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Family Man: Involving dads in parenting

Father playing with his baby boy
Credit: iStock.com/pixdeluxe

Positive parenting by fathers has been linked to a range of good developmental outcomes for children, and as traditional family roles change, men’s mental charity Movember is leading the charge to support dads.

Research has shown that mothers have been the main participants in parenting programs with only 20 percent of participants being fathers.

“Historically, very few fathers have attended parenting programs due to three factors,” says Professor Mark Dadds, Director of the Child Behaviour Research Clinic at the University of Sydney.

“First is that fathers have felt that parenting was not a domain that they were welcome in. It wasn’t really their job.

“There used to be such a division of labour within the family unit, but this is slowly changing.

“Then there are systemic issues, such as clinics with parenting programs only open during working hours which has restricted working fathers from attending.

“Finally, there was the issue that most practitioners in this space are female and, I think, that there was a certain discomfort among them to reach out to fathers.

“They found mothers easier to speak with and easier to understand.”

Online parenting program aimed at fathers

Led by the research that parenting interventions are more effective when both parents are involved, Movember has created the world’s first online parenting program aimed to increase participation of fathers.

Family Man has been adapted from a successful program called ParentWorks that was funded by Movember and designed by Professor Dadds and his team.

“Our study showed that the father-inclusive parenting intervention was successful in reducing child behavioural problems, dysfunctional parenting, interparental conflict and as a result, improving parental mental health," says Professor Dadds.

Our study showed that the father-inclusive parenting intervention was successful in reducing child behavioural problems, dysfunctional parenting, interparental conflict and as a result, improving parental mental health.
Professor Mark Dadds

Family Man parenting program

Suf Patel, Movember’s Director of Fathers and Relationships says, “one of the reasons that fathers have not attended parenting programs is that they perceive them as being developed for mothers and are not appropriate for fathers".

"Family Man is an interactive, online program comprised of three animated ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ style modules that navigate common tricky parenting situations," he explains.

“In each 15-minute module, the main character is a father who is faced with a challenging child behaviour in different situations.”

The modules are designed to equip parents with the skills and tools they need to deal with difficult behaviour in children aged two to eight years old.

Suf explains the numerous benefits that parents experience after completing Family Man.

“Increasing ability to positively handle challenging behaviours; improving parental teamwork, stress levels and happiness; improving parenting confidence and competence; improving parents’ general coping skills and mental health; and, reducing behavioural problems in kids, which may be seen in as little as two weeks.”

While the program focuses on meeting the need to increase fathers’ involvement in parenting programs, mothers are also encouraged to participate.  

“The program still works if only one parent participates in it,” explains Professor Dadds.

“But where there are two parents and they work together as a team, you get better rates of improvements in the child’s behaviour and the parent’s competence, satisfaction, mental health, etc.

“Parenting is really a team sport.

“If you have one parent who is doing it and one who is undermining it, that terrible.

“If you have one who is involved and one who isn’t, that’s not great.

“But if you have both working as a team, it’s fantastic.”

Family Man can just as easily be used by separated families.

“Even though divorce rates in Australia are still high, parents are overcoming their relationship difficulties and are working better together as a team in the interest of their children,” says Professor Dadds.

Suf explains that Family Man can be used by each caregiver individually.

“Each caregiver can go through the course themselves; these strategies are more effective when all caregivers (parents, grandparents etc) are using the same strategies,” he says.

The dud dad - negative stereotypes

Suf explains that while the role of a father is changing within the family unit, fathers are more likely to be negatively stereotyped.

“One example is the ‘idiot dad’, who is a bit hopeless and doesn’t know how to parent," he says.

"This one is quite common in sitcoms and across advertising, for example: Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin from Family Guy or Daddy Pig from Peppa Pig.

"The alternative stereotype is the ‘dangerous, deadbeat dad’, where people tend to think of domestic violence, alcohol abuse or fathers that neglect their families."

Suf explains that as we embrace the idea of the modern father - a father who is more involved in parenting their children - we need to acknowledge that fathers can be a positive influence in their children's lives.

"Most fathers are motivated and keen to be involved, putting more time into caring for their children and they see that role as more central to their identity," he adds.

"The last thing we want to be doing is shaming parents, whether mothers or fathers.

"We need to empower them and present them with good role models, so that they can be great parents to the next generation."