I have a question for you.
How parentally-balanced are your programs and services?
Now that you’ve formulated your answer, let me ask you a follow-up question.
If I were to pop into your virtual or in-person parenting program, for example, would I see 50 percent dads and 50 percent moms represented?
Did the answer to that second question change your perspective on the first one?
In all of the polls that I’ve conducted with service providers over the past two decades, most report less than 10 percent of participants in their parenting programs are dads.
Research shows parenting programs aren’t effective in engaging dads. One study, for example, showed that:
- Despite the evidence of fathers’ substantial impact on child development, wellbeing, and family functioning, parenting interventions rarely target men, or make a dedicated effort to include them.
- Parenting interventions that have included men as parents or co-parents give insufficient attention to reporting on father participation and impact.
- A fundamental change in the design and delivery of parenting interventions is required to overcome pervasive gender biases and to generate robust evidence on outcomes, differentiated by gender and by couple effects in evaluation.
Parental balance is the assurance that any and all services, resources, or programs are designed to be inclusive, engaging, and relevant to all parties responsible for the welfare of children. If you’re not striving to get more dads in the door, then you’ve got some work to do.
So, here are some ways you can make your programs and services more parentally-balanced.
Recognize the word “parent” is perceived by many dads as code for “mom.” While some parenting curricula have made strides towards father-inclusiveness, dads avoid parenting programs for a variety of reasons, including:
- Fear that he’ll be the only dad.
- Concern that he’ll have to talk about his feelings before he’s ready.
- Belief that he can be replaced in his child’s life.
- Belief that he can’t be a good parent.
Understanding this dynamic is the catalyst to move you towards the following two strategies.
Offer father-specific programs and resources. The best way to create parental balance in your programs and services is to provide opportunities for dad to redefine the word “parent” to include himself. Programs such as: 24/7 Dad®, Fathering in 15™, or the 24/7 Dad® Key Behaviors Workshop help dads build parenting skills that make it more attractive for them to participate in what you offer. They can also create a gateway for participation later in, for example, a general parenting program. Providing brochures, tip cards, and guides can also be a dad’s first step towards enrolling in your programs and services.
Create a father-specific marketing strategy for your programs and services. If you’re unable to offer a father-specific curriculum or print materials, you can still create a marketing strategy that increases the probability of dads attending your parenting program. Here are some tips for accomplishing that.
- Create separate flyers for your parenting program that target dads. Use language that says the program is for dads and highlight specific topics that dads find relevant.
- Partner with locations who have access to dads (e.g. YMCAs, barber shops, auto body shops, churches, job banks, and businesses) and explore ways to raise awareness of your parenting program (e.g. post flyers, set up kiosks, and set up a table for your outreach staff).
- To ensure father-friendliness, conduct an assessment of all offline and online marketing, outreach, and communication materials used by your organization for any purpose.
It’s not enough to market your programs and services to parents in general and expect dads to show up. Increasing father engagement requires intentionality—a concerted effort to understand the stigma dads associate with the word “parent;” to provide father-specific programs and resources; and to create father-specific marketing strategies.
Employ these approaches and you will see that parental balance scale begin to tip towards equity when it comes to serving dads.
What does your dad-to-mom ratio look like in your programs and services?
What will you do to tip the parental balance scale so more dads participate?