As Nick Clegg denounces ‘Edwardian’ work attitudes, FI tells parenting ‘experts’ to move out of the 1950s

23 April 2014

The Fatherhood Institute is calling for a major new resource for new parents to be redesigned to reflect the reality of modern families – and powerful evidence that children do best when they are securely attached to more than one caring adult.

Nick Clegg has today denounced the ‘Edwardian rules’ that restrict men’s and women’s choices about work-life balance when they become parents.

In a similar way Getting to Know Your Baby, a website and app developed by the Warwick Infant and Family Wellbeing Unit (WIFWU) at Warwick University Medical School, presents an old-fashioned view of parenting in which only mums matter. The resource is designed to act as an evidence-based resource to help professionals support secure attachments between new parents and their babies. But it completely fails to communicate the importance of secure attachments between fathers and their babies – and the vital impact this can have on both mother-child attachment, and on mother-father relationships.

The resource does not include even one image of a father interacting positively with his child. When ‘parent’/infant interactions are demonstrated, fathers are completely missing.  Elsewhere they sit or stand, nodding dumbly, while their partner talks. Only two men are seen holding infants and both are presented negatively:  one dad holds an unsettled baby, the other a crying baby – later seen being comforted by its mother. In the supporting materials for professionals, only mothers’ mental health is considered,  professionals provide support only to mothers,  only men are violent and when addressing family violence, perpetrators are not to be engaged with.  When the resource refers to a dad talking to his baby in the womb, it is a mother, not a father, who describes this.

As outlined in our new blog, numerous internationally respected studies make clear the importance of secure father-child attachment – including, for example, work by Dr Paul Ramchandani of Imperial College London which shows that ‘disengaged and remote father-child interactions as early as the third month of life’ predict behaviour problems in children when they are older[1] and US research showing that ‘verbal exchanges between fathers and their infants and between mothers and their infants each, independently and uniquely, predict pre-schoolers’ social competence and lower aggression’[2].

‘Resources for parents, especially those developed by ‘experts’, should take such evidence into account as a matter of course’ said Fatherhood Institute joint chief executive and head of research Adrienne Burgess: ‘Maternity and other services for young families still act as if dads are an optional extra, when in fact they play a central role and should be clearly addressed, alongside mothers.  New fathers as well as new mothers need to be equipped, for the sake of their children, with the tools they need to engage sensitively with their newborns.   A resource like this which quite literally ignores fathers not only fails to equip them, but sends out the message that only mothers count.  Among other things, this places an unfair burden of mothers, 1 in 6 of whom already suffer from clinical levels of depression during their baby’s first year.’

The FI has written to the WIFWU, and the other funders of the resource, to urge them to correct the unhelpful gender stereotyping which underpins it. The FI is also inviting dads, mums and others to share their experiences of other resources as well as maternity and early years services that ignore, exclude or marginalise fathers – via the FI Facebook page or on Twitter using the hashtag #dadsexcluded and including the FI Twitter name @fatherhoodinst.

Notes to editors

The Getting to Know Your Baby website is at http://www.your-baby.org.uk/.

Adrienne Burgess is available for interview or comment. Please organise this via Head of Communications Jeremy Davies on 0780 371 1692 or j.davies@fatherhoodinstitute.org.

References

[1] Ramchandani, P. G., Domoney, J., Sethna, V., Psychogiou, L., Vlachos, H. and Murray, L., 2013.  Do early father-infant interactions predict the onset of externalising behaviours in young children? Findings from a longitudinal cohort study.  Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 54(1), pp. 56-64 [2] Feldman, R., Bamberger, E. and Kanat-Maymon, Y., 2013.  Parent-specific reciprocity from infancy to adolescence shapes children’s social competence and dialogical skills.  Attachment and Human Development, 5(4),pp.407-23

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