So much of the parenting world is geared towards mothers and motherhood—that’s likely not surprising to hear. Historically, women took on primary child-rearing roles, while men went to work to provide financially for their families, so it made sense for resources to be aimed at women. But this has remained true even as the picture of couples and families has evolved. More and more engaged fathers are taking on equal parenting responsibilities, and more and more women are prioritizing their careers—and yet, fathers still have limited support. So, with that in mind, we polled the ParentsCanada community to ask what challenges dads face every day.
Our poll revealed four main areas of concern for dads, including lack of resources created with dads in mind, time management and balancing family and career, maintaining a connection with partners, and making time for personal interests. We spoke to Professor Mark Dadds, creator of Family Man—a new online resource aimed at dads, brought to you by men’s health charity Movember—and a few dads in the parenting trenches, to get their feelings, tips, tricks and strategies where these challenges are concerned.
Lack of Resources
BJ Barone and Frankie Nelson remember changing their then-infant son, Milo, in the middle of a busy New York restaurant in 2014 because there wasn’t a change table in the men’s room. “He needed a diaper change! Whattya gonna do?” Barone says. Luckily that’s one thing that does seem to be changing. It’s slowly becoming the norm to have family restrooms or feeding and infant care lounges in restaurants, malls, etc. But the physical amenities aside, there is still a resource discrepancy between moms and dads—a recent Movember survey found that nearly one in two (46%) Canadian dads feel there is a lack of online parenting resources aimed at fathers. “Moms have been the prime driver and prime consumer for a long time, but that doesn’t mean dads don’t want to be involved,” says Dadds. “We need evidence-based resources with strategies that work, that we can access quickly, and that aren’t always directed at moms. I also think more outlets need to address parents together, because teamwork is so important. The ideal scenario is parents working as a team.”
For Mike Reynolds, it’s also about building a supportive parenting community. “I’ve always found peer support best, but as someone who’s really introverted and has a hard time reaching out to people, this isn’t always accessible,” they say. This is where online support systems can play a huge role for dads. For Barone and Nelson, they have both been a part of local Facebook groups for dads. “The tone is different from moms’ groups,” Barone says. “There’s less competition. It can be really nice.”
Reynolds has also found that for queer parenting, community has been essential: “I see how other people grow and express themselves at all points in their lives and gain strength from that. I’m trying to get to know myself better. This is important as a parent, and something men don’t do enough. I want to know how my attitudes around emotional support impact partners and kids, and work on ways to change how I offer those things.”
What can you do?
- Look for local fatherhood groups online (and eventually, post-pandemic, in person!).
- Float the idea to a couple of friends that you will hit a pub or go for a hike once a month to talk about whatever might be on your mind, as fathers.
- Check out Family Man—a free, online tool designed to equip parents, particularly dads, with the practical skills needed to help cope with frustrating situations. The ultimate goal is to improve mental wellbeing by empowering parents to feel more confident and engaged in the parenting process.
Time Management and Balancing Family and Career
In many workplaces, it’s almost expected that a woman with kids may need to duck out of the office to take a child to an appointment, or take a day off when a kiddo needs to stay home sick. Men aren’t always afforded the same understanding. “Workplaces need to be more flexible in order for us to raise healthy children,” says Dadds. And this flexibility shouldn’t just apply to urgent situations. “Our resources are already stretched thin,” says Dadds, “and that really leaves little time for bonding. Parenting shouldn’t just be about survival—parents need to engage in fun with their kids.”
Taking time away from a busy work schedule, without fear of repercussion, could work wonders for both parent and child. Consciously being present, without the distraction of emails, texts and phone calls from the office, allows for moments of genuine connection. Consistent connection leads to all kinds of good things for the parent-child relationship, for a parent’s coping skills, for a child’s self-regulation. The list goes on. But this change has to be a top-down initiative, at all workplaces, to support men as engaged, equal parents, and women in their careers. “There’s definitely a need for systemic change,” says Reynolds. “Hopefully as men continue to increase the [domestic] workload, [there will be a] shift.”
What can you do?
- Ask for a meeting with your supervisor to chat about how to make your work day easier on your family. If possible, consider adjusting your work hours to give you more time in the morning or evening to be present with your kids.
- Put your phone on Do Not Disturb between dinner and bedtime (you can set your phone to allow for important designated numbers to ring through, if you’re worried).
- Book regular dates with each of your kids and leave your phone turned off (or, better still, at home!), so you will be able to give them your full attention.
Maintaining Connection with a Partner
It’s a well-known fact that the quality of a marriage takes a hit after having children—your time and energy are completely depleted by this adorable little bundle you’ve welcomed into your family. “But the fact is, you have to have child-free time together,” says Dadds. And this doesn’t just happen on its own. Couples have to recognize this need and proactively seek out ways to incorporate time for their relationship. Barone and Nelson do their best to make their relationship a priority on the regular: “With the pandemic it’s hard to get time alone with each other, but when things settle down, we’re lucky that my parents live nearby and can help,” says Barone. “It’s nice when we get a Friday night to ourselves, to get in some time together.”
For Reynolds, communication is key. “It’s so easy to be so tired at the end of a parenting day. It takes so much energy even in the best of times. I think it’s so important to communicate that level of fatigue with all partners,” they say. “It isn’t a failure to be tired at noon or to be touched out by kids or to not be able to be intimate with a partner. None of these things are bad. But being able to communicate where you are at with a partner helps both of you recognize where your needs are.”
What can you do?
- Book a date night at home—put the kids to bed a bit early, or, if they’re older, set boundaries around giving parents privacy. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate date night, either. Just ordering in takeout and watching a movie with less distraction can help with connection.
- Do a love language quiz together. While “love language” is a buzzy phrase from a 1992 relationship book by Gary Chapman, there is value in learning, topline, how your partner expresses and receives love. If nothing else, it starts a conversation about needs.
- Get in the habit of doing a daily check-in with your partner, whether it’s first thing in the morning or right before bed. This is a great touchpoint of connection in the busy-ness of your life.
Getting Time to Yourself
“People have to have time away from their kids and their partner, alone. Everyone needs that,” says Dadds. “When you don’t factor this time away in, it’s very hard to get it back.” Reynolds agrees. “It’s hard to even remember the things I love to do sometimes,” they say. “There’s so much guilt in asking for a five-minute break from kids to go for a walk, let alone an hour to read a book, draw or cross-stitch.”
Showing your kids what you like to do might help them to understand when you take time away to pursue something you love. Role modeling is one of the best tools in your parenting arsenal, and showing your children that it’s okay to step away and take time for yourself, to do something that fills your cup, is a good lesson.
For Barone and Nelson, they spell each other off with Milo in order to give each partner the space they need to focus on themselves. “We like that we are able to share the caring of Milo and also give each other time every day to ourselves,” says Nelson. “We each need our own moments.”
What can you do?
- Schedule a regular block of time off for each parent, daily or weekly. (For the sake of family routine, it may be easiest to make it the same block of time on repeat.)
- Make yourself a “quiet time” sign that can be moved around the house. For whichever parent is taking time for themselves, the sign should be placed on a closed door. Teach kids that the sign means they are not to disturb the parent (except in case of emergency!).
Seventy to 80 percent of the world’s men will become fathers in their lifetimes, and yet, the volume of conversation around fatherhood nowhere near matches that statistic. It’s time for change. These are just a few of the challenges men face when it comes to their families and children—there are so many more that need to be discussed, normalized and given support. Parents—not just dads—need to talk to each other. Share resources. Celebrate each other’s wins, and offer to help through the setbacks. Parenting is hard enough without that village we hear about so often. So, let’s close the gap.