Promoting gender equality in parenting
By avoiding language that supports gendered parenting stereotypes, you will give space for families to decide together how they will share their roles, and for all parents to make equal contributions to parenting.
Instead of using words like “support” or “help”
||Try “teamwork”, “shared-parenting” or “build a strong team”
- Encourage parents to work together as a team — to discuss and decide who will do what when the baby arrives, how they will share the household chores, how they will parent and troubleshoot together.
- Encourage fathers and non-birthing parents to be actively involved as couples prepare for parenting. This might include attending antenatal appointments, participating in parenting education, etc.
- If a father visits or brings their children to an appointment without the mother, normalise their engagement — don’t ask “Where’s your partner today?”. If a mother comes alone but indicates they would have liked their partner to have come too, suggest they invite them along next time if possible.
|Instead of using words like “be strong”, “be the rock”, or “bread-winner/provider”
||Try “comfort”, “nurture” and “caring”
- Use language that normalises fathers as nurturing, caring, responsive, emotionally available parents, such as “I can see that your child looks to you for support when they’re upset”.
- Build fathers’ confidence that they will be able to develop strong bonds with their children. Let them know that this bond often develops through father-child play.
- Routinely include fathers and non-birthing parents’ in discussions or questions about childcare.
- Reinforce that both parents can, and should, support their children’s emotional security. Children soon learn that they can turn to either parent when they experience emotional pain or fear.
- Acknowledge that it is common to feel uncertain or vulnerable and that it is okay to seek support.
- Avoid any references to mothers always providing better or more instinctive care. Each parent will have strengths and weaknesses, but birth and breastfeeding aside, both should be equally capable of providing the care, comfort and support of exploration that children need.
|Instead of ignoring (or reinforcing) gendered-stereotypes
||Try to gently challenge parents’ pre-existing beliefs or biases
- Encourage parents to keep an open mind about how they will share the different components of the parenting role.
- Be conscious of your own biases and how they may be reinforced through the messages you give to parents. Asking a mother “Does your partner help you with the baby?” implies their partner is a “helper”, not an equal parent. Would you ask the same question of the father?
- Provide information from a range of sources.
- Present differing views and examples of contradictory scenarios.
- Be cautious of making definitive statements using “always” and “never”. Instead, use terms such as “sometimes”, or “some parents”, and provide examples of contradictory scenarios. For example, “Some parents prefer to take turns in getting their bub to sleep”.
Continue reading: Words to listen out for
1. Natasha J. Cabrera (2020) Father involvement, father-child relationship, and attachment in the early years, Attachment & Human Development, 22:1, 134-138, DOI: 10.1080/14616734.2019.1589070