Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Making parenting 'a guy thing'

Last week I blogged about parenting and risk. Good friend, excellent Dad and moover / groover Dr Paul Redford got in touch with some excellent related resources, including the must-buy for Father's Day '50 dangerous things (you should let your children do)', and relevant articles.

In particular, he pointed me to this piece in the Wall Street Journal. It says:

'… the pop-culture image of the inept dad who wouldn't know a diaper genie from a garbage disposal has begun to fade. In his place, research shows, is emerging a new model of at-home fatherhood that puts a distinctly masculine stamp on child-rearing and home life.

At-home dads aren't trying to be perfect moms, says a recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research. Instead, they take pride in letting their children take more risks on the playground, compared with their spouses. They tend to jettison daily routines in favor of spontaneous adventures with the kids. And many use technology or DIY skills to squeeze household budgets, or find shortcuts through projects and chores, says the study, based on interviews, observation of father-child outings and an analysis of thousands of pages of at-home dads' blogs and online commentary.

"Just as we saw a feminization of the workplace in the past few decades, with more emphasis on such skills as empathy and listening, we are seeing the opposite at home—a masculinization of domestic tasks and routines," says Gokcen Coskuner-Balli, an assistant professor of marketing at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and lead author of the study. "Many men are building this alternative model of home life that is outdoorsy, playful and more technology-oriented."

...This really chimes with research I have pointed to which suggests that Dads see encouraging active exploration, pushing the boundaries a bit, as a central aspect of their role. 

Let that point sink in, because I think it's a significant one. In my relatively new and ongoing meditation on what constitutes 'Dad Pride', and whether Dads are really as rubbish as they are often made out to be, I am increasingly being asked about fictional Dads like Homer Simpson and Daddy Pig from Peppa Pig (which is, after all, the British Simpsons). Here's the thing: I don't think Homer and Daddy Pig are rubbish Dads. In fact I think they're excellent role models! As in the quote above, they're not trying to be perfect Moms. They have spontaneous adventures, they find shortcuts through projects and chores, they take pride in letting their children take more risks.

Just as feminisation of the workplace led to some men pushing back against women, and some women taking time to adjust to their new roles, so a masculinisation of domesticity perhaps leads to some women pushing back against men and – I think more frequently and more significantly – some men struggling to get their head round it all. To me that's why most media portrayals – ads, TV, films etc – still peddle the inept Dad stereotype but often a Dad that comes good in the end.

My wife tells me that when I used to go to parenting groups with our first son, other Mums used to report back to her with an incredulous chuckle that I had found the time to read the paper while he played with the other kids. No matter that they weren't particularly interested in talking to me, and that they themselves had found the time to drink lots of coffee and have a very nice chat. There are different ways to be a parent, and the unusual will always attract attention and ridicule.

Through all this the most important thing to me is that Dads find their own way of parenting, and that it's one – like Homer and Daddy Pig – that is at the very least 'involved'.

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