Being Dad

17 of the biggest myths about fatherhood – BUSTED

Avatar photo
Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

Don’t believe the tripe when it comes to fatherhood – the expert-sourced truth about your new life as a Dad is much more revealing. We all know what dads are good at, right?

Bringing home the bacon, painting the nursery, giving kids what for when they step out of line. And we know their failings – they’re all fingers and thumbs with babies, are bored silly with kids until it’s time for parks and pools, and are rubbish at the multitasking that’s an essential part of childcare. Actually, many of us think these things are true because ‘they’ tell us so, along with plenty of other dad-myths that should be consigned to the dustbin of history. In fact, dads are brilliant with babies, love hanging out with kids of all ages and can multitask just as well as women. And men have always been far more hands-on, capable, loving parents than wider society gave them credit for. To set the record straight – and in defence of that much-maligned creature commonly known as a dad – we’ve busted 17 of the biggest myths about fathers and fatherhood. So next time ‘they’ pipe up you can tell them exactly where to stick it…

Mums always make better parents

Reality: Right, let’s start with a whopper of a parenting myth, shall we? The received wisdom is that mums do it better than dads. But that really isn’t the case according to parenting coach Sue Atkins, from “It’s not true that mums make better parents or that it comes naturally to them and not dads. Having a baby is like starting a new job – you learn as you go along, and that applies equally to mums and dads.”

Men don’t want children as much as women

Reality: Another classic – the one which says all blokes have to be dragged kicking and screaming into fatherhood. Adrienne Burgess, author of Fatherhood Reclaimed, says men are just as broody as women, especially when they’re older. “Men may be less keen on the idea when they’re younger, because they worry more about the cost. But by the age of 40 just as many men as women want kids.”

Men are insensitive to babies when they need something

Reality: Rhino-skinned blokes will happily slouch in front of the telly, watching football match after football match and endless repeats of Top Gear, while their hungry/wet/gassy little’un screams the place down, right? Wrong. Very, very wrong. “Dads can be super-sensitive to babies – just as sensitive as mothers,” says Burgess. Now here comes the science bit. She cites research that shows men’s hearts race just as fast as women’s do when they hear a baby screaming and crying; and when a man bottle-feeds an infant he does so just as sensitively as a woman would do. Whatever they say, we always knew that when it comes to bottles, us dads are absolute masters.

You should spend all your free time with kids

Reality: This one is only half-myth. It’s great to spend lots of time with your offspring – but quality matters more than quantity. Kids thrive on attention and interest, so it’s far better to spend an hour playing (and enjoying) a game with them than a whole Saturday texting your mates from the sofa while they watch TV. You also need to recharge your batteries after a tough week, otherwise you’ll burn out and your dad-skills will be nonexistent.

Dads are ham-fisted with babies

Reality: With a little practice and encouragement, dads can be brilliant with babies too. “When a baby’s very small, dads can feel a bit cack-handed with the nappy-changing and feeding,” says Sue Atkins. “But get stuck in – ask your partner how to do it if you’re unsure. Remember that it’s not because you’re inadequate or a bad father – everyone needs a little help at first.”

Mums need support, not dads

Reality: From the early days of pregnancy onwards, mums get lots of support from family, friends and health professionals. That’s as it should be – but don’t men need help too? Absolutely, says child psychologist Dr Richard Woolfson of Tesco’s Baby & Toddler Club. “When a baby arrives all parents have L-plates on, no matter how much they’ve read, so it’s nonsense to say dads don’t need support. Just like mums, they need all the help and advice they can get.”

Dads get bored with babies

Reality: We only get excited once they can kick a ball around, right? Erm, no. “This really is a fallacy,” says Dr Woolfson. “It’s not that dads can’t relate to babies, or aren’t interested in them, it’s just that some can’t be bothered to do it. Babies are pre-programmed to interact with us in terms of their vision, hearing and touch. And forging a bond with your baby is perhaps the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do – something most dads know and take great pleasure in.”

Dads rarely look after children

Reality: Poppycock. Unlike our dads’ generation, we invest plenty of time in our progeny. “Britain’s dads do eight times more childcare than their fathers did 30 years ago,” says Adrienne Burgess. “They do about two hours a day during the average working week, and much more at weekends. And when mums work, who do you think cares for the children? Nursery? Childminder? Grandparents? Nope – it’s dad.”

Parenting should come naturally to us when we become dads

Reality: Just as we shun the A-Z when we’re lost, dads often pour scorn on baby books, thinking it all comes naturally so we don’t need to learn a thing. “Some people are born to it, but for most parenting is quite hard,” says Sue Atkins. “The male instinct is to problem-solve and be in control, so they can be reluctant to admit that it doesn’t come naturally. Remember that mums learn to parent through advice and reading every baby book they can get their hands on – you should too.”

Dads should always deal with disciplining the children

Reality: The old threat of ‘Just wait till your dad gets home!’ is alive and well in some families although, just like every other aspect of child-rearing, there’s no reason why dads should always be the bad guys. “This is such an old-fashioned idea,” says Sue Atkins. “Disciplining a young child is all about consistency and boundaries, which can easily be applied by either parent.”

Dads can’t show love for their kids

Reality: Men and women may show their emotions differently, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have them. “Women are more able to express their emotions verbally,” says Dr Woolfson. “But that doesn’t mean dads don’t love their kids just as much – there’s no reason why fathers can’t have a dynamic emotional relationship with their child.”

Men can’t multitask

Reality: ‘They’ are always telling us women kick our butts when it comes to multitasking (rather important when you’re trying to cook/nappy-change/answer the door at the same time). Not true though, according to Adrienne Burgess. “Research shows that men are just as good at multi-tasking as women.

Dads should have all the answers

Reality: A father’s instinct is to protect his family. So when we don’t have all the answers we get a bit perturbed. “Sometimes there aren’t any hard and fast answers and not every problem can be fixed,” says Atkins. “Some things, like collicky or sleepless babies, take time to sort themselves out.”

You should buy your kids the best of everything

Reality: We all want the best for little Johnny or Jemima. And there’s nothing wrong with buying the safest car seat or most effective baby monitor. But remember that kids need your time, attention and love, not stuff. In fact, over-indulgent parenting is linked to a host of problems, including eating disorders and underachievement at school. So, especially as they get older, resist the clamour for the latest flashy gizmo – they’ll thank you for it in the end.

Dads never help out when the baby’s crying at night, letting mum do all the hard work

Reality: Lazy bleeders that we are, dads will quite happily snore their way through the night shift, while mums do all the feeding and changing, right? Wrong again, says Dr Woolfson. “This comes down to the arrangement between a father and mother about who does what. It’s easier for a dad to get involved with night feeds if a baby’s bottle-fed. But even if it’s breast-fed, mums can express milk for dads to give them.”

When it comes to the kids, mums are always far more caring than dads could ever be

Reality: Once again, this simply isn’t the case. It’s just that, as with some of the other dad-myths we’ve tried to debunk, mums tend to get far more help to be caring than dads do. As Adrienne Burgess explains: “When men and women are able to spend the same amount of time looking after babies, and given the same support, they develop childcare skills at exactly the same rate.” So there you go. Burgess adds: “That means there’s no inherent difference in how caring they are, or how well they translate that into nurturing a baby.” Another myth successfully exposed, we think you’ll agree.

Whether they’re there or not, dads don’t make much difference when the kids are growing up

Reality: Wrong, wrong, wrong. In fact, dads make a huge difference to every aspect of their children’s future happiness, including things such as self-esteem and educational achievement – in fact, the list of where dads make an impact is pretty much endless. “Young children with involved dads fit in better at nursery school, have higher IQs and fewer behaviour problems,” says Burgess. “This applies just as much to girls as it does to boys.”

This is yet another example of where extended paternity leave could make a huge difference.