Duncan Fisher says parenting should be a group activity, not one where women take on the lion's share of the responsibility.
Dads will become more and more involved in their children’s lives with the internet speeding the process, according to Duncan Fisher, co-founder of the Fatherhood Institute.
He says the Facebook generation of dads will want to share more and more about their family lives on the internet in ways that women have dominated up to now. Fisher is launching a new site called mumsanddadsnet.com next month. The aim is to start the conversation between women and men. “There’s been a good online conversation among women about parenting. It’s time for parents to talk together,” he says.
Fisher says equality in the “domestic sphere” will be exposed by more and more dads talking about their family lives online. He is leading a session on negotiating the domestic contract at the first ever Work + Family Show in February.
Fisher says the impetus for more shared parenting has come from the massive shift in the role of women which has transformed the economy.
“Women are educated and can contribute equally to the economy and need to do so,” he says. “Moreover, the work home division is disappearing due to the internet which is fundamentally changing home life.”
He says anthropological studies show that parenting does change and adapt to new circumstances. He believes the idea that women should do most of the parenting has only come about since the industrial revolution. “For the rest of human history it was a group activity,” he says, adding that it is best for both child and parents, particularly mothers. “We are designed to share our children around, whether between mothers and fathers, parents and grandparents or others. It doesn’t have to be between mum and dad, but there has to be more than one person doing the caring so that the baby can be passed around when things get tough. When that happens that activity of raising a child becomes much more enjoyable, but we have created a society that means that for mums to let go is somehow wrong and even though the economy has moved on and the world has changed, we are still stuck in the middle ground where the idea that the mum leaving her children to work causes a lot of guilt,” says Fisher. “The whole system is still geared against shared parenting.”
He is optimistic about shared parenting legislation coming in in 2015, although he thinks the basis of it – that mums give their maternity leave to the dad – is wrong and he believes it will take time to bed in. “We are very good at adapting to change, but we cannot be too prescriptive. If one partner is earning more than the other that will be the trump card. We are not always free to choose. We cannot always divvy things up fairly,” he says.
However, he believes this needs to be acknowledged and discussed openly by couples and that there needs to be empathy and understanding of what each partner is doing. He adds that it is very easy to drift into stereotyped gender roles if one person is doing most of the childcare and housework. “Couples need to see the pressures they are facing for what they are and not to blame each other and they need to keep talking about things and be open to change. The narrative that men don’t pull their weight and that that’s how men are doesn’t solve anything. It just makes men withdraw and women get more annoyed.”
Fisher admits it can be hard to find time to keep talking since parenting is “relentless” and “very resource intensive”. That is why he thinks we need to look at how we can help families to function as a group rather than expect mums to shoulder most of the responsibility and end up exhausted.
Fisher has been talking to Labour after they got in touch following an essay he wrote about group parenting. He is speaking at a policy symposium in March, but says he is happy to talk to any policymakers. He is keen to look at how children have multiple attachments to adults since he says most research on attachment focuses solely on mother and baby.
The Work + Family Show is a two-day event at ExCel in London and aims to attracts over 10,000 visitors. It will take place beside the hugely successful Baby Show on 21st and 22nd February and is organised by My Family Care, providers of child and elder care solutions, and events company Clarion Events. It includes panel discussions, expert advice, flexible employers and much, much more. More information –www.theworkandfamilyshow.co.uk