Fatherhood is a huge identity shift, too—so why doesn’t society acknowledge that?

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Becoming a father is a monumental transition in the lives of men. Yet, too often, it is recognized for a fleeting week (or less) of paternity leave before they are expected to carry on as if nothing has changed—a disservice not only to dads but also their partners and their children.

As they go about adapting to this new identity, there is a complex web of contradictory expectations regarding the roles fathers are expected to play both within families and in society. They are expected to provide, for example, but are met with surprise if that comes in the form of being the primary caregiver. They're given praise for tasks that mothers do thanklessly when they are just doing what they should be doing—being a parent.

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As a father, I've experienced this first-hand. As a sociologist, my research into how paternal mental health impacts father involvement and child well-being has further illuminated the systemic challenges that contemporary parents face when attempting to share equal responsibilities. But, just as women had to demand space for themselves in the workplace and world, men need to address the obstacles that are preventing them from engaging in fatherhood. Rather than simply accepting outdated societal and cultural expectations around gender, lagging workplace policies that assume only mothers are primary caregivers and the ways in which we stereotype fathers, we need to work together if we ever hope for true egalitarianism in families.

Societal expectations can block fathers out

Socialization into gendered behaviors around caregiving, household labor and other tasks associated with parenting begins in childhood. Although a new generation of fathers is pushing back against these norms, these institutions are strong, their policies are deeply ingrained in our society and change is slow.

As adults, for example, fathers are sent myriad mixed messages in parenting spaces that can treat them anywhere on the spectrum from a hero to a baffling babysitter. These are often amplified in society, where many fathers report feeling like they have inadequate resources when they have questions about navigating their new roles.

Specifically, messages suggesting dads are lesser parents are occasionally reinforced by institutions where moms and dads interact — which can negatively affect how fathers engage with their children and families. For example, many fathers report feeling excluded, ignored and unwelcomed by obstetricians and nurses during prenatal care. Often, this treatment can send a subtle message that discourages dads from taking on more family responsibilities, engaging in more care and being an equal co-parent.

Similarly, fathers often report that birthing classes and other prenatal programs make them feel sidelined and overlooked. Certainly, it is understandable that care is focused on the health of mothers and children. However, caring for mothers and acknowledging their partners are not unrelated, considering engaged parenting by fathers is associated with improved maternal health and child well-being.

We still rely on mothers, even as their other responsibilities increase

According to the Pew Research Center, mothers double up the amount of time fathers spend on educational tasks: They are also more likely to volunteer in classrooms, join the PTA, attend parent-teacher conferences and be highly engaged in other aspects of their children's school lives.

While some mothers tend to have more daytime flexibility than some fathers, simply expecting this to be the norm reinforces the structures that many working mothers are still working to overcome—such as the fact they still make less money than their peers and are often (wrongly) viewed to be less committed to their careers.

Instead, we need to expect that fathers and mothers will both participate in their children's school lives. This can be deeply valuable to both fathers and their children. Much like child health and wellbeing, children are cognitively and academically benefited by having fathers that are engaged in their schools and education.

Creating work-life balance isn't just a women's issue

Perhaps more than any other institution, however, the workplace impacts how dads engage with their families. Fathers report higher levels of work-family conflict than ever before—feeling torn between their responsibilities at home and in their careers. This is, perhaps, unsurprising. Work and family are inextricably linked with one another.

Despite significant changes in expectations around men's parenting, the pressure to economically provide remains real and substantial.This means that employers play an important role in how fathers interact with their families. Yet, many employers do not offer family leave to mothers—let alone fathers—and there is no federally mandated paid leave. Even when fathers can take leave, they often do not. Work cultures can discourage fathers from taking the time they are entitled to, pressuring men to put their careers ahead of their families.

On the other hand, it's clear that workplace cultures impact how men parent. Policies that help parents balance their responsibilities shows that even the most reluctant fathers become more engaged in their families when they are encouraged to do so at work. Personal experience has shown that when dads are encouraged to work regular work hours, be engaged in their kids' schools and told to put family ahead of work—they do. At the same time, family friendly workplace policies are beneficial to workers and organizations, alike.

Social support matters, too

The problems associated with men's parenting are not exclusively attributable to how they interact with institutions. One-on-one and personal interactions matter significantly, too. Many fathers feel that they are unwanted and treated suspiciously in public parenting spaces. These behaviors affect how dads feel about their parenting roles because, not surprisingly, people are far more likely to engage in these locations when they are welcomed and treated well.

Many changes would be relatively small and easily implemented. For example, changing stations in men's washrooms, programs for fathers at schools and targeted invitations can do significant good. Providers that serve families should make a concerted effort to not fall back on the status quo, but instead integrate all family members into their efforts.

Other changes are more difficult, but necessary. For one, we still require substantial cultural shifts, including changes in media portrayals that emphasize fathers as equal co-parents, not secondary parents or partners that "help" moms. They are not and such attitudes are harmful to mothers, fathers and children alike. Similarly, we need sustained efforts to ensure that problematic and toxic masculine behaviors are changed.

Policy efforts that support a range of fathering behaviors are also needed. Family policies in the United States are weak and fail to support equal engagement by mothers and fathers. These policy changes should begin with paid family leave for both mothers and fathers. Mothers should not pay a financial and professional penalty for having a child. Such trends and the lack of protections serve to reinforce norms that place parenting burdens squarely on the shoulders of women.

Finally, personal responsibility is necessary

Despite these needed and necessary changes, men maintain responsibility for becoming good fathers. Dads need to realize they are more than a paycheck and must become increasingly engaged in the lives of their children, despite the many barriers which exist. Fathers must work hard to be seen, overcome these barriers and work to make important changes.

Doing so will benefit all members of the family: Engaged fathers report high levels of life satisfaction. Mothers who co-parent with involved dads report lower levels of stress, fewer mental health problems and greater levels of gender egalitarianism both at home and work. Children benefit immensely from engaged fathers across myriad outcomes — from physical health to mental health to educational outcomes.

Most of all, we have to ask ourselves what will ultimately feel like the biggest success as we look back on our days of parenting: Is it better not to lean in because that wasn't the way it was done before? Or, what if we share effort, burdens and responsibilities because we know that on the other side of the obstacles are the greatest rewards of fulfilling family life. Because simply accepting things as they are never result in progress.

Originally posted on Medium.

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Most nights as I put my daughter to bed, rocking her to sleep in the darkness, I find my mind wandering to all the things I need to accomplish once she's asleep. I can't forget to throw that load of laundry in the dryer. I need to make sure I finish that lesson plan. I really should mop the kitchen tonight if I have time. As a busy working parent, the mental to-do list is never-ending, and my mind is always taking inventory of all that I've accomplished, and all I've yet to get done.

But tonight as I rocked her, I looked down at my daughter's legs, which now stick out past my arms when I cradle her in the rocking chair. I recalled how my arms used to wrap completely around her tiny little body. She used to lie in my arms, swaddled tightly like a little burrito, and her entire body would fit perfectly in my arms. It feels like this was only yesterday.

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I blinked, and somehow my tiny, sleepy newborn became a sweet, but strong-willed toddler.

I stared down at her little face in the darkness, forgetting the list of things I wanted to accomplish once I put her to bed. I watched her eyelids flutter as she fought sleep, and I recalled all the sleepless nights we spent in this rocking chair.

I remembered rocking her back to sleep on that very first night home from the hospital, so overwhelmed with love and joy, but also plagued with exhaustion.

I thought of all the nights between then and now. The tough, sleepless nights—through growth spurts, teething, and colds—and those sweet, easy nights where she drifted to sleep effortlessly and slept the whole night through.

I watched her eyelids become heavy as she drifted off to sleep, and I snuggled her a little tighter and rocked her a little longer. The days have flown by since we brought this tiny little blessing home, and I know that time is never going to slow down.

I know that there will come a day in the not-too-distant future where my precious little girl won't want her mama to rock her to sleep anymore. She won't want to hear Goodnight Moon for the one-millionth time. She won't want me to kiss her forehead and wish her sweet dreams before tucking her into bed.

So tonight, I made sure to be present in the moment rather than letting my mind wander to the next item on my to-do list. I watched my precious girl fall asleep and I savored every moment of it. I rocked her and rocked her and then rocked her some more.

I stared at her sweet face, wishing I could freeze this moment and keep her my baby forever. But I know that the future will bring new and exciting things as well.

For the time being, I'm going to enjoy where we are right now and do my best to just be in the moment. Because the laundry will still be there in an hour or two, and if the floors don't get mopped until tomorrow, nothing is going to happen.

Right now, just being here in this rocking chair with my baby is the most important thing in the world.

Life

With American officials now cautioning that Coronavirus outbreaks are highly likely within the 50 states, experts are also urging schools and businesses to prepare for disruptions. If it comes to this, the United States can follow Hong Kong's model—where protests through the fall shut down schools and then the threat of Coronavirus led classrooms to shutter again through the majority of winter.

With schools closed and the city effectively on lockdown as the threat of Coronavirus touched all aspects of public life, students around Hong Kong have been forced to adjust to virtual schooling, and that means mothers have been forced to adjust, too.

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"Extending the class suspension has been a difficult decision. Yet as the WHO [World Health Organization] predicted, the epidemic will last for a while and the Bureau thinks it is the safest decision to ensure the physical well-being of students," said Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung in a press statement this week, announcing the decision to push back opening schools until April 20.

For American mom Arcadia Kim and her family, this effectively put their lives in Hong Kong on standstill even though they were all healthy. Rather than wait it out in Hong Kong, the family decided to "self-quarantine" in Hawaii earlier at the beginning of February which they were able to do as American citizens. As the family hastily packed up their lives with just one hour of notice, they included their digital tablets and laptops—which have since become not only their lifelines to home, but also the children's method for schooling.

"Online classes and virtual school look like 'ready player one,'" says Kim, who runs Infinite Screentime, which helps families strike a better balance with screens. "[It's like] some dystopian future where you are plugged into the matrix."

Although screen time is a stressful topic among many modern parents, Kim had a unique vantage point on the perks and pitfalls: A former chief operating officer for Electronic Arts, Los Angeles, she was closely involved in the development of some of the most popular video games in the world—and understands exactly how they were created to be addictive.

After being conscious of her children's screen time throughout their lives, it felt strange for her to encourage them to log hours upon hours on their computers in the name of school. "They are in front of their computers for nearly six hours a day," she says of her children's virtual schooling. "It looks crazy, but this is crazy."

Still, for being pushed into this new way of schooling that they didn't request, Kim was impressed by the way her children quickly adjusted. Whereas they could have lost one year of education, the Kim children now wake up across the ocean from their school, log on by 8 a.m. to receive their assignments and then get to work for the day—which looks like anything from the 13-year-old Skyping with a tutor who is a PhD candidate in microbiology, the 7-year-old assessing the symmetry of objects using a tablet, or the 10-year-old learning scratch programming.

To provide a counterbalance at the end of the screen time-rich school day, the family makes a point of getting out and exploring their new surroundings.

While the circumstances in Hong Kong may be unique, students, parents and educators from around the world are embracing online classrooms for a variety of reasons. According to a 2019 report from the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), nearly 300,000 K-12 students in the United States were enrolled in full-time virtual schools.

However, experts from NEPC, a research organization based out of the University of Colorado at Boulder, expressed concern about the effectiveness of virtual schooling—which is still somewhat of an unregulated, "wild west" approach to education. Notably, the graduation rate from virtual schools is approximately 50 percent while the national average for public schools is 85%.

"Given the lack of understanding of what is actually happening in virtual education, policymakers should require that any virtual school operating in their jurisdiction be required to provide the necessary information to examine the effectiveness of the virtual education that is actually being provided," the authors suggested in the report.

Kim agrees the downsides to virtual schooling remain clear, especially because educators in Hong Kong had to scramble to offer this option on such short notice. "There are some things that seem better and more conducive to learning online than other things," she says. "Can a 7-year-old really understand the significance of the Day of Death by watching YouTube videos only? It would have been much cooler if they could have done the dress-up festival like the school had planned."

Yet Kim says her eyes truly have been opened to the possibilities that virtual schooling presents through this experience—even as she's looking forward to her children having the chance to go back to their normal classrooms. "This is going to be the future," she says. "[Online school] will force kids to be more self-reliant and motivated. Parents will need to be more flexible about what is to come."

News

Pregnancy is a naturally beautiful thing in a woman's life and the same should be true of the skincare products we use. But, that's not always the case. Did you know that just because a label says "gentle" or "all-natural" it doesn't mean it's non-toxic and pregnancy-safe? There can be a lot of sneaky ingredients that aren't so great for you, mama. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists warns that prenatal exposure to toxic environmental agents can be linked to cancer and reproductive issues later in life. The good news is that you can reduce exposure to toxic chemicals by carefully reading labels.

The Cosmetics Database has a list of good-for-you ingredients if you're ever unsure. And, to get you started, these are our favorite all-natural, pregnancy-safe beauty products:

Acure prickly pear + fig extract shampoo

Acure shampoo

Free of parabens, sulfates, phthalates, mineral oil, petrolatum, silicone, and just about anything that could threaten you or your baby, this is one of the most accessible shampoos on the market that actually works wonders for pregnancy and postpartum hair loss. It increases hair's elasticity and aids in preventing breakage after a few uses. Their masks also make great self-care treatments both before and after your little one makes their arrival. Trust us, you'll have earned a little pampering!

$8.27

Amareta brightening gel cleanser

Moon Light Brightening Gel Cleanser

Wouldn't it be great if a skincare line had products for every stage of pregnancy and new mom life? Wish = granted.

This lightweight daily face wash cleanses, balances and brightens your skin throughout your hormonal cycle. Plus, you won't find chemicals, synthetic preservatives or harsh acne treatment ingredients, but you will find lots of vitamin C to brighten and hydrate even the dullest skin.

$48

Beautycounter hydrating foundation

Beautycounter hydrating foundation

Beautycounter is a mom-founded company that has been making waves by pushing the FDA to enact stricter rules about what is allowed into cosmetic products in the U.S. They hold themselves to a high standard, banning 1,500 questionable or harmful chemicals from all of their products—without sacrificing on quality.

Our favorite product includes the hydrating foundation that's perfect for light to medium coverage, and it includes sodium hyaluronate, a natural moisture magnet, to promote smoother-looking skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

$42

Belli anti-blemish facial wash

Belli anti-blemish facial wash

Sometimes pregnancy can do not-so-beautiful things to your skin. Since most anti-blemish treatments contain chemicals not recommended for pregnancy, we love Belli Skincare as a safer alternative. While all their products are free of parabens, gluten, artificial dyes and fragrances, their anti-blemish spot treatment and acne wash is great for pregnant or nursing mamas battling problem skin. Plus, it feels and smells super luxurious.

$22

Erbavia stretch mark cream

Erbavia stretch mark cream

No one deserves a little spa treatment more than pregnant mamas. But in case you don't have time for an afternoon away, we recommend Erbaviva's line of organic and chemical-free beauty treatments.

For a little nightly belly pampering, we loved combining the stretch mark cream (non-greasy so you can dress right away!), stretch mark oil, and belly butter. All three products feature the same earthy, spa-like scent and pair beautifully for a deep hydration—take that, third-trimester itchiness.

$30

evanhealy sea algae serum

evanhealy sea algae serum

When searching for pregnancy-safe products, you can't go wrong by starting with nature. Evan Healy's line of skincare products are all-organic and plant-based, leaving out synthetics or other toxic ingredients. We're super into the sea algae serum that's made up of sea buckthorn oil, seaweed, algae, hyaluronic acid and CO Q-10 to tone and beautify skin your entire pregnancy.

$45.95

Naked Truth Beauty lip + cheek stick

Naked Truth Beauty Lip & Cheek stick.

Naked Truth Beauty is a beauty company firmly rooted in safe products and ingredient education. Even their packaging is made from recycled ingredients and can be recycled or composted after use.

While they carry an assortment of bath and beauty items, our favorite is the Lip + Cheek stick. It's easy to apply, the color blends perfectly and they have a fair variety of shades for different skin tones. Plus, who doesn't love a product that pulls double duty—just like you, mama.

$26

W3LL People nudist lip butter

W3LL People nudist lip butter

What happens when an elite makeup artist, a cosmetic dermatologist and a tree-hugging entrepreneur team up to create a beauty line? Safe product magic.

That's the story behind W3ll People, a company firmly rooted in non-toxic formulas and minimalist makeup looks. Every product contains premium natural ingredients and skips fillers, propylene glycol, petrochemicals, and petroleum by-products, meaning you'll look as good as they make you feel.

We loved the lip butter for natural shades that work on any skin tone (plus a slight tingly that plumps your lips). This powerful lip butter also provides SPF 15 broad-spectrum protection for mamas who love the sun.

$13.99

Ilia limitless lash mascara

Ilia Limitless Lash Mascara

Infused with a hint of organic shea butter and keratin to help boost and enhance lash condition, this lightweight and nourishing formula is just what the doctor ordered for a classic, black finish. You'll also find a blend of organic bee and carnauba waxes to weightlessly condition each lash, while still keeping them lifted throughout the day.

$28

Pleni Naturals cleansing oil and exfoliating mask

A little goes a long way with this face oil. While the price might seem initially steep, when you're using only a few pumps a day this bottle can last longer than you might expect. Plus, it's two products in one.

We love this certified non-toxic and vegan formula for being super gentle on your skin and pregnancy safe. You can use this in your everyday cleansing routine—leaving your face feeling clean but not tight or squeaky—or you can leave it on for up to 10 minutes as a mask to get the exfoliating benefits from the papaya enzymes to help you gently dissolve dead skin cells. It's so great, you might want to consider keeping it in your routine beyond pregnancy, too, mama.

$48

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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As a dentist and a parent, I know getting kids pumped about dental care is not always easy. Especially when quality time with the toothbrush means an inevitable tantrum, as it does for some toddlers.

While the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends a visit to the dentist when the first tooth appears, or no later than your child's first birthday, establishing a few simple habits before your toddler's first dental appointment could be your best bet for an easier first time in the dentist chair.

Here are five easy ways parents can prepare their toddler prepare for the first dental visit.

Start brushing early

I know how important (but tough) it is to get kids into any sort of routine—let alone a dental one. We began our children's dental routine as infants by cleaning their mouths and gums regularly with a soft infant toothbrush or cloth and water. Between 12-18 months, we started a brushing routine with non-fluoridated toothpaste.

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The earlier children fit toothbrushing into their daily routine, the easier their first dental visit will be. Just like adults, children should brush their teeth twice daily for 2-3 minutes, ideally early in the morning and before going to bed.

Schedule your child's nighttime brushing before they get too tired. For example, if your child usually nods off at 8 pm, have them do their nightly brushing and flossing at 7:15 pm. We're all a bit more cooperative before the Sandman comes knocking.

Make it tasty

Finding a gently-flavored children's toothpaste your child likes to brush with can make brushing a lot more enjoyable—and may make that first dental visit go more smoothly, too. While mint flavored is a good go-to for adults, bubble gum or chocolate-flavored toothpaste may be more appealing for the little ones.

Parents can begin brushing their children's teeth with a tiny pea-sized amount of non-fluoridated toothpaste as early as 18 months. Once your child learns how to spit (around 2 years old), switch to fluoride toothpaste to protect against dental decay.

Avoid surprises

Most kids don't particularly enjoy bad surprises—and who can blame them? Showing up to a strange, sterile place like a dentist's office, with loud, scary noises and "a big person" putting their hands in your mouth? No, thank you!

The best way to prepare a child for the dentist is to tell, show and do:

Tell: Start by spending some time telling your child about the dentist and why it's important to visit.

Show: Demonstrate for your child what the dentist does by reading a children's book (and explain why it's not scary!).

Do: Bring your child on a quick field trip to the dentist and let them see, touch and experience the office before their first visit.

Play pretend

Before the first visit, try play-acting "trip to the dentist" with a stuffed animal. Encourage your child to count and brush teeth, floss between their chompers and have fun taking turns in a pretend dentist chair.

Use praise + positive reinforcement

Visiting the dentist is a new and sometimes scary experience for children. While starting and prioritizing a brushing routine helps in the long run, no amount of prep can guarantee a perfect first time dental visit.

Praise and positive reinforcement helps kids become excited to care for their teeth. Rewarding healthy habits and your first dental visit with a trip to the park, smiley stickers and big hugs makes the process less frightening for kids—and less troublesome for parents.
Learn + Play
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