Parenting books 'depict fathers as stressed out and inadequate'

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The Independent Online

So, where are the dads who change nappies, read books at bedtime, play with their children, and get up in the night? Not in leading child-rearing books and manuals.

So, where are the dads who change nappies, read books at bedtime, play with their children, and get up in the night? Not in leading child-rearing books and manuals.

Modern dads barely get a passing mention. When they do, it's often negatively, say psychologists, who found that, despite huge changes in society and family life over the past 30 years, mums still dominate both the pictures and the words on the bookshelves.

When psychologists analysed pictures and text in 23 of the most popular books on how to bring up children, they found that only around one in 100 paragraphs had a mention of fathers and their role with the child. Words relating to mothers were used twice as frequently as those to do with fathers.

The bad news does not end there either. Fathers were seven times more likely to be shown as having problems within the parental relationship than the mother.

The American researchers, who report their findings in the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinities this week, say the books perpetuate outdated images.

"During the past 30 years, a new image of fatherhood has emerged. Only 16 per cent of families fit the traditional model where the father is the wage earner and the mother is the homemaker," they say.

Yet the researchers found this was barely reflected in popular child-rearing books. Dad is frequently shown as stressed, having a poor relationship with his wife, and being inadequately involved with his children.

"The manner in which fathers are emphasised in these books could promote fatherhood trends," says Dr Linda Fleming of Gannon University, who led the study.

The results show that the numbers of pictures of women outnumbered men by more than three to one. The father's role with the child figures in just 1,113 paragraphs in the books.

"Although these books are marketed for 'parents', it is evident they are written for a female audience. We were left with the impression that a mother's role with the child was obligatory and primary, whereas a father's role was voluntary," she said.

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