It’s insulting to label dads as only stand-by parents

IT speaks volumes about the esteem in which we hold the parenting skills of fathers that when TV personality Chrissie Swan went away for six weeks’ work, she was attacked for leaving her children with their dad.

Swan’s critics thought they were landing a punch on the polarising figure for being a “bad mother” but they were really insulting her competent stay-at-home husband, Chris Saville, and, by extension, all hands-on fathers.

It’s as if mothers “parent” and fathers “babysit” … how belittling for both. And what a restrictive concept that undermines both genders.

To imply a man cannot provide the same quality care as a woman is as dumb as saying a woman can’t be a good executive because she lacks masculine toughness.

It handcuffs the woman to the role of “mother”, with all the onus on her to cover the serious parenting bases, and reduces the man to mere accessory in the raising of his children.

Haven’t we moved on from that awful old saw of the “hopeless father” pushed for so long by crappy TV ads? You know, poor useless dad the dope, failing at the most basic household/ child-minding chores and needing to be rescued when the competent mother returns.

Or dad as the figure of fun who, when the mother has a rare night out, has to feed the kids some frozen processed meal or other. Dad who needs mum to tell him over the baby monitor how to boil the peas.

Here’s a surprise: men can be just as good at parenting as women—but hey, maybe they’ll feel more comfortable with their choice to identify as primary carers if we stop laughing at them.

And maybe women will feel less weighed by society’s expectation that it is their responsibility to do all the substantial parenting and they will feel freer to identify as something broader than simply “mother”, cherished role though it is. Lots of us adore motherhood to the ends of the earth but would still like to think that if we did dare to make space for ourselves in our own lives, we could do so in the knowledge the father would manage fine and neither of us would be judged wanting 

Believe it or not, even decades after women won the right to enter the full-time workforce and expect equality (a work in progress), men who choose to stay home are still reporting that they are treated as having made an unmanly choice. Seriously!

Men’s rights groups have become louder, and while the anger they direct at feminists for a bunch of imagined crimes is laughable, on the issue of fathers not being taken seriously enough by society, they have a point. 

For the good of women and kids, and most importantly for the good of fathers — and well-adjusted fathers equals well-adjusted sons — our rigid views of parenting roles and expectations must be revisited.

Fathers are not just reserves who sit on the bench until the star gets injured then fill in as best they can. For children and partners, having a father who is “good” with the kids should not be considered a luxury.

Parenting is, ideally, a team effort (single parents I know whose children’s father is for whatever reason not accessible move mountains to find other strong and present men).

Yet you only have to look at how Saville was treated as virtually a parent in parenthesis while his wife was away to see the prevailing attitude is that the key parent is the mother and without her there constantly, the family is at a loss.

One of the best things to have happened to me as a parent is being given a copy of Steve Biddulph’s Raising Boys shortly after I had my first baby boy. The author sent women the clear message that really encouraging their partner — and allowing him — to be an equal parent is vital.

He stressed that far from being the one “in charge” of everything to do with children, at some points of a boy’s development, the father can be the more important role model and Biddulph urged fathers to embrace that. And more men are, which is beautiful to see.

There is a heap of hands-on father pride out there … so how about we stop undermining it?