Saturday, 27 December 2014

Hands-on parenting

The phrase 'hands-on father' was something from my childhood.

In the past, fathers had very little to do with child-rearing. Then we had feminism, and gradually 'being a dad' became more than just a label. It became about actually doing stuff with children. Looking after them, even.

For those of us who grew up in the 80s, dads had different levels of involvement - some were 'hands on' while others literally never saw the inside of a nappy.

But that was 30 years ago.

Using your hands

The other day, my friend described someone as a "hands-on dad". We got to talking about this.

"No one ever called anyone a 'hands-on mum'", she said. "You're just a mum."

Parenting a child is first and foremost a hands-on task. You can read as many books about child development as you like, you can even put some of the theories into practice. But you still have to carry them about when they can't walk, bathe them, change their nappies and put food into them in a very hands-on kind of way.

I write this whilst simultaneously using my hands to entertain a toddler, keep her away from the wrapped-up Christmas presents and prevent her from injuring herself on the furniture.

Men can't breastfeed. And they might not have the same connection to a tiny baby that the mother who carried it for nine months has. But apart from that, a lot of the work of child-rearing can be shared.

Stay-at-home dad Michael Verhoef
with his eight-week-old daughters. 
Choosing to help

If a father isn't going to be hands-on, that basically means that the mother has to do all the work.

Describing a dad as 'hands-on' suggests that this is somehow an option. And as 2014 draws to a close, it really shouldn't be.

There are lots of dads out there who are fantastic with their children, who don't think twice about changing nappies, clearing up widely dispersed Weetabix, averting suicide attempts and reading That's Not My Duck seven times in a row. Better still, there are dads who do these things and don't expect their partners to thank them for it. They are real - I've met some of them.

Then there are the dads who do those things but expect some kind of recognition - like looking after their own child for a day deserves a medal. And then there are the other ones, who do pretty much diddly squat for their own children. After all, that's women's work.

I hope the day comes when the phrase 'hands on father' ceases to be used, because most fathers fulfil this brief. I hope it comes soon.

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