Why using the ‘F’ word is better for all the family

5 October 2011

Jeremy Davies writes:

In 2011, so many years after our traditional attitudes towards childbirth and childcare being a ‘women-only’ preserve began to shift, it’s easy to kid ourselves that we’ve changed all we need to change. But there’s still such a long way to go, and nowhere more so than in the milky, feminised world of pre-natal screening information.

We at the FI have been trying to get information out to expectant and new dads for years now, but governments won’t pay for it, and commercially no-one has yet taken the leap into the unknown and sponsored it – even though our Guide for New Dads, distributed as a one-off with Bounty packs last year, was a big hit with mums and dads alike.

Women, it seems, are still the only people worth talking to in the multi-million pound maternity and baby industry – and the same goes for our health professionals, who tend to see their client as the mother, rather than taking on the bigger challenge of communicating more holistically with the support network that surrounds the baby – which in most cases includes its father.

Just about all the information expectant and new families receive is still aimed at mothers – either directly or in such a way that while the word ‘parent’ might be used, it’s obvious to anyone reading it that really it’s just the mums that count.

We had big hopes that we could influence a whole bunch of information sheets the NHS is producing about fetal abnormality screening – vital resources that could make all the difference to families facing tough choices about invasive tests and even termination. Such decisions ultimately rest with women, of course – but research tells us that partners’ role in supporting women to make informed decisions is vital.

Despite this, we’ve just found out that all our suggestions about how to write these leaflets in such a way that women themselves get the best information and fathers too feel as if they are part of the process, have been rejected by an ‘expert group’ of health professionals and support groups.

Our suggestion that the leaflets should refer to ‘information for mothers and fathers’, for example, was rejected in favour of ‘information for parents’ – for fear that our version could alienate “certain individuals who were not necessarily in a couple at the time of antenatal appointments”. This even though we know that the VAST majority of expectant mothers and fathers ARE together; even though in the context of fetal abnormality screening, information about fathers’ genetic background, and therefore their input into the process, can be key; and even though we know that mothers and fathers both read ‘parent’ as ‘mother’, and that ‘parent’ doesn’t, therefore, get you to half of your target audience.

Nobody could ever claim that talking to parents about such issues is easy. But by restricting the conversation only to mothers and/or by failing to clearly and directly address fathers about what’s happening, so they might provide much-needed, well-informed support at such a difficult time – aren’t we missing an opportunity to ease an intolerable burden of responsibility for women? And aren’t we, ultimately, doing our children a disservice?

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  • Rotimi says:

    I absolutely agree with the article above.

    I recently found out that i am going to be a father. And while overly excited, i am a bit anxious about my role. My wife and i have been married less than 3 months and we’ve known each other just over a year! So while i am very happy in my marriage and eagerly looking forward to this next big moment in my life, it is happening very quickly.

    I have been ignorant for many years as it has always been “i’ll worry about it when the time comes”. Well the time is here and i have no clue! So what am i doing? I’m researching the internet and other sources for information on what to expect, what to do, what not to do etc. And absolutely spot on, as the article above illustrates, there is hardly any information for dads. I really do feel that this is all about mother and baby and quite frankly i am thinking “What about me?” “Am i not a part of this?” “Don’t i need some advice?”. What do i do as my wife is nauseous and irritable and cant stand for me to simply hug her? What can i do to help ease her mood swings and aches and pains? It would be nice to have some resource that says “Hey dad-to-be, you are part of this too. And these are the things you need to do blah blah blah”. Alas, i find myself trawling through information directed at women and trying my best to interprete and adapt. I want to be fully involved in all steps of the process and be there for my family as they grow. Lack of material or material directed primarily at mother and baby simply gives society the impression that we dont need to get involved. That there’s no role for you as a father to play during pregnancy except to wait 9 months (+ a few hours outside the delivery room for the baby to get born), name them (a la Richard Kane in Kane & Abel by Jeffery Archer) and then hand them back to their mothers.

    Having said all of that, it is not the end of the world as i believe the best thing i can do is to be supportive and take as much pressure off my wife as i can, listen to her, pamper her, and be tolerant of all the mood swings and things i will undoubtedly get blamed for. Afterall, isn’t that what being a husband is all about? I’m just simply agreeing that some hints, tips and support can never be a bad thing.

    I’m glad i came across your institute. I look forward to getting more involved.

  • LJ says:

    I agree with Mr Davies that the leaflets should be written to include fathers, but his focus on the use of the word “parent” (and his assumptions about people’s interpretation of its meaning) seems to me a teensy bit paranoid. Personally, I read “parents” as meaning “both parents”. The article leaves me wondering if this was the main (or only) instance of the wording “excluding” fathers.
    For example, when Mr Davies writes “it’s obvious to anyone reading [the leaflet] that really it’s just the mums that count”: this is obviously a personal (and very subjective-sounding) interpretation that he presents as if it’s a universal experience. I would have appreciated some quotes from the brochure to illustrate what he means so I could make up my own mind.

    • Fatherhood Institute says:

      Thanks for your comments. We know from market research over many years that when men and women see the word ‘parent’ they tend to interpret it as ‘mother’. Our blogs are written from personal experience, of course – but wouldn’t you say that failing to specifically name fathers and recognise their role in what is a traumatic experience for both parents, is a clear indication that it’s only mothers who matter? We weren’t able to include quotes from the brochure as they have not yet been published – the blog was based on pre-publication communications with the team producing them.

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