Parenting: a mother AND father thing

In this guest post, Duncan Fisher, founder and former CEO of the Fatherhood Institute, explains what led him to establish new shared parenting blog MumsandDadsNet.

When we first had a baby I came across an amazing book by Phil and Carolyn Cowan, When Partners become Parents. It reported a big study of what happens to couples when they have a baby. In a nutshell:

  • many couples lead more divided lives than they had expected and are taken by surprise by this and feel it is happening to them, not through choice
  • the more different their lives are from each other, the more unhappy they tend to be.

This book profoundly helped my family and it got me really interested, because nobody else was saying this stuff. Since then there have been lots more books and studies and debate. Kyle and Marsha Pruett wrote Partnership Parenting about how to organise parenting as a duo. Rebecca Asher wrote Shattered about the illusion that things have got easier for mothers. Gideon Burrows wrote Men Can Do It, questioning if men have changed so much.

Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober wrote Getting to 50:50 how working parents can have it all, making the case that no parent can have it all unless their partner does too. Gaby Hinsliff wrote a book, Half a Wife, concluding that unless the role of fathers changes a lot more, the role of mothers is stuck where it is. In the USA, Amy and Marc Vachon set up a website – EquallySharedParenting.com – to advocate a radical equality in division of household tasks, not an idea to everyone’s taste but it’s really thought provoking and challenging.

There have been studies about how same sex couples organise domestic life, showing how heterosexual couples are influenced by stereotypes. There have been studies of the history of parenting showing that the idea of the “new dad” is rubbish. There have been amazing studies and books about the anthropology of parenting, showing that the idea of a mum all by herself looking after a baby without shedloads of support from those around her is not how mothers and babies and families thrive.

There have been studies about how adult relationships in a family affect the development of children’s brains. Other studies are showing that if you want a pregnant woman to stop smoking, or encourage a new mum to breastfeed, you are better off getting the whole family on board – dads have more influence over breastfeeding than health visitors! US advertisers are discovering that if you want a family with young children to buy something, it’s also better if you advertise to more than one member of the family.

Every now and then, there is a really interesting blog or article on the topic – I particularly enjoyed a recent one about why families tend to think that the childcare costs are paid out of the mother’s income, rather than the income of both parents; don’t working fathers also depend on someone to look after their children when they work?

Another area of study I have particularly enjoyed is about multi-tasking, blowing out of the water the idea that women are better at it than men – this is just a myth that somehow justifies the status quo as a biological inevitability. The idea suits a lot of people, but that does not make it right. The idea that the world was flat also suited a lot of people.

The idea of MumsandDadsNet is to bring this conversation more out into the open. We have launched small: a blog website and a conversation on Facebook and Twitter, and we are watching the way the wind blows.

In the first weeks we have hundreds of engagements and from that we have already learned a lot about what might be next. Some people have proposed a campaign by women and men together for greater opportunities to share roles, since institutions, policies and social attitudes are lagging behind what many families want and need. Others have suggested the expansion into a full-scale social network.

Watch this space!

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