There can be many unhelpful stereotypes that come with parenting. One of the biggest is the belief that fathers are ‘helpers,’ ‘babysitters,’ or ‘co-parents.’ These terms and assumptions can be harmful, as they leave the impression that fathers aren’t primary parents in their own right.
This is a disservice to fathers, mothers, and children. First, it implies that fathers are distanced from the caregiving process. Second, it pushes women into the maternal role, forcing them into being caregivers. And finally, it harms children, taking away what should be two active parenting roles – among other concerns.
The best way to fight these negative assumptions is by becoming vocal about a father’s role with their children. Naturally, this also requires that fathers take an active role in parenting.
If one were to take a closer look at parental government programs worldwide, one would find that most of them were designed to support mothers. There’s no arguing against the fact that mothers need this help – but it actively ignores that fathers frequently do as well.
This is one example of how society reinforces the belief that mothers are the primary parental figures. At the same time, fathers are the ‘helpers.’ It’s a message that is easy to internalize – for all genders involved.
Another real-life example of this behaviour happens within the school system. Mothers are disproportionately the first parent called when there is an issue (illness, misbehaviour, etc.). Once again, this reinforces that negative belief.
Fixing the Bias
All of this begs the question, how can we go about fixing this common misconception? How do we fight generations of societal assumptions and pressure? The answer is both complex and straightforward: one step at a time.
Fathers can help correct this bias by taking an active role in parenting – and being vocal about it. This includes gently correcting others when they make comments about dad ‘babysitting’ and the like.
As for those on the outside? They can contribute by watching the terms they use (for example, avoiding the word ‘helper’) and reaching out to fathers just as frequently as mothers. Lawmakers can consider fathers, including them in stimulus packages, parental leave, and financial support programs.
These actions will help to alter the standard of parenting – that is to say, the belief and assumption that mothers are the primary caregivers, with fathers coming in second.