Father’s Day has come and gone, but evidently a new trend called “Daddy Shaming” remains behind, haunting an alarmingly high number of fathers, a new study says.
What is Daddy Shaming and why do so many fathers believe they’re losing the ability to raise their kids on co-parenting terms?
C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at the University of Michigan takes a thorough cut at the topic.
According to the C.S. Mott survey, “about half of fathers in a new national poll say they have faced criticism and second-guessing about their parenting choices on everything from what they feed their kids to how they play with them.”
The poll, which tracked 713 dads of children aged 0-to-13, also shows that about 25% of fathers surveyed said the criticism made them feel “less confident” as a parent, while 20% say being judged by critics makes them “less likely” to be more involved in raising their kids.
“While some fathers say criticism prompts them to seek more information about good parenting practices, too much disparagement may cause dads to feel demoralized about their parental role,” says Sarah Clark, the survey’s co-director. “Family members – especially the other parent – should be willing to acknowledge that different parenting styles are not necessarily incorrect or harmful.”
Correcting a child’s misbehavior, diet and nutrition, a child’s sleep schedule, and safety issues top the list of criticisms levied at fathers, according to the study.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the demographic likely to judge a father the most comes within the family: the mother.
“In some instances, this may be a reflection of historical gender roles, where mothers are viewed as more natural caregivers, and fathers as having limited parenting capabilities that need supervision or correction,” Clark says. “When this occurs, minor differences in parenting style can cause conflict over the ‘best’ way to parent.”
How professionals define “shaming”
Daddy shaming can manifest itself in myriad ways – all of them damaging, experts say.
“I view daddy shaming as creating Catch 22, no-win situations in which well-meaning fathers are often ostracized and emasculated for attempting to provide a loving nurturing environment for their children,” says Keith L. Brown, a motivational speaker who advocates for father’s rights.
For example, Brown cites a father who asks his 10-year-old son to take out the trash.
“Immediately, the boy’s mother chimes in, “He’s too young to take out the trash – why would you ask him to do that?” says Brown. “Not only did she “shame” the father, she did so in front of her son, thus setting the stage for the son to question his father’s authority.”
“Plus, now the child believes the mother is the one who makes the decisions when it comes to chores and other family dynamics,” he adds.
Well-intentioned fathers often find themselves in situations like the above, and when they retreat (due to constant “shaming”) they are labeled as “absentee fathers,” or “deadbeat dads,” Brown says. “Yet in reality, they are just tired of being verbally emasculated in their homes and families.”
Brown also believes that men suffer in the eyes of the public as mothers are known as more nurturing – and men are not – when it comes to raising kids.
“Historically, mothers are the ones who attend PTA meetings, take the children to practices for sports and other extra-curricular activities – while fathers attend the actual games and so forth,” he says. “There are even terms, such as ‘soccer moms,’ which further promote the idea of mothers being present and dads being absent.”
Divorce amplifies the shaming
Pre-conceived notions are a big reason why “daddy shaming” is now the norm – especially when couples divorce.
“It’s typical for fathers to leave the family and the children to remain with their mother, not the other way around,” Brown notes. “So society looks unfavorably on the father and so the trend of daddy shaming has just evolved through the years.”
Divorce definitely deepens the divide between a father and his children, and that, on its own, may cause self-induced shame on the part of a divorcing dad.
“Daddy shaming is essentially publicizing a misstep by a father when he is parenting,” says Russell Knight, owner of the Law Office of Russell D. Knight in Chicago, Il. “Usually, the mom is there to prevent these gaffes but after a divorce, dad is all on his own. In fact, after a divorce, the mom might be the one shaming him.”
A dad’s best defense against daddy shaming is the parenting plan which is entered with the divorce decree, says Knight. “The parenting plan outlines exactly what the parents are supposed to do,” he says. “The more detailed the parenting plan, the better.”
If a potentially dad shaming event happens, dads should be defensive and immediately point out that the parenting plan told him to do that, or at least didn’t tell him not to do it, Knight advises.
“Parents should constantly be updating the parenting plan so there is no further ambiguity or awkward moments,” he says.
Corporate America stepping up to the plate
To give fathers a confidence boost, some child-oriented companies are making it easier for dads to get the answers they need to be a more effective complete parent.
Exhibit “A” is Enfamil, the Parsippany, N.Y.-based infant formula brand. The company was actually formed after a baby named Teddy inspired his father, Edward Mead Johnson, to produce a science-based product for babies in need of a specialty formula.
Now, Enfamil is rolling out a national hotline, called ENfo for Dad, which is specifically designed to give fathers immediate access to Enfamil “baby specialists” to answer the most common, difficult, and embarrassing baby questions.
“As a father of four, I understand what it’s like to be a new parent – overwhelmed, excited, and unsure of whether you’re making the ‘right’ decisions,” says Patrick Sly, vice president and general manager of Infant Formula and Child Nutrition at RB, Enfamil’s parent company. “Enfamil decided to launch the hotline to help both new and seasoned dads get answers to a variety of questions to ensure that they can navigate their way through the many stages of fatherhood, stress-free, providing their babies with the best care.”
Getting a “bad rap”
Fathers who experiencing shaming from people both known and unknown deserve better – because they want to do better.
“Dads are definitely getting a bad rap, as there are so many who live their lives by a concept I developed called, ‘fathers not farther,’” says Brown. “In other words, these are the dads who not only work hard to provide for their families, they are loving, nurturing compassionate beings who show affection to their wives and children. They are also single dads who seek to co-parent effectively without displaying toxic behavior for their children to see.”
Society has made it convenient for fathers not to have feelings, as men who display emotions are often told to, “man up.”
“But that just teaches boys and young men to keep their emotions bottled up, and that can lead to destructive behavior,” Brown says. “Thus, it is past time to eradicate all the daddy shaming and begin to celebrate dads for their contributions to their families.”
Brown says it’s also time for mothers to begin to realize dads can make intelligent decisions on behalf of their children, and it’s time for society as a whole to recognize that while mothers are vital to the upbringing of children – fathers are equally important in building family foundations and norms.
“Once we eradicate daddy shaming, we will then have eradicated a sad dynamic in society – one that devalues excellent dads and men of purpose,” Brown says.