Dads Don’t Babysit is out now. Please buy it. I only get a few pence per copy so that’s not why I want it to be a bestseller.
It’s because if it sells well I’ll be famous and my ego will be pleased. ONLY JOKING.
Actually it’s because it’s an important message, and therefore, I think, an important book.
The subtitle is ‘Towards Equal Parenting’ and that really is what it’s all about.
Currently women invariably do most parenting in any domestic set up. Men are usually the breadwinners and, to a greater or lesser extent, the second or back up parent.
That’s not how it is for everyone and its not how I want it to be but that’s the world as it is. However, equally is importantly it’s not the world as people want it to be.
Most men want to do more parenting. Most men and women think parenting should be shared equally but for various reasons it’s not happening.
‘So what?’ you may say. What folk do in their own homes is up to them. It’s not for anyone else to tell people how to order their lives.
Except everyone is telling people how to order their lives. Sometimes explicitly. More often in lots of little subtle ways.
For example women are entitled to six weeks maternity leave paid at 90% of their salary and up to 12 months away from work to care for their baby in total. Men get two weeks. Then they can share that 12 months allowance if their partner is happy to transfer some of her leave to him. The message is loud and clear that a mother is more important in her baby’s life and that parental leave belongs to the mum because she ought to be the one using it.
The number of men my co-author and I spoke to who said they’d gone to their boss to discuss flexible working after becoming a dad and the response was an initial ‘oh’ at best and ‘that’s not a good idea for your career’ at worst. Signals that a man doing something about his work life balance is weird. (Flexible working is one of the very few areas where men are actually discriminated against, women tend to get their applications accepted far more easily because they are expected to want to fit their work around their family commitments.)
But men think about their work life balance. Most say they want more time with their families, many – particularly millennials – are willing to sacrifice higher pay in return for a more flexible work life.
Then there’s the dodgy science that claims there are pink brains and blue brains and suggests men are just not made to do childcare. Even though the experience of most men that actually throw themselves into family life is the opposite. And the science doesn’t stack up anyway.
And where are the caring, competent role model fathers? On TV kids get the message early on from Peppa Pig that Daddy Pig is a buffoon who can’t even do the washing. They might graduate to The Simpsons where Homer cares more for beer than his offspring or carry on to Broadchurch where the stay at home dad character is flagged up as weird by his penchant for killing people.
Overcoming the weight of public expectation about the role of a father is tough. But not impossible.
This book came about because Dave Freed sent a message to the @GenderDiary Twitter account. That’s the account my partner Ros and I set up seven years ago to record the different ways our son and daughter were treated. It ultimately led to The Gender Agenda book last year.
And that message not only showed that actually the internet is great for bringing people together but it also pointed to the solution to how we bridge the ‘paternity gap’ – the difference between what men say they want and the set up we currently have.
Making contact and talking is the first and simplest step. If you’ve taken shared parental leave and enjoyed it (as Dave did, and we’ve yet to hear from anyone who regretted it) then tell your friends and workmates. Reach out through social media to those who feel the same and your voice is amplified.
When you go to the pub, as I have done, and hear men engaging in banter that denigrates childcare challenge it. Instead talk about the joys of having children, for there are many. If it wasn’t great nobody would do it!
When a friend recently told me he was going to become a father one of the first things I said to him was ‘are you going to take shared parental leave?’ (Doing this was an idea put forward by Jo Swinson in her own book and in conversation with myself during research for Dads Don’t Babysit). He said he hadn’t really thought about it. Next time I saw him he said he’s doing two months of shared parental leave. That’s not equality but just doing that share with benefit his child’s development, his own mental health and his wife’s pay packet. The parenting hat-trick as we call it in the book.
It’s all in the 300-odd pages of Dad’s Don’t Babysit. Plus there’s Serena Williams, Michael Gove, hormones, heroes and reference to a man pissing a melon.
I think it’s an idea whose time has come. The more people that buy the book the more we can get things done and we really can make the world a better place.