How Partners Can Support Dads, And Why Dads Need It

Fear of messing up is a big deterrent.
Letting dads make their own mistakes is important.
Letting dads make their own mistakes is important.

One of the positive changes we are seeing in modern family life is an increase in the participation of dads, both with parenting and domestic chores.

This has several benefits: a better distribution of work between moms and dads; children have more engagement and thus better relationships with their fathers; and children who are raised seeing dads help out around the home and actively parenting are more likely to follow suit if they become dads some day.

However, just because we are seeing this trending up doesn’t mean we have reached gender equality in parenting. Dads still seem to get a standing ovation from society if they change a diaper or push a stroller through the grocery store as if it’s a heroic effort on their part.

This just reinforces the out-dated idea of dads as the “secondary parent.” No folks, we have not reached equality yet.

WATCH: How having a baby can make you resent your partner. Story continues below.

Of course, there are many dads that carry the brunt of the parenting. But some are still lagging. If he’s really willing or wants to try to step it up, you actually play a big part in this.

The first deterrent for dads is often lack of skill. Let’s face it — handling a slippery newborn in a wash basin is frightening. Learning to do a proper swaddle takes some practice. And mothers often spend more of the earliest weeks at home doing the lion’s share of these tasks, such that they become more masterful sooner than their partners.

And so begins the establishment of the idea that “Mother knows best.” Moms take the parenting lead early on and dads acquiesce to her authority, skills and knowledge. Instead of moms allowing their partner to fumble and learn independently, we often step into the role of teacher and give instructions. Too often, our teaching style is less mentoring and educative than criticizing and judging.

This leaves dads feeling inadequate and incompetent. While some dads can manage these feelings, it can also just be easier to just not try at all. It is often plain old discouragement that pushes dads out of participating in the ways they would like. They don’t want to disappoint, do wrong, or screw up.

So, how can we support and help dads?

Appreciate them

Give them lots of feedback when they pitch in. We may think good thoughts about their helpfulness, but we have to make sure they know it and feel it daily. You may not be feeling appreciated either, but once you start with the positive affirmations – you’ll likely start hearing them back.

Let them do it their own way

We worry too much about consistency and “parenting on the same page,” which often winds up being translated into, “Do it Mom’s way.”

Children are very adept at knowing the different personalities and parenting styles of their mom and dad. Consider your differences additive instead of in conflict. If dad likes to take the kids to McDonald’s as a treat, and you wouldn’t be caught dead feeding them fast food – let him manage his choice when it’s his time with the kids.

Let Dad manage his own choices.
Let Dad manage his own choices.

Let them make their own mistakes

It sends a vote of non-confidence when we correct or give instructions that aren’t needed. It shows faith when we step back and let dads take charge, rightly or wrongly.

If Dad takes the kids for the weekend, we don’t need to send along a checklist of things he needs to do. If he misses Junior’s nap time and Junior is cranky, he’ll deal with it and learn on his own for next time.

Don’t let children decide on the division of labour

It’s common for children to have a preference about which parent tucks them in, cuts their toast, unzips their zipper etc. That can lead to one parent (often Mom) being called on constantly.

Parents should decide who is available to help, NOT the children. You can reply “it’s Daddy’s night for tuck-in. Your choice is Dad or no one. I am not a choice tonight.” They will stop their demanding if you stick to this for a few weeks.

Give them alone time

When moms take some time away from the family, dads really get the chance to run the show their way and without feeling someone is watching over them.

The kids know Mom is not an option, so they engage with Dad, and the more experiences they have with Dad, the closer they grow and the more Dad learns about his parenting role.

Solo parenting time is important for dads.
Solo parenting time is important for dads.

Have their backs

If Dad is having a squabble with one of the children, it’s important that you don’t insert yourself in a way that makes him feel like it’s two against one. Dads can feel marginalized in the family when factions develop amongst the family members.

If you disagree with how he is handling things, have your discussion after, (and privately) about how things could be handled differently in the future.

Dads need other dads

Having the support and perspective of other dads help normalize a father’s unique experiences of parenthood. Encourage your partner to find dad groups or to create one.

More corporate workplaces are creating such groups, like Deloitte Dads. There are also some dad-specific blogs such as Fatherly and dad-specific books like FatherNeed.

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