You can “reswizzle” your parenting program’s marketing to include more images of dads. You can bring in men to help co-facilitate. You can even shout from the rooftops, “Dads are welcome!”
Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try, many dads won’t attend a parenting program. Research shows that recruitment of dads to parenting programs remains a challenge. In fact, out of 4,959 participants in 21 studies across several countries, only 20% of the participants in parenting programs were dads.
There are 3 primary reasons that dads don’t attend parenting programs.
- Dads’ perception of the word “parenting.” Many dads believe parenting is a code word for “mothering.” Most resources directed toward parents are designed for moms. For example, Parenting Magazine has very little information specifically designed for dads. Until recently, the subtitle for Parenting Magazine mentioned that it was for moms. Moreover, when dads hear messages about resources for parents, they often assume, correctly or incorrectly, that they are for moms.
- Lack of dad-specific topics. While the best parenting programs include content that applies to both moms and dads (e.g. parenting skills such as effective discipline techniques), they don’t leverage the unique ways in which men parent—men’s parenting style—or content on masculinity, for example, that is critical to a dad’s role as a parent. Research shows that men and women parent differently, and that their unique styles benefit children. Dads need to be called out specifically so that they understand the importance of their role—their unique role—and that they can access programs designed specifically for them.
- Inability to meet dads’ wants and needs. Parenting programs tend to offer incentives such as coupons for local restaurants, items for their babies (e.g. diapers), baskets of goodies, etc. Research shows, however, that dads attend fatherhood programs to meet their immediate wants and needs (e.g. unemployment, lack of money to buy things for their children, inability to pay child support, difficulty keeping a job, and inability to pay bills). Parenting programs typically don’t focus on these specific wants and needs. Meeting wants and needs is often the “hook” that encourages dads to enroll and maintain their participation in a fatherhood program more than learning how to be a better dad and parent (e.g. through increased knowledge of child development, child discipline, etc.).
The good news is that fatherhood programs can help dads see the term “parenting” from a new perspective—one in which they identify parenting as something they do. This new perspective motivates dads to build the parenting skills that they wouldn’t have otherwise.
If you only offer a parenting program, consider adding a fatherhood program (e.g. 24/7 Dad®). Doing so will make it easier to recruit dads and provide them with a wholistic approach which includes parenting skills.
Parenting and fathering have many common elements, but there are major differences as well. And addressing those dad-specific elements can mean the difference between engaging a dad or not.
If you only offer a parenting program, have you considered adding a fatherhood program?
If you want to add a fatherhood program, are there any barriers you need to address? What are some next steps you can take to address those barriers?