them: “because the mothers tell us, they tell us that they get in the way”.
And there in lies the rub. This group of professionals, desperate to make men “better”, were actually adding another dimension…they wanted fathers to be “more like mothers” (actually said, out loud, in public, no fear).
Well… here is the shocking thing – MOTHERS CAN GET IT WRONG. They are trained for motherhood through their life, told to be caring, giving and selfless. They have ALL the parenting advice and information tailored for their needs, ALL the professionals attention from conception to the babies are adults. And yet they still get it wrong. We do them a disservice by expecting them to be great, and holding them up as something for fathers to aspire to.
Fathers get very little information, training or support and societal expectations do not match their own high expectation of themselves as fathers.
Of course, many mothers do a fabulous job. So do many fathers. More often both mothers and fathers feeling their own way through, making mistakes, learning and loving. That’s normal. What isn’t normal is the balance of focus on mothers.
Over the years I have heard many expectations of fathers, from risk to resource. The most commonly heard expectation now is that they will share more care of their children than their fathers did with them. Yes, that is happening. It is happening without the experts talking to them, without a decent shared leave system. It’s happening because men and women have worked it out between them.
One of the staff at the Childrens centre gallantly said that she “treats all men the same as she treats mothers”.
Really? Does that really happen?
Evidence still shows services are not engaging widely with fathers, and when they do the engagement’s mainly through manly activities, father-only groups or IT / job search stuff. Do they treat women to the same narrow choice? No.
Treating fathers “the same as you treat mothers” denies their experiences, their history and their role. Fathers’ experiences of early years are different to women’s, for a start they are lucky to not be ignored or sidelined.You could try really listening to them.
When shoe-horning (is that a word?) men into a service designed by women for women, we should not be surprised that it is an uncomfortable fit for all concerned. But do not let that make you think that fathers are not ‘engaged’ with their children. More likely that you just don’t know what is going on.