10 April 2024

Can we please stop using the term ‘hands-on Dad’?

| Zoya Patel
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Happy father and toddler boy child little son playing with wooden blocks in children room at home

Tasmanian tigers, Yetis and fathers playing with their children – it’s not as rare as our language indicates. Photo: Anikona.

A curious thing happened when I had my baby – other women, especially those of an older generation, started telling me about how ‘hands-on’ their male partners were/are as parents.

“Your father was really hands-on,” Mum told me proudly.

A family friend went to great pains to impress on me just how ‘involved’ her husband was, even doing night feeds and changing nappies. A friend my own age gushed about how her husband ‘helps’ with the baby, even though he’s back at work.

I have to admit these comments have left me bewildered and a little frustrated. Would anyone refer to a mother as being ‘hands-on’ or ‘helpful’ in caring for their own child?

I think we desperately need to change the way we talk about fathers and their relationships with their children (in the context of heterosexual relationships) – not only to normalise men parenting but also to avoid trivialising the role fathers play in their children’s lives.

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Frankly, I find it offensive to see my partner’s role reduced to a novelty. Not only because I want the importance of his parenting to be recognised, but also because I equally want to normalise mothers not carrying the overwhelming caring and mental load associated with children.

I want to continue to have time for my work, hobbies and friends as much as my partner does and to balance these things with caring for my child. That’s only feasible if we share the load.

However, further to that, I want to see society value and accept fathers in their role as parents. This will never happen if we keep speaking about it using language that sidelines their contributions.

I would be lying if I claimed that everything in my household is genuinely equal when it comes to parenting. I have more flexible work and, therefore, spend more time with my son. I have always been the person who coordinates groceries and household supplies, and now that includes baby things. I coordinate his wardrobe, put his name on waitlists for childcare, manage most of his medical appointments, etc.

Some of this is personality-based, but there’s definitely an underlying link to gender norms that we’ve both internalised – after all, our personalities aren’t created in a vacuum.

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In the couples around me, I see this same pattern emerge with sometimes an added element of mistrust and weaponised incompetence. Friends admit that they take on the lion’s share of kid tasks because they don’t trust their male partners to perform the tasks to the same standard.

There’s also an impulse that some of us feel as new mothers to be the ones to manage the baby all the time – I find myself automatically assuming that I’ll feed, bathe and settle my son at night while my partner usually cooks, but I never actually asked my partner if he was happy with that division of labour.

So there’s no doubt that the gendered division of parenting is influenced by more than just the way we talk about it. But it’s still a good place to start if we want to change the narrative and support more equal caring roles.

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The interesting part of being a male parent is that other males see what you do and praise. Enjoy and have a great time raising the kids. Yes its hard work.

Women tend to bond over how much they can criticise the situation. Blame the kid, blame the dad, blame x,y,z. It seems to be the defacto introduction for female parents to say how bad it is being them. The one who is most bad gets to lead the group.

The author has made a career out of being offended.
She is a serial offendee.
Next week she will write about something else that offends her.

Gregg Heldon10:17 am 12 Apr 24

Frankly, I find the word Partner offensive to use when talking about the love of your life. When I hear th word partner, I immediately think of a business arrangement. My Wife is my Wife, and my life, and has been for 31 years.

An interesting perspective, different from many women’s views. Partner signifies equal power in a relationship, whilst wife is too often used to signify unequal power, possession, ownership and even control, as that is its history in most cultures as well as in linguistics.

Gregg Heldon5:41 pm 12 Apr 24

Not in my marriage. Maybe in yours, but not mine.

Gregg Heldon5:42 pm 12 Apr 24

Not in my marriage. Maybe in yours, but not in mine.

Oh dear Gregg, you did miss my point. The historical basis of the term ‘wife’ was the issue to which I referred, as well as being focussed on many women’s views rather than yours. No need to take it personally. I assume you’re a bloke rather than a woman.

Gotta love Lynn Stape’s highly relevant comments!

If Zoya tried to understand other perspectives instead of always criticising them, she might better appreciate the value of alternative perspectives that highlight the progress we’ve made historically.

Her contradictory article acknowledges that it is still not normal for all men to be ‘hands on’ or equal in their involvement in the family. This term does not sideline the value of fathers, instead recognising those who are more involved than others, including those from both past and present generations. We encourage them by praising them as this is the most effective way of increasing the behaviour rather than by criticising those who fall short.

Zoya might do well to learn a bit of psychology instead of thinking that her lectures have a positive impact. They don’t. They just expose her prejudices and biases, which appear to be numerous and ever growing.

If men need “praising” with aggrandising language in order to contribute equally to looking after their own child I would think Zoya has several good points in her article, lol.

devils_advocate6:46 pm 11 Apr 24


As if men are ever “praised” for “balancing their career with having a family”

She does have some good points to make, but being critical does not help advance the cause. We all need to be recognised for what we do, so that we know that we’re valued. Why are so many people afraid of giving praise?

When anyone (male/female, parent or not) does a good job, praise can be generously given to show appreciation, not because it’s necessary but because it rewards and encourages the behaviour. It’s the smart thing to do. If more managers realised this, they’d get better performance from their staff. The same applies to parents with their kids.

devils_advocate1:26 pm 11 Apr 24

Might be because the current laws and entitlements for the vast majority of workplaces favour the mother as the primary caregiver

In most households someone has to work to help the lights on

As they say, men have obligations and women have options

Having good fathers to compliment good mothers is a great idea. In order to get that happening, though, some very major changes would need to start happening in society. To begin with, the divorce rate is atrocious and feminism, said to be for the lifting up of women, is skewed in that it exaggerates the hardships women face/d, makes light of those which relate to men, and is only trying to lift women up by bringing men down. Why this is happening and how to stop it needs to be understood. If it could be, I believe it would contribute greatly to a healthier society. I do not have much faith however in our leaders’ interest or ability in doing this

Capital Retro10:35 am 11 Apr 24

Have you ever seen a movie called The Truman Show, Zoya?

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