My experience as a father, like many modern fathers, who want to be more involved in the care of their children has opened my eyes to the need for better support for fathers. That’s why this year my new year’s resolution is to do more to help make sure fathers have the best support possible to be the best dads possible.
The role of fathers in society is changing but more needs to be done to help them spend more time caring for their children and sharing household responsibilities fairly. I have set up the Better Daddies campaign to make the case for more support to help dads be better dads.
The Better Daddies Charter sets out areas where action is needed to support fathers to be better fathers. This includes. better parental leave for fathers, more help for fathers to take it up and more support for fathers to work-part time and flexible. We are also think there should be a review of legislation to consider whether changes are needed to better protect fathers from discrimination. For example, looking at whether fatherhood should be a “protected characteristic” under the Equality Act.
Other areas where we would like to see action include more parenting and relationship support for parents to help them be the best parents and partners possible, more specialised support for single fathers to help them with the particular challenges they face and better mental health support for dads. It is a tragedy that suicide is a major killer of men, including middle-aged men.
We also want to ensure that public services, such as maternity wards, are designed with fathers in mind. Finally, we want to see cultural change, so that things like men taking longer periods of parental leave and working more flexibly are normalised.
These changes would not only be good for fathers but for their children and partners too. Children would have more opportunity to build a relationship with their father. Engagement of fathers with children is linked to a plethora of benefits, including health and education outcomes. In addition, high levels of father involvement are correlated with higher levels of sociability, confidence, and self-control in children.
Greater involvement of fathers in childcare is good for women and gender equality too. It will mean that the burden of childcare is more evenly shared between parents, providing more scope for women to work full time or longer hours, if they wish, have more leisure time or study. It should also reduce discrimination against women in the workforce, as the amount of time men and women take off for parenthood becomes more even.
Increasing the involvement of fathers in childcare, while an idea that many would support, is not straightforward. Research for the European Commission has found that “despite the positive effect of paternity and parental leave uptake by fathers on a number of economic, social and demographic outcomes, the current uptake of leave by fathers across Europe is low.” Possible solutions include making more parental leave non-transferable by fathers and ensuring better pay for parental leave.
My hope for 2020 is that it brings a wide-ranging discussion of the changing role of fatherhood and how to help fathers be the best dads possible.
Omar Salem is the founder of Better Daddies.