Aspects: Stand Up and Be Counted, Fathers; Parenting in Most Families Isn't Just Women's Work So Why Does All the Latest Social Research Suggest It Is, Asks Chief Feature Writer Jason Beattie

By Beattie, Jason | The Birmingham Post (England), February 10, 2000 | Go to article overview

Aspects: Stand Up and Be Counted, Fathers; Parenting in Most Families Isn't Just Women's Work So Why Does All the Latest Social Research Suggest It Is, Asks Chief Feature Writer Jason Beattie


Beattie, Jason, The Birmingham Post (England)


Iwatched last month's Panorama programme which highlighted the implications of mothers going out to work.

I read the passionately-argued newspaper articles as they debated the impact on children if mothers return to the workplace before their baby is a year old.

I studied the academic findings which revealed children's reading skills suffered if their mothers worked full time but which also showed those mothers who went back to work when their child was between one and five had children who suffered less anxiety and did better in maths tests.

I listened to the politicians who criticised mothers for abandoning their children and attacked single mothers for being irresponsible.

And as I watched, read, studied and listened with these mothers I realised something was missing. It took a couple of seconds to put my finger on it but then it struck me.

It was as blindingly obvious as being hit over the head by a two-year-old armed with a heavy plastic rattle: what was missing was fathers.

Where were the dads when Panorama despatched its correspondent to suburbia?

Where were the dads when the academics questioned 2,000 mothers about going back to work after their children were born?

Where were the dads when the politicians hammered on about single mums?

Have you ever heard the expression single dads? Has any research been carried out into the effects on young children if their fathers work a 12-hour day?

The easy response would be to say "thank God for that, they haven't noticed me, so I'm not going to draw attention to it."

In other words, fathers have been getting away with avoiding their parental duties for centuries and there is no way I am going to start the campaign to change things.

After all, it would not be macho would it?

Only a real man works long hours, finishes the day down the pub and talks to his children at weekends. The children never suffer from having an absent father do they?

Changing nappies, reading your children stories, demanding you get home on time and asking for time off to take your son or daughter to the doctor's - that's soppy, women's stuff.

Proud as I am of my sex, not least because I can read a map and know the off-side rule, our greatest failing is to consider childcare the sole preserve of women.

The last thing I want to be is one of those divorced, old bores who props up the golf club bar and regrets how he did not spend more time with his children.

Unfortunately, the current thinking appears to suggest fathers should spend as little time as possible with their children.

Every time a television documentary, a newspaper article or a politician bemoans the lack of time mothers are spending with their children, they are also sending out another message: fathers need to spend less time at home.

The prejudice is reinforced that child rearing is exclusively women's work.

This is understandable as it fulfils the beliefs of those who think women are inferior, should never be allowed out of the house and should return to their traditional duties of washing, ironing and cooking.

Any evidence that can be mustered to support this view is dragged kicking and screaming to the nation's attention regardless of its validity. …

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