'Mums' group' mentality excluding new dads, study finds

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

First time dads are missing out on important advice and support given to mums in new parent groups, research has found.

Lead researcher Norma Barrett, a lecturer in Public Health and Health Promotion at Deakin University, examined the barriers to mums and dads attending new baby parenting groups and discovered that men were still vastly under represented.

As part of the study, recently published in the journal Nursing and Health Sciences, Ms Barrett interviewed a group of first-time mothers in Warrnambool, Victoria, about their experiences and what they thought stopped men from attending these groups.

"First-time parents of either gender were actually invited to participate in the study, but tellingly only women volunteered to do so," Ms Barrett said.

"These mums told us that parents group was an important support for them, but was not accessed by their male partner."

Many respondents said that there were a number of barriers stopping men from attending parents groups. These included the groups still colloquially referred to as a "mums' group", most sessions scheduled during typical work hours and the invitation to participate being sent directly to the mother.

And when men did attend class, they were often felt discouraged to keep attending as they were out-numbered by women.

"Sadly, based on what the participants told us, the fathers who did express an interest in parents groups quickly realised it was a female dominated space and stopped attending," Ms Barrett said. 

But she said it was crucial fathers were actively included in parenting support services.


"Fathers are no longer simply the household breadwinners," she said.

"They are very active parents in contemporary households, often sharing the child rearing load with mothers also working outside the home.

"We need to move away from the idea of a 'mums group'. That means explicitly inviting fathers to attend, scheduling session times that suit working parents and ensuring that facilitators actively encourage father participation."

Ms Barrett said it was also important to recognise that in Australia, more than 18 per cent of lone parents are male and the number of same-sex parents is growing.

"Opportunities for some segregated sessions could be investigated if that was identified as better suiting certain needs, but it's not okay for dads to continue to be left out altogether," she said.

Increasing male engagement and providing additional support and education services for men in the early stages of their parenting journey will help the whole family.

"Empowering father's participation in parenting groups could be a significant opportunity to increase engagement of a large male population in health services," Ms Barrett said.

"This may not only have benefits for individual men, and run off benefits for their families, but over time could also have a generational impact with male engagement in services becoming the new norm."

Adelaide father of one, Matt said he attended a couple of parent sessions and felt supported during the process.

"We attended one birthing half day, and I did a fathers only one evening," he said.

"I found it pragmatically helpful but the coach was particularly good. It was a good experience with a group of about 15.

"I think we wanted reassurance, and the best parts of the sessions were telling you what to expect and almost allowing you to see what is coming."

As well as increasing paternity leave, which would make accessing support services easier, dads should also take steps to push for change.

"My view is we don't break demographics down enough when talking about parenting groups," Matt said.

"There is clearly an element of workplace pressures and hours playing a role in some sections, additionally I think there's an increasing role in more inner city experiences.

"Workforce flexibility is the primary factor, but this needs to, perversely, be led by the fathers who seek it."