Not a fan of hefty maternity books? What if you could receive everything you need to know about dadding via text message?
Associate Professor, Richard Fletcher believes there’s an urgent need for Australia to change its expectations and beliefs about the role of fathers. And here at DAD, we couldn’t agree more!
“Fathers are invisible in many places, not because people dislike fathers, but because the system is set up to be focused on mothers,” Richard says.
Richard heads up the Fathers and Families Research Program at the University of Newcastle, and says one of the biggest challenges he and the team face is engaging dads on topics normally seen as ‘mum business’.
To tackle this problem, they have developed a new mobile phone based service, called SMS4dads. Still in beta, the 12 month program aims to deliver relevant and timely tips to new and expectant dads via a series of text messages.
Short and sharp, these texts offer a direct and digestible alternative to those mammoth maternity books your partner strategically leaves around the house – on the coffee table… by the toilet… upright on your bedside table with a giant sticky note that says something like ‘Read me now or never have sex again’ in thick black sharpie with excessive use of exclamation marks!!!
To find out more about the SMS4dads service, we talked to the man who birthed this brainchild, Dr. Richard Fletcher. Here’s what he had to say.
Q. What’s in it for dads?
Most dads just aren’t turning up to parenting classes. We found services offering parenting classes have become resigned to their classes being almost wholly attended by mothers.
For years my team tried to find creative ways to entice dads to come along but eventually we realised we had to change our thinking. If dads aren’t going to come to us, we have to come up with ways to reach them on their terms.
Q. Doesn’t that show that many dads just aren’t interested?
It isn’t that they aren’t interested – they don’t know why it’s important. They’re not used to being treated as an equal partner when it comes to a new baby.
And dads aren’t connected to the health system in the way mums are. In the first year after having a baby the mother will probably see a child health nurse every two weeks. For dad it’s more likely to be one trip to the GP during that year.
Q. Why did you choose SMS to reach dads?
We thought about developing an app but realised there was already something that gave us what we needed and was already being used by the vast majority of dads.
The beauty of text messages is dads can interact on their terms – they can ignore them or open them straight away. They can let them build up and go through them later, and they’re there whenever they want to go back to them.
Q. What are you trying to achieve with SMS4dads?
We’ve got three goals – to help dads build a strong bond with their baby, to support the mum-dad relationship so they are really effective co-parents and finally, to help dads look after themselves and give them a simple way to reach out for help if they aren’t coping.
Q. Is that why Beyond Blue has thrown its weight behind the project?
Yes – the mental health issues new dads face is a big focus for them and they saw the potential of this to reach dads who were struggling.
Q. What sort of messages do dads receive?
All sorts – quick tips, information about their baby, prompts to do something, and links to other services.
The messages are always linked to the development stage of the foetus or the baby so the topics are relevant to the issues they’ll be dealing with right then (or should be dealing with!). During the pregnancy period some of the messages are the unborn baby ‘speaking to dad’.
One important feature is the Mood Tracker. Every three weeks we send dads a message asking the question “How’s it going?” Dads can reply with Awesome, Cool, OK, Shaky or Bad. Dads who respond ‘Bad’ are asked if they want someone who specialises in helping dads to call them.
Q. So, what have you learned so far?
The first thing we wanted to know was whether this was an effective way to connect with dads and the answer is yes. Only 13% of dads chose to drop out of the program.
It’s still early days but the feedback has been really positive. Dads have told us the texts help them connect with the mum and their baby. 65% of dads getting the texts click on links provided suggesting we’re providing useful information.
One surprise was how many dads shared the messages with the mums. They’ve said it helps them raise topics and a lot of them actually share the messages with their partner.
We’d like to see more dads respond to the Mood Tracker but dads have told us it helps them stay on track, even if they don’t respond to the prompts.
We knew we were onto to something when dads told us they’d come to think of the service as a ‘mate’. Quite a few actually text back in response to messages even though they know they are talking to a computer.
Want to experience SMS4dads for yourself?
Whilst still in beta, Richard is actively seeking new participants for the trial. If you’re a dad-to-be (your partner is at least 16 weeks pregnant), or you have a baby under 4 months old you can sign up for the program at www.sms4dads.com and start getting the text messages right away.
Let us know what you think.