The XX Factor

“Family” Centers Need To Put Dad in the Picture (Literally)

I gave birth to our first child in a downtown Manhattan hospital, and from the moment they insisted on putting my name and my name only on our son’s wristband, the assumption was clear: mother’s baby, father’s maybe. My husband might be around for tomorrow’s baby-care class, or he might not. I was the one they were after-and new research shows that that attitude increases the chance that I was the only one they were going to get.

A piece in today’s NYT suggests that many of the agencies set up to support families with small children may claim to be family resources, but are effectively women’s centers, staffed and set up for mothers, not parents. On the one hand, it feels like an excuse-men skip the parenting classes at a family resource center not because they’d rather watch the World Series (generally also the choice of their father, and his father before him), but because the walls are pink-but it also makes sense. Parents of young kids are often vulnerable and insecure about their abilities-and if the supposed authority figures are suggesting, in ways great and small, that this is mom’s job, then who is a hesitant young dad to argue with them?

The meat of the reported study lies in the need for engaging both parents in supporting one another’s nurturing and discipline style, an effort that benefits from getting both partners in for regular group discussions of parenting issues (which my local YMCA called a “mom’s group”). But you can’t have a supportive discussion if you’re not there, and part of the effort to get dads in should include outfitting offices as though dads were already in-dads in the pictures in the lobby, Car and Driver magazines on the tables, and letters addressed to both parents. It’s one of those small shifts that could make a big difference.