I'm a father, not a babysitter

equal parenting May 22, 2022
Dad at the beach

[Originally published by Blake Woodward for Mamamia, 17 Feb 2020]

I’m a corporate dad with a three-year-old and a seven-month-old. I love being a dad, and I’m fortunate to work for a company that offers equal parental leave for men and women.

While these policies have enabled me to spend a combined 13 months off (spread over the last three years) as a full time parent, they’ve also opened my eyes to an interesting phenomenon.

From the ads at the supermarket to social banter — our culture sets and constantly reinforces a low bar for fathers.

I first realised something was amiss as I approached my first seven months off as primary carer of our son. I was repeatedly asked what I was going to do with ‘all that time off’.

My wife had just completed over seven months of her parental leave, and no one had seemed confused about what she did with the time. Instead she had an incredible network of friends, colleagues and government agencies acknowledging how gruelling this time could be and reaching out to check on her wellbeing.

People spoke to me like I was secretly stepping out to work on a book deal or undertake some home renovations.

In the stores and online, I found everything about caring for children was marketed to women. Instead of sleep training hacks, stain removal tips and articles on childhood development milestones — my social media feed didn’t go much further than superficial suggestions on how to stay fit as a dad, techniques to give my wife a relaxing foot massage, and tips on how to connect with my child while travelling.

This inherent bias only became more obvious during my leave. Out in public, I was constantly congratulated by strangers on what an outstanding dad I was. This was in response to such heroic acts as: feeding my child, changing a nappy, pushing a pram, or simply not being at work. Again, accolades people had failed to lavish on my wife as she went about the daily routine of keeping our child alive.

While well intended, these conversations were belittling. I was doing this and so much more.

When did being a father become a noun instead of a verb? And why, when mothers seem to constantly struggle with a shifting benchmark of being a “good mum”, do men get a free pass?

We still have a social mindset where a dad’s role is to work a job, not to look after the kids. The problem with this is it’s reflective of a family model that hasn’t been a reality for many Australians for decades. The rising cost of living means single income families are increasingly rare in this country, and policies have come a long way to support women to stay in the workforce.

None of that has done anything to change the reality of children’s needs. Until our social norms and policies assume fathers will in turn be playing a new and more involved role in their children's lives — we will continue to have gender inequality and a growing tension between the modern day family and the modern day workplace.

For me, being a good dad simply requires the exact same thing it takes to be a good mum: time, effort, willingness to learn from mistakes and a conscious investment in your family.

So let’s stop assuming that raising kids is ‘mum’s job’ and start treating parenting as a verb and for what it is: a privilege that deserves the investment and accountability of both parents.

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