by Gillian Ranson
As a sociologist with many years of research experience in the area of family life, I have come to have a lot of respect for fathers as caregivers. Apart from seeing examples of caring dads in my own family and among friends, I’ve now spent a lot of time talking with fathers in the course of my research. In one project, for example, I studied couples whose division of paid work and family work was non-traditional. So I met with stay-at-home dads whose partners were the main breadwinners, and fathers in dual-earner families who were sharing the family work with their partners on a genuinely equal basis. All the dads were fully engaged caregivers, and were deeply committed to their children, and their partners, for the long haul.
One thing I noticed about those fathers was that they had been involved and hands-on in their caregiving right from the time their children were born. That insight led me to my next project, which was a closer look at fathers as caregivers to babies and very young children. The obvious place to start was with dads taking parental leave. I tracked a group of them during the course of their leave, and had a lot of fun visiting with them, chatting, and watching them at work – changing diapers, giving bottles, playing, and soothing to sleep. I also interviewed a group of fathers who had taken parental leave in the past, and had them reflect on what the leave time with their children as babies meant to them, at the time and as their kids grew. I found reflections of their often moving accounts in memoirs written by fathers, and in posts by dad bloggers, and all these stories made their way into the book I subsequently wrote.
So I don’t need persuading about the importance of fathers in families. That’s why I’m anxious to include their voices in the project I’m currently at work on. This one builds on all the research I’ve done so far, but there’s a personal pull as well. As a mother of two now adult children, I’m keenly aware of the changes in expectations of parents, and the thinking about children and their needs, over the decades since my kids were small. Today’s parents – no matter what their background – are facing pressures their own parents didn’t have to face. Today’s children are growing up in a different world from the one their parents knew as kids. I want to know what those differences mean, for parents and for kids. I’m asking two big questions: What is it like, to raise children in Canada today? And what is it like for today’s children, growing up here?
This project has a website (www.parentsandchildrenproject.com) which I hope dads will visit. And I hope some, with at least one child under 12 at home, will hear my call for more dads’ voices, and get in touch!
If you are interested, please contact me via my website.
Gillian Ranson is a professor emerita of sociology at the University of Calgary.