“He's a wonderful dad and co-parent,” Emma Prestwich writes of her husband, pictured here with their eight-month-old daughter. (Photograph by Emma Prestwich)

Topics: Ethical Living | Opinion

We still exclude and undervalue dads. That hurts moms too.

Our insistence on seeing mothers as the default parents isn't good for anyone


Last year, when my husband and I began sharing the news that I was pregnant, we noticed something surprising. People generally only ever asked about me. Pregnancy is a unique burden for the birthing parent, but few seemed curious how my husband felt about the prospect of being a dad. Was he nervous about the birth? Worried about me? Reading as much as he could to prepare for the biggest change of his life?

The trend continued after our daughter was born last fall. In the haze of newborn care, someone even made a joke about how great he was at helping out. At medical appointments, professionals addressed me instead of him. When I went back to work last month, he took parental leave. Since then, he says several people have asked him how I’m coping.

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He isn’t the only dad who gets left out. Many baby programs are called “mommy and me” groups. Parenting books specifically address moms and social media is awash with references to “mamas” and the unique emotional bonds they have with their children. Many men’s rooms still don’t have change tables. Ask any parent who the school calls when their kid is sick. One day, while looking online for breastfeeding resources, I came across a blog that suggested men could support their partners by making some sandwiches.

My pregnancy and my daughter’s birth were fairly textbook, but even the prototypical version is tough. During our stay in the hospital, my husband handled most of the baby care while I lay mostly immobile on the bed. While the baby and I tried to figure out how to breastfeed, he did everything else, from finessing our cloth-diapering regime to researching sleep problems. Between dealing with bottle rejection and trying to rock her to sleep, she has screamed at him far more than me. She is only eight months old, but he and I have already both spent plenty of nights getting up every two hours. In short, he’s a wonderful dad and co-parent.

As society has started to move away from gender roles, more men are devoted dads who shoulder as much of the parenting load as they can. Raising a small child is all-consuming for everyone. Research shows that hands-on parenting rewires men’s and women’s brains in some common ways — one study found that primary caregivers have a similar level of activation in the emotional processing network associated with vigilance, motivation and reward regardless of their gender. So why do we still ignore fathers or talk about them like glorified babysitters?

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The patriarchy is largely to blame. Men are not encouraged to want children or to embrace the responsibility of raising them, and parenting knowledge is usually only ever passed down to women. Many men still take very little or no parental leave. In Canada, where fathers have access to significantly more time off than in some other countries, just under half of dads in one Statistics Canada survey took parental or paternity leave for five weeks or less. Patriarchal norms teach mothers to see themselves as the experts in raising their children, so they leave their partners out. Women then end up taking on a disproportionate amount of emotional labour in addition to their normal responsibilities while their husbands languish in learned helplessness.

It’s also hard to underestimate the continued potency of the “maternal instinct,” which we now know is largely a pseudoscientific, sexist myth.

“It sustains outdated ideas about masculinity that teaches fathers that they are secondary — and encourages mothers to see them that way, too,” Chelsea Conaboy wrote in a 2022 New York Times essay. “It undermines the rights and recognition of same-sex couples and transgender and nonbinary parents, whose ability to care for their children is often questioned.”

An unfair burden falls on women because we made it this way. So let’s start including dads in our conversations about parenting — it may shape the next generation for the better.


Emma Prestwich is Broadview’s digital and United Church in Focus editor.


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