We at The Daily Dad are about to navigate a very sensitive subject: Myths About Dads. But before we do that, let’s get something out in the open. I LOVE MOMS! Come on, I'm a total momma’s boys myself (Hi mom!). So in no way is this post intended to be misogynistic. It is in fact intended to be the opposite.
We recognize that moms have been marginalized, mistreated, overworked, underappreciated, and just plain taken for granted by pretty much everyone. The only way that’s ever going to change is if we challenge outdated gendered norms and let guys do their fair share (read: EQUAL share) when it comes to being a parent. At the Daily Dad what we’re trying to do is promote and encourage healthy and meaningful co-parenting because at the end of the day, that’s what is best for the KID(S).
So this post is for you Moms! Moms are the single largest predictor of how and when dads get involved with their kids. In the social sciences, it’s called maternal gatekeeping (1), because you decide when to open and shut that gate. The reality is that society, and in many respects moms, are perpetuating these myths to justify keeping that gate closed and keeping dads at bay. So we’re here to help dispel some myths about parenting that keep dads out, and give you some ideas about how to get dads to be your equal partner.
Myth #1: Mother Knows Best
Let’s be clear here: Mother certainly knows best . . . for how SHE interacts with her children. But when it comes to how dads get involved, men need and want to find their own way. Research has repeatedly found that mothers who consistently criticize dads end up edging them out completely. (2) Your kids are half mom/half dad, so working together strengthens your ability to parent your kids more completely. And let’s be honest, most of the time dads and moms alike are scratching their heads hoping that they are doing the whole parenting thing right anyway! Work together with the understanding that no one parent knows better than the other.
Myth #2: Dads Aren’t as Intuitive
Believing this myth perpetuates the notion that moms are just naturally good at being a parent, and dads are clueless, bumbling idiots. This is one of those things where whatever you want to believe will happen. Studies show that men whose partners make them feel like competent dads get more involved. (3) Those who are made to feel clueless get less involved. So praise dads! Because they have been socialized out of parenting and to believe that competence = masculinity, they scare easy. If men feel like their efforts are being critiqued at ever turn, they will begin to doubt their instincts- and the reality is their instincts are just as accuate and positive as a mom's. Telling dads they’re doing a great job and that your kids are lucky to have them as a dad goes a long way (and the knife cuts both ways fellas- be sure to send praise and compliments to mom!). We see a lot of push back on mom-to-mom criticism, so let's just be cautious to include dads in the dialogue.
Myth #3: Dads Need Directions
Here’s what happens. Loads of couples promise each other they’re going to do all parenting equally. Then baby comes, mom gets off work for a few weeks, dad doesn’t. Because she gets a head start, dad feels left behind and it just gets worse as time goes on. So moms start to give directions for everything and dads become helpless. The solution? Instead of micromanaging each detail, tell dad what needs to be accomplished and when, and give him loads of encouragement and reassurance. He’ll get there. (4) Maybe by messing up – a whole lot – but so did you in those first days/months/years with baby. Show him where all the baby gear is, show him your routines, carve out times where he can be alone with the baby or spend time with older children outside of the house. Have him make doctor’s appointments and invite him to come. Just let him know that he’s a parent too, an equal partner, and that he’s totally got this.
Myth #4: Mom’s Bond is Better Than Dad’s
Recent research has highlighted that what is actually indicative of the “bond” a mother or a father has with their child is directly tied to caring, affectionate time spent with the child and not their gender or any biological differences. Dads are no less biologically capable of bonding with or nurturing their child than moms are, and a growing number of stay-at-home dads are confirming this. There is nothing biologically different about mothers that enables a deeper or more meaningful emotional connection with their children than fathers. (5) So moms, throw some of that weight onto the dads.
Myth #5: Involved Dads = Mr. Mom
Not only is there a movie called Mr. Mom, but the country group Lonestar dedicated a song under the same title that effectively tells men they can’t do what the women do when it comes to their kids. We’re not saying that women aren’t great parents, they certainly are. But we’re saying that a good dad is not a "Mr. Mom". Again, this just reinforces antiquated gender stereotypes and divisions of labor in the home and is inconsistent with what the literature is actually showing what involved dads are capable of doing. (6, 7) Being a good dad is being just that: a GOOD DAD! Two separate roles, one common goal. Let's be sure to promote healthy expectations of what being ANY parent is, regardless of if the mom or dad is doing the work. Ideally, they shoudl be doing it together!
Myth #6: Dads Babysit
Babysitting is the practice of hiring someone who normally is not responsible for the child(ren) to take on temporary responsibility over the child(ren) while those actually responsible are away. When dads spend time with their children it’s called parenting, not babysitting. It would be the same insult if we considered stay at home moms nothing more than daycare providers until dad got home and could do the real parenting. So when mom is going out for a girl’s night, let’s not ask the dad to “watch” the kids. Dads know they are responsible for the care of the children, whether mom is present or not. When you spot a dad out in the grocery store with his children, resist the urge to think (and certainly don’t comment), “It’s great when dad babysits… where’s mom?!” This will take conscious effort, but doing so will continue to give dads confidence in his parenting ability, and will help equally shoulder the parental responsibility.
Boom. 6 myths about dads just dispelled. We feel like we deserve an extra scoop of ice cream tonight! So moms, don’t worry. Give us dads a chance. Believe in us. We got this, together. Open that gate and let dads be your equal partner in helping to raise the kiddos. We got this, we really do.
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1. Allen, Sarah M., and Alan J. Hawkins. 1999. “Maternal Gatekeeping: Mothers’ Beliefs and Behaviors That Inhibit Greater Father Involvement in Family Work.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 61 (1): 199–212. doi:10.2307/353894.
2. Schoppe-Sullivan, Sarah J., Geoffrey L. Brown, Elizabeth A. Cannon, Sarah C. Mangelsdorf, and Margaret Szewczyk Sokolowski. 2008. “Maternal Gatekeeping, Coparenting Quality, and Fathering Behavior in Families with Infants.” Journal of Family Psychology 22 (3): 389–98. doi:10.1037/0893-3220.127.116.119.
3. Maurer, Trent W., Joseph H. Pleck, and Thomas R. Rane. 2001. “Parental Identity and Reflected-Appraisals: Measurement and Gender Dynamics.” Journal of Marriage and Family 63 (2): 309–21. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2001.00309.x.
4. Miller, Tina. 2011. “Falling Back into Gender? Men’s Narratives and Practices around First-Time Fatherhood.” Sociology 45 (6): 1094–1109. doi:10.1177/0038038511419180.
5. Abraham, Eyal, Talma Hendler, Irit Shapira-Lichter, Yaniv Kanat-Maymon, Orna Zagoory-Sharon, and Ruth Feldman. 2014. “Father’s Brain Is Sensitive to Childcare Experiences.” PNAS Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111 (27): 9792–97. doi:10.1073/pnas.1402569111.
6. Gordon, Ilanit, Orna Zagoory-Sharon, James F. Leckman, and Ruth Feldman. 2010. “Oxytocin and the Development of Parenting in Humans.” Biological Psychiatry 68 (4): 377–82. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2010.02.005.
7. Habib, Cherine. 2012. “The Transition to Fatherhood: A Literature Review Exploring Paternal Involvement with Identity Theory.” Journal of Family Studies, Fatherhood in the early 21st century, 18 (2-3): 103–20. doi:10.5172/jfs.2012.18.2-3.103.