Dads learn by doing

As Dads get more involved with raising children, they begin to understand what Mums have been saying for some time: raising children is a tough gig, rewarding of course, but challenging too.

To do this combined with a productive career is even tougher.

So, how come men seem to have taken so long to get the message?

Well, it's because he didn't hear the message.

It could be that men just don't hear very well, but I suspect that men in general just don't seem to learn that way. (And maybe a good number of women too - but that's another story).

Dads are beginning to realise that child-care is anything but child's play - not because of Mum's advice, but because he is getting involved.

Now Mum's advice is well-meaning, but most parents will freely admit that there is no instruction manual for raising children.

And even if there was, almost everyone would agree that it would be highly unlikely that Dad would be willing to read it!

I don’t even read the instructions before trying to put together some flat-pack from Ikea, so why am I going to go to the instruction book for raising my child? 

I like to learn by doing - not by reading the manual.

Oh and in case there is any doubt, I'm not very fond of having the manual read to me either!

We know that men are already notoriously reluctant to ask for directions. However, to be clear, when I choose not to ask for directions, it is not simply out of shyness on my part. If directions or advice are offered unsolicited, I am not likely to be very receptive!

The same goes for parenting advice.

Perhaps it is because I don't like to confronted by my own incompetence, perhaps it is ego-threatening, or perhaps I just like the challenge of solving the problem without the instruction book!

Men do learn stuff, lots of stuff, and without the instruction manual.

Men learn about parenting the same way that Mums do?

First and foremost, they learn by doing. This will almost certainly involve some trial and error - which can be tough on everyone involved when some the child scrapes some bark or breaks a limb, but it is a way of learning.

Dad (like Mum) does learn from others - but more from their example than from their advice.

So Mum take heart. Your example is important, even if your advice is, well, like the instruction manual, an unused resource!

Perhaps the most striking example offered by modern mothers to fathers is not so much in terms of how to care for the children, but rather her example in how she engages in raising children and engages in a productive career outside the home.

Huh! How is that?

Mums have shown men that child-care can be accommodated alongside other achievements – even in defiance of stereotyping and bias.

Mums have shown dads that being a parent can be accommodated along with other achievements, and even in the face of people doubting their capacity to do so.

Perhaps one of the biggest demographic changes wrought in the last century is the move of women out of the home and into the workplace. Mums (and other women in general) have proved clearly that they are quite capable of operating in the workplace. Even showing that they can break down barriers to do so if need be.

The migration of mothers to the workplace has shown Dads two things. One, career and child-rearing can both feature in your life, and so Dads are implicitly invited to participate more on the domestic front.

The second service is to show Dad the way of defying ‘invisible’ barriers that might prevent him being a participative parent. The boss, colleagues, peers may sneer at men that choose to put a high priority on rearing the children. However, as we learned in the school yard, it does not always make sense to do as your mates do.

Perhaps men (and others!) see men's specialised role in the family to be that of the 'breadwinner'.

However, just as women have rejected the overspecialisation of their sex to one role, men too might be encouraged to reject their overly specialised roles.

In sum, Dads prefer to learn by doing, so Mum, the school m'am role might not be the best approach!

However, you might like to take heart in fine example you offer to Dad, and in particular, the example of how to break through stereotyped sex specialisation that sends men to breadwinning and women to child-caring.

(If Dads are looking for some ideas on what to do, you might try Mal White's book Good Dads Great Dads. It's not an instruction manual, it's just ideas. You can get lots just from the contents page!)