Let me just come straight out with it. I firmly believe that dads today are more actively involved in their children’s upbringing than at any other time throughout history. And yet, despite modern man’s significantly enhanced co-parenting role, perceptions of what fatherhood actually entails remain stubbornly stuck in the past.
In the media and advertising, in comedy, TV and films, being a dad is still portrayed as a part time job and one where most fathers are generally clueless, if not entirely inept. Where we can’t change a nappy, or calm a crying baby and have no concept of a ‘routine’; more akin to babysitting than actual parenting. Unfortunately, it turns out that this unfair caricature of fatherhood is proving almost impossible to shift.
According to a recent study by WaterWipes, 68.8% of parents admit that either they or their partners have referred to each other as ‘babysitting’ when looking after their children. But let me just state for the record, this outdated perception is hugely unhelpful and couldn’t be further from the truth.
As any working dad will tell you, providing for your family in this day and age, has never been more of a full time job, and one that extends well beyond the traditional 9-5. It doesn’t stop once the monthly mortgage payment and gas bill have been paid. Bath time, night feeds, nappy changing, weaning, potty training, cooking, cleaning, ironing and constant emotional support are all fundamental parts of the job description.
Of course, looking back through the ages, it’s hard to dispute the fact that mums have historically taken on the lion’s share of parenting duties. But as time has passed, what it means to be a father and provide for your family has fundamentally changed beyond all recognition.
To illustrate this, let me start from the very beginning…
Average life expectancy: 30
Key skills: Hunter / gatherer, making fire
Key threats: Sabre tooth tiger attacks, starvation, Ice Age
Reason for having kids: The continuation of the human race
Providing for his family: Protection from incomprehensible threats, fighting tooth and nail for every scrap of food delivered back to the cave floor
Mum:Dad Parenting ratio: 95:5
Dad style: Hands Off
Average life expectancy: 45
Key skills: Farming, wielding a sword, appeasing the feudal overlord
Key threats: High risk of beheading, survival dependent on good harvest
Reason for having kids: Lack of contraception, an extra pair of hands on the plough
Providing for his family: Shelter and sustenance, building their homes from the ground up and working the land / livestock to, quite literally, bring home the bacon
Mum:Dad Parenting ratio: 85:15
Dad style: Undercover Boss / Hard Taskmaster
Average life expectancy: 60
Key skills: Spearheading the industrial revolution, social climbing, rocking a handlebar moustache
Key threats: Smog, Spanish flu, militant Suffragettes
Reason for having kids: Producing a son and heir to inherit the family fortune
Providing for his family: Largely financial, to ensure there’s enough money in the household budget to keep the downstairs staff in employ
Mum:Dad Parenting ratio: 80:20
Dad style: Children are to be seen but not heard
80s Dad (AKA our fathers)
Average life expectancy: 78
Key skills: City high flying, power dressing, operating humongous mobile phones
Key threats: Margaret Thatcher, stock market crashes, Delia Smith recipes
Reason for having kids: For pleasure…to create their own nuclear family
Providing for his family: Again, principally financial, but playing a larger part in their children’s lives (albeit mainly at the weekend)
Mum:Dad Parenting ratio: 70:30
Dad style: Absence makes the heart grow fonder
Average life expectancy: 85
Key skills: Nappy changing, night feeding, chief steriliser, baby jester, bath time legend, supportive partner, co-parent
Key threats: Projectile vomiting, explosive poos, sleep deprivation and pushy mother in laws
Reason for having kids: For love
Providing for his family: Whether he’s the working parent, or a stay at home dad, the modern father is never off duty, providing physical and emotional support for mum and baby 24/7
Mum:Dad Parenting ratio: Approaching 50:50
Dad style: Hands on, full time parent
Clearly we’ve come a long way over the past 200,000 years, and yet I suspect some people may still guffaw at my 50:50 parenting ratio above. But if that’s you, it’s time to get real.
Modern parenting is no longer defined by which parent physically spends the most time with their child, as it did for our parents’ generation, or for any other generation before that. Regardless of who goes off to work and who stays at home, we’re all providing for our families in equal measure.
Working parents today are so much more than just distant figures who work and ‘provide’ finances, just as stay at home mums and dads are infinitely more than mere housewives/househusbands who need looking after. Despite this, just 16.6% of UK parents today believe that both mothers AND fathers are jointly the main provider in the first six months of their baby’s life.
In reality, the modern family unit is fluid and built on respect for the journey that both parents go on together – a Parent’s Pact, if you will – when the reality of working as a family creates a new dynamic for a couple. Modern parenting is a partnership, the ultimate example of team work and communication, which doesn’t stop just because one parent is not physically at home.
(Photo credit: Ariel from the Dreamcatcher Photography Studio)
So let’s take this opportunity to stop referring to fatherhood as a part time job, stop referring to dads as babysitters or maternity leave as ‘a year off’, and encourage parents on both sides of the gender divide to publicly recognise and be proud of the huge contribution that each side makes to family life.
After all, the longer it takes for us to acknowledge the joint role that both parents play in their children’s lives, the longer it will take to achieve things like equal pay for men and women, or proper flexible working rights for parents or progressive shared parental leave that benefits mums, dads and children alike.
It’s about time we changed the narrative, and that time is now.
So in what ways do you provide for your family? Do you feel that perceptions of fatherhood in 2017 are still stuck in the past? Do you think working parents get a raw deal? As always, we’d love to hear from you, so please do share your experiences and views with the group via the comments section below.
This post was written in collaboration with WaterWipes in support of its #ParentsPact campaign, which is working to redefine what it means to ‘provide for your family’ in 2017.