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Frankly Fatherhood – Dad Shaming

Not that long ago, I saw an endearing photo of Daniel Craig (James Bond) carrying his baby daughter in a wrap-around carrier. I smiled thinking about the positive example he’s setting and how meaningful it is to see major celebrities as engaged dads. And then I read the first comment under the photo: #emasculatedBond. I sighed. Soon after, I caught myself in the downward spiral of social media comments and dozens of unfortunate examples of dad-shaming.

Much has been written about mom-shaming in the media. Moms seem to be under the unrelenting and judgemental microscope the moment they become pregnant. They are raked over the coals for almost every decision they make – from pregnancy diets, breastfeeding, and going back to work; to dressing, feeding and disciplining their children. Yes, moms have it pretty bad. They are getting shamed from the media, from their families, and worst of all, from fellow moms.

On the other hand, there have been many positive strides in fatherhood in the last decade. We are seeing dads involved and very active in everyday parenting. More fathers are taking parental leaves, pushing strollers, volunteering in schools, and yes, carrying their babies in public. So to hear that dads are being ridiculed for their parenting decisions is very disappointing.

The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Chicago is studying this phenomenon and a recent survey shows that 44% of the dad-shaming comes from the child’s other parent. I suppose that makes sense since our partner is closest to us when we are around our kids. We’re all guilty of stepping in when we feel our spouse isn’t handling a parenting situation “correctly” and we’ve all barked unsolicited advice in the heat of a child-rearing argument. These make for the harshest of criticisms as they undercut the concept of parents working as a team. This kind of judgement implies that one parent – stereotypically mom – knows more about childcare than dad does. It’s no surprise that some dads surveyed said they felt less confident in their abilities to parent and it made them want to be less involved with their children.

Other reported sources of dad-shaming included the child’s grandparents (24%), strangers and social media (10%), friends (9%), and teachers/health care providers (5%). Discipline was the number one reason for being criticized, followed by being too rough, not paying enough attention, and meal choices.

Perhaps at the very root of shaming, there are some good intentions. We all want what’s best for kids and when we see something we think is wrong, our knee-jerk reaction might not come out as intended. I speak for all dads when I say that we are far from perfect parents. Many of us didn’t have ideal role-model fathers. We are learning the ropes as we go and we all want to be better. The punitive lens of criticism hurts us, and our relationship with our kids. Mom- and dad-shaming needs to stop and it starts with each one of us. Instead of using a judgemental tone, let’s make a more positive effort to discuss our different parenting styles and come up with the best solutions for our kids. We don’t have to put each other down to make a point and we can focus on helping each other be better parents. After all, we’re in this together!

Frank Emanuele is a proud father of two boys, a special education teacher, and a director of Dad Club London.


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