Playgroups for new parents are an alienating experience for dads, a Warrnambool Deakin University study has found.
The initial ‘Barriers To First Time Parent Groups’ study by public health and health promotion lecturer Norma Barrett focused on regional groups, however she is currently extending the research to the whole of Australia to find out if dads’ needs are being met as they transition to parenthood.
Ms Barrett told The Standard News that playgroups were still perceived as being ‘mums’ groups’ and even contacting dads for the study had been problematic as invitations to attend playgroups were only sent to mums along Victoria's south-west coast.
The term ‘Maternal and Child Health Service’ was another example of the way stereotypes shut out men from the ante-natal and post-natal experience, noting that many dads today were “extremely considered people and extremely considered parents,” wanting to support their partners.
"A lot of the things, like the baby not sleeping or their partner not sleeping it affects them, or if their partner is struggling, it affects them," she said.
"Or if they're really enjoying parenting then it's great for them. They're a parent, a legitimate parent."
Ms Barrett had spoken to several dads who expressed a desire to stay at home and look after their baby despite societal pressures they felt to go back to work, especially if they had the higher-paying job.
One dad she spoke to said, “He was suffering from mental health issues and he felt it was because he really wanted to be at home more and enjoy his children,” she said.
“Instead he was working in a really demanding role and didn't feel satisfied because he wanted to be with his young kids."
She said health services were not engaging with men at a pivotal time of their life, highlighting evidence from the Gidget Foundation that showed 1/10 dads are diagnosed with perinatal depression and anxiety.
"Mother's health is assessed in the early stages of parenthood, yet there's nothing about men's mental health," Ms Barrett said.
"They're treated like they're in silos but we know if someone is unwell in the family it affects the whole family."
The nation-wide Dads Group was established by Thomas Docking to create support groups for new fathers and empower them on their parenting journey.
He told the Men’s Health Connected online gathering last May that connecting with dads was a complex science.
“It’s not easy, and has often been put in the too-hard basket,” Mr Docking said. “It’s actually about doing the small, simple, effective, meaningful things and working out how to wrap them into a program.”
Digital Dads uses Facebook groups to give men a space to share parenting experiences, if they can't attend face-to-face meet-ups.
Back in Warrnambool, Paul Munksgaard has started his own playgroup for dads and young children, where he takes daughter Luna, 2.
His first experience of fatherhood was being separated from his wife and baby daughter when he was barred from staying with them overnight in the hospital.
"It made me feel like I wasn't expected to be involved in looking after my wife and Luna, and it scared the hell out of my wife," he said.
When Paul attended his first FTPG (First Time Parents Group) meeting, there were only women who turned up, and he never went again.
"It sets up this thing that it's the mum's job and not the dad's job, which isn't how my relationship works,” he said.
At his first informal dads group, participants were invited to talk about what it was like being a dad in Warrnambool.
"They said they felt like dads were on the outer and there was some things that were more directed at the mums, such as the mum's groups and other playgroups they'd seen. They were impressed that it was starting and keen to keep coming along," he said.
"We seem to have a lot of new families shifting into Warrnambool too so this whole thing of the man working on the dairy farm and the woman doing the parenting, isn't really what it is anymore and needs to move with the times.
“I think men have some pretty specific questions that hanging out with a group of other fathers would benefit them."