Fatherhood is not discussed nearly as often as motherhood. Both of these roles are important and both are difficult! However, more often than not, mothers step forward and assume the bulk of childcare early in life. Even when moms have no more experience than dads, the moms are usually the A team. But immediately putting dad on the B team is not an effective way to encourage an active role in childcare. I strongly believe that mothers need to actively work to improve father empowerment by ensuring dads participate very early in their children’s lives.
Empowerment for fathers is important. Many recent conversations in society focus on women’s rights, and I am a HUGE proponent of women’s empowerment on many, many levels. There is no question that outside of the home, women are frequently placed on the B team, and they must work harder to get recognized and earn equal pay. (Spoiler alert, the gender pay gap is real)
Mothers tend to be the dominant caretaker in the home. This tends to be true whether we are a stay at home mom, work at home mom or work outside of the home mom. Our maternal instincts often require us to immediately take the lead when it comes to our children’s needs.
Mothers tend to make household decisions which include choosing the daycare or nanny, cloth vs. standard diapering, clothing types, activities like piano, dance and art, and homeschool vs. traditional school. Fathers are included in the conversation, but to be frank, moms are mostly explaining why a decision is being made and allowing dads the chance to give input.
Kids do not come with manuals. Many times, mothers learn about our children the hard way…trial and error. We eventually learn who our children are, what soothes them, what aggravates them and how to bring joy into their lives. We are proud as our mothering skills blossom.
Fathers often stand on the sidelines and smile with pride watching their families grow, and they participate when invited. Yes, when invited.
I believe father empowerment to participate earlier and more frequently with infants and toddlers is critical. Mom mistakes are real, and dads need to make their own mistakes early and often. They need to get comfortable with this trial and error parenting, too.
Why am I writing this post? I have lived this exact journey as a mom who had NO idea what to do with a newborn. In fact, I still laugh at my first diaper change at the hospital shortly after meeting my precious baby. Because I am a pediatric doctor, certain assumptions were made….wrong assumptions. The nurse was timid as she announced: “Dr. Burton, the diaper is on backward”. Oops.
I have always worked full time and knew that after 3 months of maternity leave, my child’s care would need to be managed jointly with others. Perhaps this influenced me to make my choices. My husband had on-the-job training alongside me during every step of my kids’ lives. I was still the dominant decision maker, but he was comfortable with all the care the kids needed.
This post may be controversial since I have read many blogs by mothers who feel it is their job to care for the kids. That may be true, but that does not mean fathers cannot participate. Maybe not in a huge day-to-day way, but in a frequent enough way that they are empowered to be proud of how well they can do tasks.
I have previously discussed what to expect from a specialist doctor visit, but in my office, I continue to meet many fathers who should have been empowered to care for their children. They show up with a list of questions from mom, which is fine because I certainly wrote my fair share of notes, too. I appreciate knowing mom’s concerns. However, if I go off script and ask any other questions that are not on the list, the look of panic on the dad’s face becomes very clear.
These dads often become agitated, some become embarrassed and others become angry. They slowly realize they do not know many things about their children. They have a list of medications but have never given a medication, not even Tylenol. I ask about the rash on the chest, and they don’t know it is there. The type of cough present at night….they have not heard it.
These are not trivial matters. When working moms cannot get time off for doctor visits, they often feel more comfortable sending Grandma than sending dad. Grandma does not live with the child, so why is she better prepared to answer my questions?
Parenting is a difficult job and having the benefit of two parents is a blessing. I highly encourage father empowerment to allow dads to participate in many of the jobs that mothers immediately do. The long-term confidence these empowerment tips instill in fathers is priceless.
5 Easy Father Empowerment Tips
1. Change diapers
Need I remind you that I failed miserably when I first started this task. But countless men admit they did not change a diaper until the baby was much bigger “because they are not gentle enough”. Who told them that? Is that a fact?
Newborns should have diapers changed by dad periodically so they are comfortable with their skills when needed. They should not look for their wives in a panic as if they are unqualified for the job.
Father empowerment to change infant diapers is an easy task to accomplish. Just needs to be added to the “to do” list.
2. Help care for sick babies
Fathers should learn to take an infant’s temperature, measure Tylenol and give the dose. Learning the techniques for giving medication to children who spit it back out is a valuable skill!
Father empowerment to learn how to care for sick kids should be a requirement for minor illnesses; therefore, when more serious problems occur, dad will be ready to help. Let dad learn right along with mom. Simply pass him the syringe and watch him do it.
3. Dress kids on some regular basis
Dressing a child can be like holding a greased watermelon while in a swimming pool. Dads need to learn this skill as well. This task can be done weekly, monthly or randomly. It just needs to be frequent enough that it becomes no big deal. Not a special dressing day, just a regular day.
Furthermore, father empowerment should include his ability to PICK OUT THE OUTFIT that the child will wear!
I can hear the gasps of moms everywhere. Men certainly dress kids differently than women. But unless it is a special occasion, why does it matter? Women need let go of the clothing reigns from time to time. Try to avoid changing the outfit dad has selected!
I still recall the struggle to keep my composure when I saw some outfits my husband placed on our kids. Goodness. But we survived. And my kids have awesome memories of talking their dad into letting them wear things that they knew I would not have approved.
4. Give the child a bath
I loved bath time, but many people do not. Dads need to learn this skill starting in infancy. If mom goes away for a girls weekend or has to work late, dad should know how to provide basic care for the kids. He should not need grandmom or auntie to come to do it!
Simply start by having dad present during the bath, then helping set up, and advancing his role until he becomes independent. This sounds simple but I have met way too many fathers who tell me that they don’t know how to do this, or that they would not be able to do it well enough for mom. Why would dad ever feel like he cannot do childcare good enough for mom?
It is important to accept that dads will rarely do things just like moms. Accept that and move on. The daddy technique will be different but effective.
5. Rock, soothe and comfort the screaming infant
When women hear a screaming child, it is almost a reflex to run over, grab the child and cuddle, rock and soothe them. Men seem to automatically step back and look for the woman to come to the rescue.
There need to be times you pass the irritable infant to dad and then walk away. He will figure it out.
Or better yet, listen to the crying child and casually ask dad to take care of it. Father empowerment starts with mothers simply accepting that fathers are capable. Many of these men went to school and earn degrees. They can learn to provide excellent childcare!
Many fathers are excellent caregivers but often lack the empowerment to learn daily tasks until the kids are older. Has your children’s father participated in these tasks and have the ability to do them with confidence if you are away?
If not, start working on it today! If so…WooHoo!. But now you can move on to the advanced course and allow dad to learn to do other tasks that you have claimed as your own. Parenting is hard and having a partner to fully share in the journey makes it better.
Moms, let go of your tight control. Father empowerment is a good thing for the entire family. You can hear more on this topic in my podcast about why you should never use the term “dad babysitting”.
As always, much love for supporting my work. I will be adding many more posts to highlight parenting and healthcare tips, so be sure to consider subscribing to my podcast or to my blog to avoid missing a post!