Parenting matters: Involving fathers

Being a parent can be tough, but there are ways to take the stress out of raising kids. Diana Hinds looks at the problem areas and meets three families who have found some answers

To see a father out pushing his child in a buggy is no longer an unusual sight. Ninety per cent of fathers now attend the birth of their child. Compared with 1970, when 40 per cent of UK fathers of very young children came home to a sleeping child during the week and 11 per cent were not there at weekends, today only 25 per cent of employed fathers are not home by 7pm, and young children are staying up later, especially when their mothers work. These signs of a greater involvement of fathers with their children may lead us to assume that men and women are finding better ways of sharing the care of their families.

But Adrienne Burgess, research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research, who leads a workshop on fatherhood at today's Barnardo's conference, argues in a book highly sympathetic to modern fathers, Fatherhood Reclaimed (Vermilion), that our society still sets up too many barriers to men's involvement with their children.

The process often begins with their partner's pregnancy, and sets in in earnest when the child is born. In most new families, fathers typically spend almost no time alone with their (awake) babies, while mothers spend more than 60 hours per week alone with them. Right from the start, therefore, the mother becomes the "expert", with the father cast in the role of helper and unable to develop an autonomous relationship with the child.

A vicious circle often develops where the more skilled and competent the mother, the more uncertain and lacking in confidence the father becomes, often prompting him to withdraw. While Burgess isn't suggesting that mothers should deliberately reduce their competency, if both parents are aware of this tendency it may well help to prevent lasting damage.

Health visitors and midwives often fail to involve fathers, she argues: "The father's view of himself as an irrelevance is often reinforced by professionals such as health visitors, who even if the father is present, can quite unashamedly direct all comments to the mother, or tend to patronise fathers when they turn up at the clinic in charge of their babies."

We see few, if any, public images of men's intimacy with their children. Books for fathers all too often adopt a jokey or patronising tone, as if doubting the interest or commitment of their readers.

"We need to raise the profile of fatherhood," says Burgess. Certainly, when it comes to parent education, fathers need a great deal more coaxing to join in than their partners, and it comes as no surprise to learn that parent services are used largely by women.

"Men may now be able to say, 'I'm off to my computer/language/tai chi class,' but to say to their mates, 'I'm off to my parenting group,' is still not acceptable to many of them," says Sheila Munro, training manager at Parent Network, part of whose mission it is to involve more fathers.

The charity is hoping to obtain funding for an Internet project aimed at fathers, including "taster sessions" which might draw fathers into parent education courses, and interactive material which they can use at home.

Help directed exclusively at fathers may be more enticing to them than mixed groups. With government funding, Adrienne Burgess is involved in the setting up of a new national resource centre called Fathers Direct, with a website and helpline, which will be launched next spring.

A FATHER'S PERSPECTIVE

Darren Pritchett has six children (two from his first marriage, four from his second), ranging in age from 14 to two-year-old twins. They live in Birmingham.

"Being a father is rewarding, but it's also hard work: the aggro and arguments, the teenage tantrums, having to separate your kids when they're fighting.

"I went on a Caring Start course run by Barnardo's, and my partner was going to a women's group. I thought that was a bit sexist, so last September a friend and I set up a fathers' group called 'Dads Do It Too'. We do have a problem sometimes getting fathers to come. They'll say to you, 'I'm not coming to that, it's for poofs', or 'I'm a perfect father'. But you learn things by bouncing ideas off each other.

"About six of us meet on Saturday mornings for two hours, and we provide a creche. We play football first so that people get to know each other, and that creates quite a harmonious chat afterwards; we talk about the football first, and then go on to what we've set out for that week.

"We do a 10-week course. The main problem people say they have is with discipline. One father came because he knew he had a big problem with it and was lashing out at his children. He doesn't hit them any more. He talks to them, or takes something away that they want.

"I think it's hard for fathers, with mothers saying, wait till your dad comes home and he hears. When you come home, you don't want to give your children punishments, you want a bit of love and care. My partner and I share the discipline between us: if there's a problem, she deals with it there and then."

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
Voices
A Siberian Tiger
voices
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Property Finance Partner

    Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

    Agile Tester

    £28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

    Senior SAP MM Consultant, £50,000 - £60,000, Birmingham

    £50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Senior SAP MM C...

    SAP BW BO

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BW BO - 6 MONTHS - LONDON London (Gr...

    Day In a Page

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried