Well-travelled writer Shani Bishop shares her opinion on dad's roles in parenting today.
Text: Shani Bishop
Men's roles have changed in the UK, this change has taken place within my lifetime. Since returning from Denmark, the changes are more noticeable.
My mother was at home when I was young, and my father worked. This was standard for most families. Fathers generally didn't change nappies or push buggies. According to a recent British Social Attitudes survey, more than 60% of British people now believe that men and women should contribute to the household income. Less than 20% now believe that men should work and women should look after the home and family. While these attitudes are less prevalent now, they still prevail in some quarters. When I got married, both my mother and my mother in law thought I would give up work (or work part-time) once the children came along.
Things have really changed when I look at my friends and their relationships. One friend has a very balanced relationship where chores, childcare and work are equally shared. She feels proud of this as she works 4 days a week and is fortunate to be able to do this. Another female friend is the breadwinner, while her partner looks after their son full-time. Their situation is unusual in that the roles are entirely reversed. He is happy to take this role and looks after their child and a grandparent who lives with them. When he used to go to playgroups, he was often the only man and struggled to fit in.
"With more parents working from home, dads have far more opportunities to be involved."
The school gate
The main change is at the school gate. Dads were already picking up and dropping off, but covid has accelerated this change. The juggling of roles over the past two years has caused everyone to look at how their lives are arranged and question it. With more parents working from home, dads have far more opportunities to be involved. My husband loves doing the school run because of the time he has alone with our youngest. Many of the dads picking up are the primary breadwinners, but this is no longer a barrier because of the flexibility work provides now.
Men of my generation are expected to change nappies, collect children from nursery and participate fully. I think the shifting of attitudes does cause problems for men. The desire to provide for a family is very strong within men here, and so when roles are reversed, it can be difficult.
Whilst I started reading every day to my kids when they were little, my husband took on this role later on. Many studies show boys struggle with reading, so we felt this was important. I think it's important for boys to see that men can fulfil many roles in life so they can try different things.
Whereas my father's generation generally left the supervision of children to the mothers, I noticed now that men take equal responsibility. Of course, my father changed my son's nappies and was happy to be involved, but I think he was unusual among men of his generation. He also shares all of the household tasks, which I think is unusual again.
Recent research from the London School of Economics shows that the lockdowns caused some roles to be reversed while others were reinforced. For example, in the first UK lockdown, many men were furloughed, so they took an increased role in childcare and homeschooling. This may cause a shifting pattern over a more extended period which can only be good for everyone!