‘Just the Two of Us’: The Exclusion of Primary and Equal Caregiver Fathers from Parent Networks

Tuesday, 17 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Rachel BROOKS, University of Surrey, United Kingdom
Paul HODKINSON, University of Surrey, United Kingdom
This paper draws on interviews with 24 UK fathers who had assumed primary or equal responsibility for the care of their children (aged three or under) to explore their social interactions. We show how, in spite of usually feeling positive overall about their experiences, many of the men in the sample had relatively little contact with other parents during the time they were caring for their child/children alone. Although many explained their preference for spending time alone with their child in terms of their own ‘introverted’ or ‘unsociable’ nature, we suggest such individualised narratives underplay the ways in which systemic barriers were constraining their interactions. We argue that such barriers include: the feminisation of many social spaces; a fear of being judged in relation to their gender; the close-knit nature of mothers’ groups often established during maternity leave; and the difficulty of meeting other fathers with responsibility for day-to-day care. These, we contend, provide evidence that, even in cases where fathers take on care-giving roles that challenge traditional norms, substantial gender barriers continue to persist with respect to their integration within parenting communities and public space. As well as illustrating the enduring gender-segregation of men’s and women’s friendships in this sphere, we suggest that the relatively ‘invisible’ nature of the involved fathering we observed may render it less effective in contributing to the broader undoing of gender ideologies than if fathers were more often in public spaces and integrated into parenting networks. Moreover, the social isolation experienced by some fathers may represent a barrier to more fathers becoming involved in day-to-date care, and, in some cases, have negative implications for the well-being on those who do take on such roles.