When dad is the caregiver

Many daycare centres and schools still regard mothers as the primary parent of kids, when in some families, the father has taken a more active role in parenting

NEW YORK • Mum is no longer keeping mum about this.

"My child has two parents. Why does daycare call only me?" is the lament.

But fathers today are more engaged than any generation in history. Research shows they spend three times the amount of time on childcare than dads did in 1965.

Ms Megan Thibeault, who works in the dental industry, said the institutional assumptions that she would be the primary parent started early.

"For most of my kids' lives, my husband has been the one at home or working from home, so he knows their schedules much better than me," she noted.

"When we went to check-ups together when they were infants, the doctor would ask me questions.

"After I referred them to him to answer, since he was the one at home, they would continue to address me as if I knew more than him."

Her husband Jacob Thibeault, who is self-employed, said: "It often feels like if the nurses or doctors do talk to me, they're talking to me like I'm on babysitting duty."

For women who keep tight work schedules, telling a daycare centre that it should reach out to the father first does not always yield the results they are hoping for.

Ms Meghan Butler, a project manager, finds herself repeatedly fielding calls from her child's daycare centre, even though she has said a number of times that her husband should be the primary contact.

"I am the main breadwinner and work in a high-stress job," she said. "We've asked the daycare team to call my husband first, but it always calls me first anyway, often interrupting important calls."

Rachel Fisher, a writer and photographer, said her daughter's school continued to call her about minor injuries and illnesses, even though her husband was listed as the primary contact.

"When I spoke to the office, they said they didn't want to bother my husband at work," she added. "At one point, they even called my mum and grandmother, who live 3,200km away, before they even tried to call my husband."

A lack of direct communication from a daycare centre or school is even more fraught when parents are separated.

If mothers are not effectively communicating with fathers - which, given the complicated dynamics of divorce, is not hard to imagine - fathers could be locked out of their kids' school lives, missing events like parent nights, teacher meetings and performances.

A school's unwillingness to communicate with fathers can affect children too.

Ms Elizabeth Strand, whose children are aged seven and 10, recalled a number of times when her husband was skipped over as the school decided whom to call.

Time-sensitive messages were left on her voicemail while she was busy working as a probation officer.

Once, she discovered that the school had never reached out to her husband.

"My son was stuck sitting in the nurse's office sick and waiting for over an hour," she recalled.

If schools and other institutions are not willing to change, parents might consider another tactic.

"I've been known to let it go to voicemail and text my husband to call back," said Ms Kristin Saunders, who works in banking and is the mother of a two-year-old.

Like many mums, she feels the frustration of being the default parent.

"My child has two parents. She's just as related to my husband as she is to me.

"We both work and my husband wants to be an equal parent, but other people can't get on board.

"I'm so tired of people assuming I'm the only caregiver my daughter has."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 07, 2018, with the headline 'When dad is the caregiver'. Subscribe