Stay-at-home dads call for change

Dads make an important contribution when they stay at home as primary caregiver for their children – but they continue to face major social hurdles and stigmas, Flinders University researchers say.

Dr Sarah Hunter, from Flinders’ Caring Futures Institute, says stay-at-home fathers want to talk more about their caring experiences and build their parenting knowledge. However prevailing stigmas limit this activity – and such attitudes need to swiftly change.

Postdoctoral researcher Dr Hunter has joined Flinders psychology  and ARC Research Fellow Professor Damien Riggs in publishing a book, Men Caregiving and the Media: The Dad Dilemma, which examines why the relationship between caregiving and masculinity is seldom celebrated.

“We have found that men are still often compelled to justify why they are staying at home,” says Dr Hunter, adding that community perceptions need to change.

“We need to normalise men providing care for their children. We need less ‘house husbands’, and more routine, everyday representations of men loving, caring for, and raising their children,” she says.

“Normalising men’s role as primary caregivers helps to reduce stigma, thus allowing for the development of strategies that seek to engage men as parents.

“It is no longer enough to praise men for taking on what has traditionally been framed as ‘women’s work’. Instead, we need to think differently about how we understand care work

“Therefore, we also need to acknowledge that care work is gendered: women do most of the household and childcare labour, and the expectation that women provide such labour for free needs to change.”

Noting increasing numbers of men choosing to raise their children full time, Dr Hunter and Professor Riggs also recently wrote a  Psychology Today blog about promoting positive representations of men who take on the primary caregiving role. It addressed dads’ challenges in the context of how other people think about masculinity and care work.

To address such change, Dr Hunter and other Flinders University researchers conducted a workshop in December with fathers and service providers to identify some key priority areas for fathering research. They obtained sound advice that will help construct a better pathway forward.

“It is assumed that fathers want advice and practical guidance on how to be a father – but these assumptions are underpinned by gender norms, and fathers actually also want space to talk and debrief about their own experiences,” says Dr Hunter.

“As a society, we undermine and hold men back in their caregiving capabilities due to how we view them.

“Gender norms impact on the support made available to fathers – so the main takeaway from our workshop is that fathering needs new types of support to be truly effective. It will become a focus within the Caring Futures Institute in coming years.”

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College of Education, Psychology and Social Work College of Nursing and Health Sciences

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