Yeah, it’s a thing.
As dads have assumed a greater role in the parenting of their children, they have assumed a greater risk of being shamed for their parenting.
A recent national poll found that more than half of dads of children age 13 and younger had been criticized for their parenting style or choices. Of those dads:
- 67% had been criticized about how they discipline their child
- 43% had been criticized about what they feed their child
- 32% had been criticized for being too rough with their child
- 32% had been criticized for not paying attention to their child
Dads had also been criticized around decisions about their child’s sleep (24%), appearance (23%), and safety (19%).
Basically, dads receive a ton of criticism about virtually every aspect of parenting. It’s no wonder that some dads can be a little gun shy when it comes to taking care of their children. Let’s face it. The gold standard in our culture for parenting is the way in which moms parent—their parenting style. That standard is the underlying factor that leads to the criticism of dads. Our cultural norms around effective parenting haven’t kept up with the increased role of dads in their children’s caregiving or the research that shows dads and moms parent differently—in complimentary ways that benefit children’s well-being.
Fortunately, that same poll showed that dads are extremely confident in their parenting—9 in 10 (92%) said they do a good job. That’s important because confidence is vital to success in any endeavor.
On the other hand, research shows that people consistently overestimate their awareness, knowledge, and skill. They’re overconfident. Known as overconfidence bias, people are more subject to it the more confident they are. Parenting is no exception.
So, as a professional who serves dads, what should you do with this knowledge?
- First, assume that an involved dad has been criticized for his parenting even when he doesn’t mention it. Let him know he’s not alone and should not feel shame simply because he parents differently than mom.
- Second, assume that an uninvolved dad will eventually be criticized for his parenting as he becomes more involved in his child’s life. Prepare him for the criticism.
- Third, realize that criticism of a dad’s parenting might have merit.
- Fourth, share with all dads that the awareness, knowledge, and skills they possess and are learning will help them parent effectively. Tell them that as they bring their innate parenting ability to the surface—a dad’s parenting style—that it will benefit their child above and beyond the way mom parents.
With that foundation, help dads discern between baseless and valid criticism. Share these three steps to help dads deal with current and future dad-shaming:
- Don’t take it personally. (That’s easier said than done, especially when it comes to something as raw as being criticized for how you parent.) This is the first and most vital step. If you take criticism personally, you won’t move beyond this step.
- Keep an open mind, actively listen, and challenge yourself. The ability to keep an open mind, actively listen, and challenge yourself is a cornerstone of any effort to improve, including as a parent. You might overestimate your parenting awareness, knowledge, and skills. Seek to continually improve as a parent. Someone might have a valid criticism of your parenting.
- Step back and reflect. Take as much time as you need to reflect, as objectively as possible, on the criticism. It might be clear right away whether the criticism is baseless or valid. (Hint: It’s baseless if the criticism is of a dad’s innate parenting style.) If it’s not clear, seek the counsel of someone whose parenting advice you value and who has shown the ability to be objective and direct with you. It might be the mother of your child, one of your child’s grandparents, or a friend who is a good dad or mom. (It might even be you, the professional!)
If the criticism is baseless, help dads understand why that’s so, unless it’s clear they understand. If the criticism is valid, help them create a plan to improve that aspect of their parenting.
How often do the dads you serve share that they’ve been criticized for their parenting?
What tactic or approach do you use to surface criticism of dads that they haven’t voiced?
How do you prepare dads for parenting criticism that they might receive?