COMMENT:

While men are likely to recieve socks, ties and golf tees for Father's Day, perhaps the one gift that dads might actually want is a day off from being judged about their parenting style. This week new research found that "daddy shaming" is rife and constant criticism of a father's parenting skills could have long-term negative consequences on how dads end up bonding with their children.

In February this year, more than 700 fathers with children aged 13 and under were interviewed about their parenting experiences. The results published this week in the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health show that many dads are having a harder time than we might realise when it comes to doing the right thing in the eyes of others.

Just over half of the fathers said that they had been criticised about their parenting style or choices, with the most common source of criticism coming from the child's other parent. Not far behind them were grandparents, who also had a lot of opinions when it came to what dads should be doing with their kids. A surprising 10 per cent of criticism came from complete strangers in public places, who felt that they needed to say something to a dad they didn't know.

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Although fathers were criticised over many things, two-thirds had received criticism about how they disciplined their child and almost half had been criticized about what they chose to feed their child.

These criticisms, although well meaning, resulted in the fathers reporting to have experienced negative feelings about their skills, which developed into feeling less confident and more demoralised as a parent. For many this criticism by others left them wanting to be less involved in taking care of their child.

This negativity has been shown in previous research in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, which found that fathers whose partners were critical of their parenting skills when their child was 3 months old performed much more poorly as parents six months later compared to fathers who had felt supported during the initial parenting months. Many of the fathers in this study thought that the criticism towards them was unfair and felt vulnerable to criticism because they believed that there was less support available in society for them as active fathers compared to what they saw available to mothers.

Even though it's 2019, traditional gender stereotypes ran strong through the survey with 11 per cent of the fathers saying that a teacher assumed they were not knowledgeable about their child's needs or behaviours and a further 12 per cent of dads reporting that they felt a doctor or nurse assumed they were not knowledgeable about their child's health.

We all offer advice because we believe that we know better and half of the fathers in the survey did choose to seek out more information based on the criticism they received so they could make a more informed decision about their parenting behaviour. Although for some this just led to the confirmation that their approach was the best, half of the fathers reported that they had made changes in their parenting choices after looking into it further.

Research shows that fathers who are loving and engaged have a more positive impact on their children's development and wellbeing. Why not spend this Father's Day celebrating the role that dads play in the lives of their children - even if it's not quite how you would do it - by giving them a day to just let them go and do it their way.