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Home > Child Custody & Divorce > Article

Caregiver

by Andrew Peterson

As a new father myself, I often struggle against the assumption that the care of children is women's work which fathers are somehow unable to do. And in my work as a counselor in training, I talk with many men who are increasingly aware that the disengaged style of fathering they grew up with is inadequate for their children, their partners and themselves. They want change.

Twice a month I meet with several fathers here in Missoula for a fledgling father's support group. These are men who are working hard to be involved in their children's lives. And at every meeting we ask ourselves the same question: why don't more men come out for these support group meetings? Each of us knows other fathers who have expressed the desire for just such a group. In fact, almost every father I know thinks that it's a great idea to have a place where men can talk together about the struggles and joys of parenthood.

But for some reason it's extremely difficult for men to take that first step, to seek or to create the supportive network that we need in order to claim a fully-engaged role in the raising of our children.

Here's the problem: because of the assumption that raising children is women's work, our culture doesn't take seriously men's experience within families. And for many men this assumption about men's non-involvement becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When their efforts to participate in the care of their children are met with amusement, when their desire to trade a piece of their earning power for time at home is met with threatened disbelief, it's far too easy for men to throw up their hands and just get out of the way.

Men can change this. But it will take a conscious effort.

Personally, I refuse to give up the right to raise my child in the best way I know how. And I've made a commitment - which I hope other fathers will share - to challenge the assumptions about fathers' non-involvement whenever I come across them. I take issue with the unspoken assumption in so many depictions of parenting that fathers will not be a part of the basic nurturing of their young children. I make it known that I'm unhappy that the few images I see of fathers parenting young children usually make men out to be cute, fumbling, buffoons. And I make a point of being an active, nurturing father when I'm out in public.

The way I see it, if you don't find yourself reflected in the images of your culture, you've got no choice but to create those images yourself.

If men are willing to make the sacrifice that raising children requires, if we can risk challenging the assumption that our experience as fathers is irrelevant, if we finally start demanding our place at the changing table, then the culture will slowly be forced to recognize and respond to that change. It's a change which will benefit not only ourselves, but also our partners, and especially our children.



Andrew Peterson is a free-lance writer and a graduate student in counseling at the University of Montana. He lives in Missoula.

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