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Sharon Meers's picture

It’s almost unanimous: 93% of moms say there’s a “father absence” crisis according to a great new report by The National Fatherhood Initiative released yesterday.

Interestingly, very few of us moms (15%) think we have much to do with the problem. Aren’t we the ones providing our husbands all those lists and useful suggestions?

As we’ve learned from our book talks and psychology experts, that motherly impulse to “help” men parent has gotta change.

Clearly there are many layers to father absence - some that moms can’t influence at all. But I’m often amazed how easy it is to overlook the power we women have to let go.

My first inkling of this came a few months after I became a mother -- and interrupted my husband Steve who was diapering our son. I wanted to share the finer points of managing diaper rash (which I’d so carefully researched and discussed with the mommy brain trust). And I began inumerating the steps Steve should take to ensure our son’s behind was well-cared for.

I had only gotten several sentences into it when, Steve -- an ex-high-school football player -- turned on me and looked like he might tackle. Glowering, he said. “If you are going to tell me how to do this job, you can change the diaper yourself -- and all the other ones for the next three years.”

“OK then!” I smiled and quickly retreated to another room. My husband’s point: He loved our son as much as I did and had an equal ability to get information -- what he needed from me was not pointers but space to try being a parent in his own way.

A lot of guys express the same thing more softly -- which sometime means they’re not heard. Many dads tell us how surprised their wives are that they can -- thank you -- manage the kids on their own.

Psychology research says that when mom’s get out of the way - when we are really willing to let dads act as equals -- dads get to school pretty much as often as moms do and get far higher marks from their wives as highly involved parents.

There’s also a workplace angle to this. As fatherhood advocate Jim Levine said in the New York Times, “Working parents assume that employers won’t allow men the same leeway as women. But they rarely ask. Men don’t ask their bosses; women don’t ask their husbands.” So as long as women assume that men *can’t* be equal parents, we create a cycle where men rarely stand up for family at work. And so-called family-friendliness remains treated as a “soft” women’s issue instead of what it really is: a core management challenge that touches 80% of employees sometime in their lives.

The new report raises good questions about how to fix this problem and empower men to understand their unique value to children -- that is well documented in the research. One idea: Let’s help men educate themselves -- and support guys when they come up with innovative ways to do this.

A Stanford student recently made the case for a “male community center” -- so that his peer group would have a place to talk about how men define themselves in the fast-shifting landscape.

If giving men free-reign to parent sounds like a bad idea to moms, we women-folk might consider getting more broad-minded. To that end, I’ll share my kid's new favorite YouTube -- about a guy caring for his infant with his electric guitar (and hopefully ear-plugs for the baby).

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