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5 Ways to Do a Better Job

If you are working with ‘families’ but don’t see any fathers, you’re doing something wrong.

Here’s how to fix it:

1. Enrol Both Parents in Your Service
Always ask for names and contact details of both parents and preferably have both parents there for the enrolment visit.
Enrolling both parents automatically sets an expectation that both parents will be involved in your service.
If parents do not live together, and you are completing enrolment with one parent only, make a phone call or write a letter to the other parent advising of the enrolment and of the times you are available for questions. As a legal guardian he is entitled to all the information you generate about his child anyway—so why not be proactive?
2. Make Appointments With Both Parents
Always coordinate appointments with both parents, unless they specifically tell you otherwise. Most of the time even a working dad will be able to make time during the day for you – don’t assume that this would pose a problem for him. Don’t hide behind the ‘primary caregiver’ idea—these arrangements change.
As more and more mums with little children work fulltime as well, you’ve got to be prepared to do the occasional weekend or evening visit or you’ll miss some of the families that need you most. But most parents will be able to make time for you weekdays.
If parents are separated make sure you maintain contact with the other parent who is not attending appointments, and/or schedule some appointments while the child is with the non-custodial parent.
3. Use Inclusive Language
If you say ‘parents’ make sure you mean it. Even better: use ‘mums and dads’ and ‘dads and mums’ instead of ‘parents’. The word ‘parent’ is so often used as another word for ‘mother’ that readers or listeners do not automatically assume anymore that you mean both men and women.
If your publications have a ‘fathers corner’, have a ‘mothers corner’ as well, where you can stick articles such as ‘how to look after your pelvic floor’, rather than putting them in the main body.
4. Talk to Both
Make eye contact with both and involve both in your service as you go. If you are doing home visits this makes for a much richer working environment and more honest discussions about parenting or child health issues, for example.
Unless you convince both parents, whatever you suggest will only be implemented half-heartedly, or not at all. And as much as you’d like to think that, for example, breastfeeding is a mother’s decision, she’ll be talking about it with her partner and his support, or lack of it, will have a bigger influence than your advice and information. If you don’t get him on board, he’ll undermine you, but good information influences fathers as strongly as mothers. So make sure he gets it from you and don’t assume the mother will ‘let him know’.!

If parents are separated, be aware that day-to-day care of a child often changes as children grow older. A single mother today may have much less influence over parenting that child in a few years time, so by continuing to talk to the father you are improving the child’s future more than you can guess from the present.
5. Treat Parents as Equals
This is the hardest challenge for professionals working with young families, as they almost always assume that the mother is the ‘primary caregiver’. However, in acting on that assumption a professional has a big role in creating the situation in the first place, even if parents want to share the role more equally.
In practice this means such things as talking about the same things with both. If you ask mum how she is coping, ask dad as well. If you are discussing getting a break from baby, discuss it with both and how they can work it out between them. If asking questions about the baby or child, address the question to him as much as to her. Don’t open a conversation with dad by asking about work – that puts him squarely into the ‘provider’ box and does nothing to improve his confidence as a parent. Think of mothers and fathers as people first, women and men second.
Consider also that New Zealand has high rates of single fatherhood (18 % of sole parents). This means that about one in 15 children you are working with will eventually end up in the care of their fathers, temporarily or for good (it’s a much higher proportion if you are working with disadvantaged families). This may be many years down the track, but do you want to take the risk that that father has learned nothing about parenting while you had the chance?

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