Daddy Daycare: a father speaks

6 February 2006

 

by Mike Williams

 
Why I wrote this article

I was encouraged to write this article when I suggested to some that ‘Mother & Toddler’ groups were no longer an appropriate title for an inclusive church. Whilst I am welcomed and encouraged at several groups as a full-time dad (especially at St Peter’s), I am aware that many fathers will not attend ‘Mums & Toddler’ groups because they feel excluded and often ignored. Having looked through recent copies of Venture (and the Parish Report), I found a number of ‘Mother & Toddler’ type references. I realise this may not be the leaders intentions and that some groups are specifically and necessarily ‘male’ or ‘female’ only. However, as a Committee member/musician, etc, for Toybox, an active member of Stepping Stones, a Bouncers Committee member and Committee member for Bevan Lodge Community Pre-School, I feel the Mother & Toddler label no longer reflects an accurate picture (here at St Peter’s or anywhere else). I am all for equality but doesn’t that work both ways? An increasing number of men are looking after their children (along with carers and grandparents, etc), who might feel excluded. Surely St Peter’s – like other churches and institutions – would want to be seen as, and to be, ‘Inclusive’ ?

Fathers are now taking on a greater share of childcare than they did 30 years ago.

(. . .and no man ever said on his deathbed, "I wish I had spent more time in the office" . . .)

Fathers – by which I mean ‘male carers’ and can include stepfathers, grandfathers and other significant males in a child’s life – are now taking on a greater share of childcare than they did 30 years ago. Back then, they supposedly spent less than fifteen minutes a day with their children whereas it is now around two hours a day. You may find this hard to believe, but researchers also suggest that fathers of under-fives who live with their children are now doing one-third of the family childcare. One third may not seem like a high figure, but few could argue with the fact that nowadays fathers are much more involved with their children than at any time over the last 100 years.

Research evidence suggests that this increased involvement of fathers with their children is beneficial for children as they are growing up – it helps their developing self-esteem, learning and socialising. Further evidence suggests that fathers’ involvement with their children has long-term benefits too, in helping them to have better-quality relationships and being less likely to get caught up in the criminal justice system.
Further evidence suggests that it is the quality of the time that both mothers and fathers spend with their children that makes the difference, not just the amount. So, although there are several differences in the ways parents relate to their children (eg, it is generally recognised that fathers tend to play more physically with their children), findings repeatedly suggest that, "parental warmth, encouragement and closeness are associated with positive child outcomes regardless of which parent is involved”.

Early years:  a female world

The vast majority of people working in the early years field are female; most nannies, childminders and practitioners in pre-school settings are women. Despite a government target of 6 per cent of childcare workers being male, only between 1-2 per cent of adults working in the early years sector are male – a figure which has remained fairly static for the past few years. The majority of parents and carers in early years settings are also female. If you go to a parent/toddler group you are unlikely to see more than one or two men – if that – in a group of predominantly female carers, who might be mothers, grandmothers or childminders. Similarly, most of the adults helping out on ‘parent rotas’ are likely to be female. So, although fathers are doing significantly more childcare in and around the home, they are still rarely to be seen in early years settings.

Does this matter? Well, lots of people talk about the importance of male role models for children, particularly boys, expressing concern that an increasing number of children are growing up in female-headed single-parent families with little or no contact with a father. Men are not choosing to work in the early years sector, so involvement from fathers in settings would ensure that these children had more contact with men. At the same time, if early years settings became more ‘father-friendly’, then fathers would have an additional place to go where they can feel comfortable with their young children. However, not only do many fathers feel out of place in these female early years environments but there is also a general air of suspicion towards men who work in and/or participate in early years activities. Their motives are questioned in ways that the motives of women are not. So, not only do children miss out on the presence of men but fathers, who to the greater part want and need close contact with their own children, feel they have to keep a certain ‘respectable’ distance.

Encouraging men and fathers

The Pre-school Learning Alliance decided to establish a Father Involvement project which aims to look at what early years settings can do to encourage fathers and other male carers to get involved. “At the Alliance, we expect that if we can encourage more fathers to participate in their children’s early years settings, this will then pave the way for them to continue to be more involved in their children’s schools”. I am yet to experience encouragement from this or any of the government departments that are apparently working to encourage men into early years stettings. Having said that Chris Frankland, Co-ordinator of Farnborough Grange Early Years Centre, has been an enormous help in pushing Farnborough College of Technology to fund myself (and several mums), on a Certificate In Early Years Practice course. Paula Holmes our tutor from Farnborough College of Technology is also very dedicated in her support.

Ref: Dads in Daycare (Pre School Learning Alliance :  http://preschool.atalink.co.uk/articles/11)

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