We’re still not perfect, but most men are now playing a more hands-on role in raising their children, writes counsellor Nick Theophilou
So I was surprised to read recently that Alex Proud believes that most men “are not naturally as good at parenting as their partners”. Sure, not all men get it right. As a counsellor, I can testify to that. But, generally speaking, aren’t we getting better as we plough into the 21st century? Don’t men now make better dads than our predecessors? Isn’t the graph pointing upwards?
The numbers certainly are. Studies of men’s participation in the home point to a continual improvement. UK research body The Fatherhood Institutefound that the amount of men working flexi-time to care for their children rose from 11% to 31% between 2002 and 2005 alone. Men are now spending more time caring for their children, and doing more work around the house (roughly 150 minutes a day). Plenty of partners may still complain that their man is not doing his fair share of the work, but it seems irrefutable that men are getting better with time.
Alongside this is the increasing trend for house-husbands. A study conducted by Aviva Insurance found that the number of stay-at-home dads rose from 60,000 to 600,000 between 2000 and 2010. One in six said this was because the woman earned more, while 75% said they felt lucky to spend so much time with their children and only 10% said running around after children made them feel less of a man. Being a hands-on father is losing its stigma.
Government policy is helping fathers in their plight. While the dads of yesteryear would have to take holiday from work to spend time with their newborn child, British men are now eligible for two week’s paternity leave. The paid leave helps today’s dads become attuned to their children from the off: research has shown that childcare quickly brings about hormonal changes in both men and women, making them more sensitive to the needs of their children.
My experience as a father, husband, and counsellor backs this up. As men spend more time with their children and take on more duty of care, they become both better fathers and more rounded human beings.
Take my friend Alan. Early on, Alan and his wife Diane decided that she would continue to work and he would look after the children during the day. Diane’s earning power was greater than his, so they reasoned that it made sense.
Alan’s openness to the experience of fatherhood has made him more humble and open. Having known him for thirty years, I can say that becoming a father has been the making of him. Before fatherhood he acted as if the world was all about him. Now his focus is on what’s best for his family, and I see how he cares for his three children. He speaks softly to them, and when they want something to eat or need their nappies changed, the task falls equally to him and Diane.
Don’t get me wrong, Alan isn’t perfect. He’s learning to consult Diane before making decisions, and I’ve seen her intervene in the past when he’s scolded the children harshly. As a couple, they argue – but they do it in private, and when they get stuck they have counselling to help them along.
Alan and Diane are close. They touch, hug, kiss, and yes, sometimes stand apart from each other and don’t talk. I see a family unit that happily plays together, quarrels, and makes up. Alan stays at home; Diane goes out to work. It’s entirely natural.
Being a stay-at-home dad doesn’t come so easily to everyone. As a couples counsellor, I have met many other men who have taken on the fathering role and been left with a feeling of ambivalence, even bitterness. Society may be coming round to the idea of the man in the house, but the wheels of change are slow, and many men are still brought up to believe they should be the provider.
Are the dads of today better than the dads of twenty years ago? Of course they are. They do more work in the home and communicate better with their children. Can they do more? Of course they can. We all can.
As you know, life is a work in progress.
Nick Theophilou’s book 10 Stories About What Men Are Doing Well is available on Amazon.com