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Parenting is Still a Code Word for "Mothering"

Posted by Vincent DiCaro

This post was authored by Chris Brown, NFI's Executive Vice President.

I’ve been involved in promoting involved, responsible, committed fatherhood for more than a decade in my role at NFI (and for several years prior to that with the Texas Department of State Health). Although I’ve seen a lot of movement in this country in general and among service providers specifically to recognize the indispensable role fathers play in raising healthy children, I am still amazed when I see evidence of how much more work we still have to do to help people realize that we must "call out" dads specifically rather than simply as part of the monolithic group of parents.

I am even more amazed when I see that some of the most well-known icons in our culture treat dads as second-class parents and, worse, incompetent parents as you might have read recently in this blog about the dad-bashing Huggies® commercials that were revised by the company only after backlash from dads and NFI. But I digress.

One of the most successful parenting programs in the world is called Triple-P Positive Parenting®. Developed by a group of researchers in Australia more than 30 years ago, the program has ample evidence that it helps parents to be, well, better parents. Based on this evidence, the program has expanded across the globe with offices in several countries that are dedicated to spreading the program in those domestic markets. Only recently, however, has the program been examined for separate affects on mothers and fathers, and this is where the story becomes interesting.

Researchers in Australia published a study in a recent edition of the American journal, Fathering, that found that Triple-P is—surprise, surprise—more effective with mothers than fathers. This study of nearly 5,000 parents who participated in the program found a large, positive effect on mothers’ parenting and a much smaller albeit positive effect on fathers’ parenting.

What struck me most, however, was the following finding: only 14 percent of the participating parents were fathers. The real problem here is not so much with the program or its impact—although I would certainly like to see it have the same degree of impact on fathers—it is with the lack of outreach and promotion to get fathers in the door. The Australian government spent more than $5 million to train facilitators in the program to, basically, train moms under the illusion that it would reach both sets of parents.

To be fair, the study found that even when the dad didn’t participate and the mom did, the program reduced the conflict between the couple which, no doubt, improved their parenting. And I have no doubt that the facilitators and the organizations they work for made some attempt to recruit dads into the program. But this is the same problem I see over and over again—a lack of commitment in our culture generally and among service providers specifically to call out dads as dads and not as parents.

Trust me when I say, “Parenting is a code word for ‘mothering.’” Until recently, Parenting magazine's tagline was “What Matters to Moms” (they changed the tagline but not the emphasis on moms). The New York Times parenting blog is called Motherlode.

One of the best ways to make this call to dads is with marketing strategies and materials designed specifically to reach fathers about programs specifically designed for fathers, such as NFI’s 24/7 Dad™ program. Simply making parenting programs “father-friendly” won’t do. I realize that statement might make some folks wriggle in their chair and, perhaps, stand up and shake their finger in disapproval. But also trust me when I say that based on nearly 20 years experience in helping organizations to make this call that it makes a huge difference in showing dads they matter as first-class parents, that they are competent parents.

Dads absolutely appreciate a program that addresses their unique needs because it makes them a better parent. Moreover, it helps service providers to recruit and retain fathers in programs specifically designed to help them be better dads, which, ultimately, helps us to achieve our ultimate goal of improving the lives of children.

Isn’t that what parenting is all about?

Topics: fatherhood programs, parenting, fathering, practitioners, mothering

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