Here’s why dads should be allowed into mothers’ groups
Many moms’ groups exclude fathers or don’t make them feel welcome, and these dads are here to talk about why this should change…
When Frederic C. held his firstborn son in his arms for the first time, he felt a deep sense of joy that he’d never experienced before. Little did he know that his entire world was about to be turned upside down.
A few weeks after giving birth, his wife slipped into a deep postpartum depression and Frederic was left to care for his son on his own. Thankfully, he was able to take an extended leave of absence from work, but he had no idea what he was doing because his wife was the one who’d read up on everything baby-related.
“I got some help from friends who had young kids and from my in-laws,” says Frederic. “At that time, I didn’t know how to ask for help and I didn’t know that mothers’ or parents’ groups existed. Those six months were the hardest of my life.”
When it was time for Frederic to go back to work, his wife was starting to feel better and she was able to stay at home with their son with the help of a nanny. She ended up recovering from her PPD and the couple welcomed another son nearly three years after their first.
“Circumstances were quite different the second time around,” says Frederic. “My wife was followed by a psychiatrist to make sure that she wouldn’t suffer from postpartum depression again and I had some experience as a father. Between the births of our two sons, my wife had also discovered our local mothers’ group which she attended regularly. Because I took an extended leave from work the second time as well, we thought that it would be a great opportunity to participate in the group together. But when we showed up, I was told that I wasn’t welcome because it was for mothers only. We tried to convince the person in charge without success, so I went back home with my son.”
Upset by what she considered a form of discrimination, Frederic’s wife presented an official request to the group that fathers be allowed to attend. “They discussed it in a meeting and it was agreed that fathers could participate in most of their activities,” says Frederic. “Some are still for mothers only because of the topics that are discussed, but I’m glad that we contributed to the acceptance of fathers in the group.”
No boys allowed
Frederic’s experience isn’t an isolated one. A popular San Francisco Mothers Group has a strict no-men policy that sees hopeful fathers refused on a regular basis. In a 2011 interview, the group’s spokeswoman said, “The group maintains that women’s ability to be frank and comfortable in their interactions would be inhibited by the presence of men.”
And it’s clear that the group’s position hasn’t budged in the past seven years. When John G. tried to plead his case to the group late last year, he received the same formulaic refusal via email. “I told them that I was a gay dad who was struggling on my own because my partner works long hours and that I could really use some support,” he says. “But they didn’t care. If that’s not discrimination, I don’t know what is.”
According to Kenneth Braswell, Executive Director of Fathers Incorporated, a not-for-profit organization that promotes responsible fatherhood and mentoring, this situation is all too common.
“Fathers desire to be accepted as equal parents,” he says. “The societal notion is that we don’t care, are unavailable and not capable. While we certainly have our problems to solve across the board regarding parenting, the indictment that dads are not willing to step up is not fair or productive. The best and most effective work includes the voices and perspectives of the unheard – in this case, fathers.”
Dads need support too
Statistics relating to paternal postpartum depression (PPPD) show that neglecting the emotional needs of fathers can have dire consequences. A study review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 10 percent of men experience PPPD during their partner’s pregnancy or the first year of their child’s life. This number jumps to 26 percent in the three- to six-month postpartum period.
So, why aren’t we offering dads the support they so desperately need? According to John G., our society still views fathers as second-rate parents and this attitude needs to change if we want them to reach their full potential.
“I didn’t suffer from postpartum depression officially, but I think I was borderline,” he says. “I ended up joining my local chapter of City Dads Group and it helped me so much. We meet up for playdates, have a laugh, go on dads’ nights out. I finally found the community I was looking for, but I still think that the barriers between ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ need to be broken down. If we want dads to be involved, nurturing role models, we need to get rid of the term ‘mothers’ group’ once and for all and replace it with ‘parents’ group’. We’re all in this together and we all deserve the same support.”