Peggy Drexler Ph.D.

Our Gender, Ourselves

Where Are All the Fathers’ Clubs?

Moms’ Clubs are the last holdouts of gender-specific parenting

Posted Sep 25, 2013

There are thousands of mothers’ clubs across the country, and in theory, that’s a good thing. Moms’ groups exist to offer support to moms and moms-to-be; a group of been-there parents who can answer questions and relay their own experiences related to being pregnant, giving birth, and raising kids. For many stay-at-home mothers, especially, mom’s groups can stave off feelings of isolation and provide a valuable network for connecting with other like-minded parents and kids through playgroups and other activities. Which may be why they’re so popular: The International Moms Club (www.momsclub.org) represents more than 50,000 members in more than 1,000 chapters, while a recent BabyCenter survey found that 37 percent of the site’s moms belong to a mothers’ group.

The problem, however, is that most mothers’ clubs represent only one half of parents—at least in name. Though most mothers’ clubs aren’t open exclusively to women, and aren’t populated as such, they largely remain “moms’ clubs,” perhaps one of the last holdouts of gender-specific parenting.

While a few dads’ clubs do exist, they’re rare—and they don’t serve the same all-encompassing purposes as their for-moms counterparts, tending instead to be groups meant to encourage fathers to volunteer at schools or within other organizations. Or they’re online-only resources, like fatherhood.org, which does less to connect parents and their children with one another than to lobby for the existence of fathers in children’s lives. Important—but not the same thing.

This overwhelming prevalence of moms clubs—versus parents’ clubs or families’ clubs or anything else we could more accurately call them—only serves to reinforce the notion that child raising is the primary responsibility of the mom. For organizations so committed to helping support mothers, this seems rather counterproductive.

In some households, of course, mothers are the primary caretakers and, yes, deserve much support from others in their community. That support can come from other moms. It can also come from dads, relatives, and neighbors. But what mothers’ clubs, named as such, don’t take into account are the increasing number of stay-at-home dads, who also require recognition, support, and connection. Full-time fathers often find themselves wrestling with the same issues of isolation and boredom that have long been the complaints of stay-at-home mothers. They have just as many questions about child rearing. They are still a minority, but a growing minority, to be sure: The number of stay-at-home fathers—about 154,000, according to the 2010 Census—is on the rise, with an estimated 16% of preschoolers being cared for by Dad while Mom is at work.

Perhaps I’m nitpicking. Of course, dads—stay-at-home and otherwise—aren’t without support. There are many resources for them, from playgroups to group counseling to dedicated blogs with titles like “At Home Dad” and “Dad Stays Home.” They even have their own convention, held annually in Kansas City. And maybe a name is just a name. But if we’re going to encourage a society that embraces equal opportunity parenting, change our views on who shares in the responsibility of raising a child, and recognize the evolving role of fathers in their children’s lives and diversity in the family structure, we need to be thoughtful when referring to the organizations in which all types of parents do, or should, take part.

Some organizations are already doing this: North of Boston, the Newburyport Mothers’ Club recently changed its name to the Newburyport Mothers and Families Club to better reflect its members and society at large, while the gender-neutral Parents’ Club of Palo Alto and Menlo Park, in California, recognizes its more than 3,000 members equally.

So yes, some are already doing so. But maybe some isn’t enough.

Peggy Drexler, Ph.D. is a research psychologist, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Weill Medical College, Cornell University and author of two books about modern families and the children they produce. Follow Peggy on Twitter and Facebook and learn more about Peggy at www.peggydrexler.com

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