In conversation with dads

A webinar about dads at the weekend discussed the need for more role models, support and solo parenting opportunities to encourage greater equality at home.

Dad holding child's foot


How can dads be best supported to get more involved in hands-on caring responsibilities? At the weekend a webinar, Dads in conversation, at the Cambridge Festival addressed the latest research in this area. The webinar was led by Dr Kitty Jones from the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Family Research and several dads spoke of their experiences generally and over the past year in particular, battling the stresses of homeschooling. All the dads were very hands on. Most, if not all, were freelances and used to working from home before Covid.

Dr Anja McConnachie from the Centre for Family Research spoke of her research on gay dads, saying that there were fewer studies of gay dad families than lesbian or heterosexual families. She surmised that this may be because of a bias which dictates that women are more natural care givers. She has visited dads across the UK for her study, talking to them and their children and observing them as parents. She said there was very little difference between the happiness of children in families led by heterosexual couples or gay couples. If anything the children of gay dads showed greater levels of security and attachment. This, she said, could be because gay dads are more motivated to be dads because of the stigma that still exists around gay families. They may not have expected to become dads, she said, and so they tended to be very grateful about becoming parents.

Dads’ groups

Ian Blackwell, from Plymouth Marjon University, talked about his qualitative study of dads attending dad groups. He had spoken to dads who attended a Friday group, who were more likely to be the main carer, perhaps due to being stay at home dads or unemployed, and to those who attended a Saturday group, who were more likely to be working parents. He also spoke to the people staffing the groups and to the dads’ partners.

He emphasised that the value of the groups was the opportunity it gave dads to solo parent. Dads spoke of the importance of doing parenting in their own way without being judged or supervised by mums and several discussed negative experiences with their own dads. Some were quite critical of their partners; others deferred a lot to their female partner. The working dads spoke of not being aware of the amount of working that went into hands on parenting. “Some were really shocked,” said Blackwell.

Solo parenting built their confidence up. Nevertheless, when Blackwell spoke to the mothers he found that many were doing a lot to smooth attendance at the group, for instance, encouraging their partners to attend and he said that affirmation was very important. The staff also encouraged dads to interact with their kids and with each other. Dads very infrequently chatted to each other which was very different from mums’ groups, said Blackwell. Building a sense of community among dads is really important, he added.


Support was a key feature of the webinar. McConnachie said gay dads often lack support groups because many gay parenting groups are centred around women and some felt that they are subjected to comments which undermine their parenting abilities. Blackwell said dads often perceived their parenting is being judged when this is not necessarily happening as much as they think given attitudes to male carers is changing. If they could talk more openly about it they could address this, he added.

Some of the dads spoke of how the pandemic had made dads reconsider what is important, but had also highlighted the need for self care as parenting responsibilities have become more intensive. Blackwell spoke of the need to do more to support new dads, for instance, through pairing them up with experienced dads who could mentor them given many may not have a positive hands-on experience with their own dads to draw on. The wider benefits of supporting dads are clear, he said, including happier children as well as happier parents.

The webinar provided food for thought for those who are interested in encouraging more equal parenting about the importance of role models, appropriate support and solo parenting to build dads’ confidence in care giving in the same way that positive role models at work are important for women.

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