There are several tried and tested stereotypes when it comes to what constitutes modern motherhood in the UK. But at the same time depictions of fathers are often even more reductive. Men are often showcased as hopeless and at sea when it comes to family life. They’re unable to cope. The media and world of advertising rarely addresses them as part of the family unit. They’re almost always further down the pecking order with Mum at the top.
I work part-time at a research agency called Flamingo and I recently spoke to a group of Dad’s at to get their perspective on the world of modern fatherhood. How are things changing and shifting?
One of the key themes that came up was just how positive the experience of being a Dad really is. Yet often the world of advertising shows the Dad’s world to be one of angst and chaos. And yes it’s definitely a challenge and it can feel relentless and unrewarding. But it’s also joyful and full of amazing moments. The modern Dad is carving out a role for himself distinct from previous generations. He’s more hands on, shares the key parenting tasks and has a full and multi-dimensional role. There’s no longer such a strong delineation between the sexes. In many relationships the roles are interchangeable. It’s all about a parenting ‘team’.
On the flipside of this the modern Dad doesn’t feel like he’s treated as an equal. More often than not the focus is on Mum. They usually take the longer maternity leave (things are changing with new government legislation) and there’s also an expectation that it’ll take a while for things to ‘get back to normal’. Dads meanwhile are expected to swing back into action. They’ve undergone a radical transformation but this isn’t reflected in the way culture speaks to them. They’re expected to carry on regardless. At times it feels like they’re keeping their new status under wraps.
On a positive note, Dads often find that their relationship with work has changed for the good. They’re more motivated, focused and want to work harder and achieve more. They’ve got children at home to support and want to use their time as efficiently as possible. There’s less downtime in the office. When they’re working they’re using their time as meaningfully as they can.
The men I spoke to would like to see more profiles of successful men who are fathers. They’d like to read about the personal side of home and family life. The bias that exists in the media doesn’t just aggravate women (who feel there is too much focus on childcare arrangements when they want to talk about work) but also impacts on men who want to see fairer, more realistic depictions of success.
More often than not Dad’s in adverts are shown as incompetent, ridiculous and unable to cope with the functional and emotional demands of children. But this isn’t the reality of modern fatherhood where the roles are interchangeable and much of the parenting task is split both ways.
The Dove ‘Real Dad Moments’ campaign in the US is one that succeeds in showcasing small yet significant moments of fatherhood. The Dads in the campaign aren’t shown as incompetent. Instead their role is all encompassing (from putting on clothes in the morning through to toilet training). They not only act out the traditional role of discipline and ‘rough and tumble’ play. They inhabit a broader more emotional space. Importantly this campaign celebrates Dads and makes them feel good about themselves. Increasingly Mums and Dads are playing interchangeable roles – it’s not so clear-cut anymore. And there’s a need to show ‘parents’ as a team and remember that both contribute in meaningful ways.
Above all it’s time to celebrate Dads – make them feel good, speak to them in a non-patronising tone of voice and showcase their positive and multi-dimensional parenting skills.