• Caroline Matthews

This Dad Can!

When it comes to juggling the demands and stresses of parenthood, mothers don’t need to look very far to find some much-needed words of encouragement, positivity or perspective. From social media to fashion, confidence-affirming slogans such as #bossingit #thismumcan #mummytries and #knowyoureenough abound.

But while mums have never been more empowered, what are the repercussions of this praise cascade for modern fathers? For the dads who are giving it all they’ve got, there’s no ‘winging it’ emblazoned sweatshirt, or ‘daddy needs coffee’ printed mug to incite praise and sympathy for their efforts and sleep deprivation. Some might argue that this is because Dads aren’t sufficiently caught in the ‘parent fog’ to dignify the truth in fatigue-based humour. After all, they have the escapism and relative normality of a work life to counterbalance the stay-at-home struggles which necessite such mum-to-mum camaraderie though merchandise and hashtagging. The above would, on reflection, be a point well made. However, is it possible that being outside the ‘parent fog’ might be just as challenging a situation for a parent to be faced with as the navigational nightmare within? Potentially, and here’s why: No margin for error Mothers are regularly praised for being ‘perfectly imperfect’ and granted not only leeway, but moreover praise, for making mistakes and being ‘real’. Since men don’t have the excuse of being caught in the thick of it to justify any wrong turns, they are much more in the firing line for critique than mothers typically are. Detachment theory Navigating the intricacies of raising young children may be exhausting, but the resultant skills that it nurtures (organisation, communication, patience and resilience) impart a certain confidence and control to mums in a family context. Dads, having not had the same level of exposure to help hone these coping mechanisms, can often feel somewhat detached from the smooth running of routines, days out, holidays etc. Confidence in parenting abilities and self worth can be called into question, often making the sidelines an equally challenging position to be in, but for different reasons. This goes to show that Dads, just as much as Mums, need bigging up from time to time. Particularly since the father’s role is so uniquely valuable, yet widely underestimated and misunderstood, in childhood development. The distinct contrast in parenting approaches often demonstrated by dads - from ‘fun dad’ to disciplinarian - are part of what makes their contribution so important. Though ‘Fun Dad’ is often berated for casting the comparatively serious mother’s role in a bad light, the playful nature of the one-to-one interactions that fathers have with their children has an important impact on their emotional and social development, helping them learn how to regulate their feelings and behavior. In fact, a father’s active presence and involvement is associated with cognitive, behavioral and emotional benefits that put paid to concerns over supposedly conflicting parenting styles between mums and dads. It’s important to remember, therefore, that fathers - just like mothers - sometimes need some assurance that their best is good enough. Dads are mostly learning as they go along as well, and are therefore just as worthy of the ‘winging it’ allowances designed to forgive us mums for all manner of parenting fails. If anything, without the benefit of the innately female maternal instinct, modern dads are doing as good a job as any at ‘bossing’ what is effectively the hardest job in the world... whatever gender angle you approach it from.

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