Forget ‘super dad’, try ‘better dad’ instead

Recent stats say Aussie dads are getting lazier at parenting. Is it time to lift our game?

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We all know that dad in our social mix: the one that seems impossibly chill about the whole parenting business.

There he is, deftly spoon-feeding his baby while wearing a somehow stain-free white shirt, smiling about how he just gives her a little rock and she sleeps through the night. Tomorrow they’re heading off on a casual 30km bushwalk “just to get out of the house for a bit”.

Seriously mate?

For most of us fatherhood is a mad dash from one near-catastrophe to another, with flakes of dried sick on our shoulder and jacket pockets filled with wet tissues, bits of banana and choking hazards grabbed from the mouth of our curious offspring at the last second.

We are going to make mistakes. We are not going to be perfect. Fatherhood is messy and exhausting and never freakin’ ends, and it’s lucky that babies have such cute little toes and adorable giggles or we’d never put ourselves through it.

But we can always aim higher. And this is especially urgent since it turns out that way too many of us seem to be taking the immortal words of Homer Simpson to heart: “you tried your best, and you failed miserably. The lesson is: never try”.

It’s time to get off the bench

Recent Aussie census data revealed that men are leaving the domestic work to their female partners, and that the younger blokes are especially guilty of letting the team down.

And before you cough nervously and suggest that it’s probably because millennial-age women are more likely to be off work having babies while men are earning the money, sorry mate, the New Daily’s analysis says otherwise.

It shows that labour force participation doesn’t account for the difference in domestic weight-pulling. In other words, women are working just as hard as men and they’re doing a bunch of housework too. The ratio of men to women in full-time work is not even two to one. “To rule out male laziness, the figure would have to be eight to one,” New Daily calculates.

So damn. We’re dropping the ball big time. But all is not lost. Here are three things you can do today to be a better dad.

Get up for night feeds

If you’re the one still working full time while your partner is on maternity leave or isn’t going into an office every day, it’s very easy to pull out the “breadwinner” card. You know the one. As the worker in the household, you should get a full-night’s sleep while mum does the night feeds and settling of a restless baby.

This is an easy habit to fall into, especially during the breastfeeding phase since even the most hands-on dad is unlikely to be naturally equipped for the task. But there’s no excuse if your little one is on bottled formula or your partner is expressing milk. You need to get out of bed and do some feeds.

Going to work is hard, especially if you’re bringing home the bacon for a growing (and increasingly costly) brood, but being at home with a baby is utterly exhausting. And as you now know, sleep deprivation is brutal: even the strongest, sanest, most superhero-like person is rendered a gibbering mess after a few adrenalin-charged weeks.

Shoulder some of the burden.

Everyone gets playtime

There’s a reason why “go ask your mother” is such an enduring punchline: mums have often had to play the boring disciplinarian role pushing vegetables and naptimes, while dad can be the fun parent, coming home to play and generally getting baby over-excited right before bedtime.

That’s unfair. You should both be sharing the boring and fun stuff. Give mum some playing-with-bub-on-the-mat time while you sterilise the bottles for tomorrow or mop up the detritus from dinner.

Sending the message early that both mum and dad are equally fun and serious about bedtime (and everything else) is going to pay off hugely when the teen years come and you need a united front.

Lay that groundwork now!

Drop the “Oh, but you’re SO much better at everything, I’ll just mess it up!” excuse

The aforementioned Mr Simpson is a great example of a long line of TV dads who were lovable doofuses and promoted the idea that all dads are idiots who should never be trusted with a carrot, much less a human life, lest the children become embroiled in this week’s hare-brained scheme.

And while it’s a huge insult to dads, it’s also been an insidious get-out-of-work-free card for us. It’s almost expected (and is the basis of most family-centric sitcoms), that if dad has the kids for an evening they’ll have marshmallows for dinner and ruin the house with a water balloon fight, right?

Deep down we know that’s garbage, so don’t rely on it, tacitly or otherwise.

Is your partner really better at cooking? Then get at least competent in the kitchen. This isn’t a TV cooking show, and remember most of what you’re serving up is going to be splattered across your child’s adorable grin anyway, so standards are marvellously low.

Bathing is even easier: just wet the child until there are no visible smudges.

You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be adequate. And when that little squirming creature grins up at you, that’s more than enough of a result (and reward).

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