By Megan McQueen
Parenting educators, we have a gender problem. We didn’t create this problem, but we can help shift our classes and materials to become more inclusive. We need to include fathers in our parenting mindsets. I usually see mothers carrying the heavy load of caregiving work, research, and education in my social circles. I asked myself, my friends, and our partners why we thought these patterns existed and why we perpetuated them. The answers I received were thoughtful, disappointing, and humbling. We must do a better job engaging fathers.
Please note: I use the gendered term father here, for lack of a better term. In this post, I am thinking about men who parent, but also other genders of caregivers that don’t identify with the term mother.
Adapt Parenting Resources
Professor of applied psychology, Catherine Tamis-LeMonda, Ph.D., says, “We tend to have a narrative that raising a child is a mom’s domain, and moms do it better than dads…Not only are men’s views of themselves as potential nurturers blocked by cultural constructs, they’re also blocked by internalized ideas of masculinity.” Let’s help our families see themselves reflected in family life.
We have a world of “mommy-and-me” classes in which fathers may feel that they are outsiders. Flip the description to “baby-and-me” or “toddler-and-me,” and automatically, other caregivers feel welcome. By doing this, we also focus on the children in these gatherings. We can disrupt a gendered narrative of parenting by making these subtle changes. We share nurturing role models of all genders with our classes so that everyone feels reflected, and we expand all our patterned thinking about parenting. We can connect our courses to a fun event for children. When the kids want to attend, it might be easier for the parent to say “yes.”
Include Fathers in Community Building
Look for ways to mix your gatherings, so everyone feels included. Fathers can connect instead of sitting on the edges. We can plan ways to relate as class begins, which gets people talking with each other. We might plan a seating arrangement so everyone feels they belong instead of people left wondering who to sit near. Addressing and discussing emotions during class can help break down societal barriers that men shouldn’t talk about their feelings. Our classes can be safe places for all caregivers to process their emotions. You may also consider adding an informal “dad support group” to help the fathers feel connected to each other. Help dads create peer networks or mentor/mentee programs.
Help Dads Feel Valued
Popular media often devalues fathers, showing dads as incompetent. Be sure to interrupt stereotypical language if you hear it. Dads are not babysitters. Evolutionary anthropologist Anna Machin writes that “dads are the parents of resilience, perfectly placed to teach their children all about challenge, risk and failure and this means that dads can have a direct, positive impact upon the quality of their child’s mental health.” Let’s support families stepping out of gender roles and creating systems that work best for their needs.
Become Aware of Barriers
Jordan Shapiro, Ph.D., writes that we need “to identify, interrogate, and then reframe problematic and unjust narratives” to help us build a more equitable society. Sometimes simple barriers such as limited transportation and childcare can prevent caregivers from attending parenting classes. How can we anticipate these needs and provide solutions?
Many dads feel pressure to provide financially for their families. Access to job training, GED, and higher education information can be helpful. We can be creative about the locations of our classes. Are they on a main bus line? Or bikeable?
We must also examine possible biases in ourselves and our programs against caregivers who are not mothers and embrace intersectional identities. Many caregivers feel unwelcome if they do not fit into a white, middle-class, female, able-bodied, suburban stereotype. How can we undo these mindsets in ourselves and our communities? How can we ensure our classes and materials honor and value multiple identities? Consider ways to invite all genders to apply for work as your colleagues.
These suggestions are not enough to dismantle societal barriers, but they can help. We can and should change what we have control and influence over. We can advocate for family-friendly policies in our communities, reduce mothers’ burdens, and remove barriers for other caregivers to benefit children and society.
Books and Resources
Being Invisible by Kenny Harry
The Company of Dads podcast
Father Figure by Jordan Shapiro
Fatherhood by Papa B by Bode Aboderin
Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, imparting a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.