Parenting support should be about dads too

Why is the whole parenting business still aimed mostly at women? For both mother and father the transition to parenthood is a huge shift and the way they deal with it as a couple has huge repercussions for the health of their relationship and the happiness of their children.

Why is the whole parenting business still aimed mostly at women? For both mother and father the transition to parenthood is a huge shift and the way they deal with it as a couple has huge repercussions for the health of their relationship and the happiness of their children.
It was in recognition of the female bias of services for parents, particularly health services, that Bob Read, a social entrepreneur, and his wife Jess, a midwife, set up Insights for Life. Since 2004 the organisation has run workshops for parents to be specifically targeted at dads or offering joint parenting support.
The couple have four children so they know about most aspects of parenting. Bob says: “We were very conscious that the primary place of reference for first-time parents is the NHS, but its whole approach is focused around the mother and child. This is for historical reasons, of course. It is not so long ago that either the child or mother’s life was at risk in many pregnancies. However, in the last 50 years the dynamics of families have changed and we need to encourage dads more.”
He says the focus so far has been on encouraging dads to attend the birth of their children. He thinks the pressure to do so is perhaps too high now. “It’s only the beginning, after all,” he says. “Once you have the child is when parenting really starts.”
He used to work on Insights for Life part time, but in the last few years the organisation’s work has slowly grown and he now focuses on it full time. “The overall idea is that parenting is a mutual task, that parents are working together so we need to focus on the next 25 years rather than the next 25 weeks. The current support offered for most parents often excludes men, even if this is not intentional. In the early days the child may be more dependent on the mother, but most children don’t leave home till their mid 20s. That’s a long parenting stint and children may need both their mum and dad to different degrees at different times over this period so we need to build on the togetherness of parents from the beginning.”
Exclusion
The sessions start six months before the birth and last until a few months after the birth. Issues covered include money, relationships and attitudes at work, Read say men can feel very lonely and excluded from the mother-child relationship. They can also find it hard to bring up family matters at work. “Every couple is unique,” says Read so a unique approach is needed. He adds that it is not about telling people what to do, but about flagging up things that have been researched and encouraging couples to reflect on them and on “their unique history”. “We want to give them the tools they will need to help them through the next years, not just the first months. It’s descriptive not proscriptive,” he says.
The sessions include worksheets. For instance, couples are encouraged to talk about their attitude to savings. Each member of the couple looks at a worksheet and assesses where they place themselves in terms of spending and saving. They then look at each other’s assessment and this forms the basis for a discussion on finances. “When you have children you need to recognise the need to be smart with your money,” says Read, “so you need to talk about your attitudes to it as this can lead to tension.”
There are also worksheets on budgeting so you can identify your spending patterns. “It’s a forced discipline,” says Read. “If you record this on a monthly basis you can stop yourself going into debt.”
He adds that a lot of the discussion revolves around what kind of families people want to create. “It’s about demystifying the transition period and facilitating it,” says Read.
The organisation works with 250 families face to face every year. Sessions can include 90 minute workshops and one day courses.
Read says there has lately been a lot of interest from policymakers in including dads more in parenting and he says he has done presentations to all three main political parties. “There’s a lot of talking going on,” he says, “but very little practical work. We are all about giving practical support.”





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