Study: Most New Fathers Experience "Dad Shaming"

Most fathers have experienced “dad shaming,” according to a new national poll.

Posted Jun 12, 2019

C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health at the University of Michigan
About half of fathers (52%) say they have been criticized about their parenting style or choices.
Source: C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health at the University of Michigan

Although "mom shaming" has been openly discussed in public forums in recent years, until now, "dad shaming" has stayed under the radar. That said, a new national poll released today, "Parenting Put-Downs: How Criticism Impacts Fathers," reports that over half of all fathers (52 percent) say they've been criticized for specific parenting choices, such as play style, diet, and discipline.

The most recent National Poll on Children's Health (2019) was conducted by the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan. This poll also showed that many fathers (43 percent) believe the put-downs and criticism of their parenting style are often unfair.

"Even subtle forms of disparagement can undercut fathers' confidence or send the message that they are less important to their child's well-being," poll co-director Sarah Clark said in a statement. "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."

Among fathers who report being criticized for their parenting choices, about two-thirds (67 percent) said they were "dad shamed" about how they discipline their child, while 43 percent said they'd been scolded about the types of food or beverages they gave their child.

According to this survey, about one-third (32 percent) of fathers who experienced "dad shaming" were criticized for being too rough or not paying enough attention to their kids. As the authors of the report explain:

       "In general, fathers engage in more physical play with their children; criticism can ensue if mothers or other adults perceive that the father is not adequately protecting the child from injury. Similarly, criticism about not paying enough attention to the child likely stems from other adults assuming that the child requires closer supervision than the father is providing."

Reframing Outdated Concepts of Parenting and Being a "Perfect Dad"

In the 1950s, Father Knows Best presented a milquetoast version of being a "perfect dad" in a way that reinforced all the 20th-century stereotypes of fatherhood in the most cliché ways. Times have changed. When I'm having fun and doing something special with my 11-year-old daughter this Father's Day, I'll also be in the midst of celebrating Pride Month, and finalizing plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Stonewall on June 28, 2019, in New York City. 

 ARZTSAMUI/Shutterstock
Source: ARZTSAMUI/Shutterstock

Being a gay dad is a non-issue in the Bay Area, where my daughter lives. Luckily, I've only been subjected to blatant dad shaming once—and it had nothing to do with sexual orientation. A few years ago at a playground, a mother called me "irresponsible" for letting my child do some dare-devilish stunts without more supervision. This "dad shamer" started lecturing me about how dangerous it was to allow my 6-year-old to climb too high on some rope-course apparatus and perform her well-practiced Cirque du Soleil-inspired acrobatics routine when she got to the top. I thought it was awe-inspiring; the shamer thought it was insane. 

Without getting defensive, I explained to this hypercritical parent that letting my daughter "run wild" and take some risks was a conscious, educated decision based on anecdotal evidence and a study, "Outdoor Play: Does Avoiding the Risks Reduce the Benefits?" (Little & Wyver, 2008), which states:

       "Although the term 'risk taking' often has negative connotations, the reality is that the willingness to engage in some risky activities provides opportunities to learn new skills, try new behaviors and ultimately reach our potential. Challenge and risk, in particular during outdoor play, allows children to test the limits of their physical, intellectual and social development. This paper examines the current status of outdoor play in urbanized, Western societies and provides a critical analysis of the literature to present an argument for the inclusion of positive risk-taking experiences in children's outdoor play, principally in the context of early childhood education." 

Even though I grew up in Manhattan, my parents strongly encouraged their three kids (two girls and one boy) to explore the wilderness without much supervision (and often on horseback) when we moved out of town in the mid-1970s. I strive to raise my daughter the same way. 

Much of my parents' "how-to raise your kids" inspiration came from their romantic interpretation of the 19th-century Alcott family of Concord, Massachusetts, who were Transcendentalists. Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women, famously said: "My wise mother, anxious to give me a strong body to support a lively brain, turned me loose in the country and let me run wild." (See, "Letting Kids Run Wild Could Improve Academic Performance.")

In a modern world, where helicopter parenting is often the norm, this freewheeling parental style would probably result in a chorus of put-downs along with the mom and dad getting "called out" by other parents who think they know best.

Liderina/Shutterstock
Source: Liderina/Shutterstock

One of the most discouraging aspects of the new Mott Poll Report (2019) about dad shaming is that for many fathers who said they felt shamed, the criticism made them less confident as a parent. One in five fathers who experienced "dad shaming" said it discouraged them from being more involved in day-to-day parenting.

"Fathers who are loving and engaged can have a positive impact on their children's development and well-being," Sarah Clark concluded. "Family members—especially the other parent—should be willing to acknowledge that different parenting styles are not necessarily incorrect or harmful. Family members should also be mindful of comments or critiques that may make dads feel like they don't know how to parent the 'right' way."

References

Helen Little and Shirley Wyler. "Outdoor Play: Does Avoiding the Risks Reduce the Benefits?" Australian Journal of Early Childhood (First published: June 1, 2008) DOI: 10.1177/183693910803300206