CHRIS Turnbull and his one-year-old daughter Emily have an empowering message for dads who feel childcare services have forgotten them:
If you want a father-friendly playgroup, why not set one up yourself?
That’s exactly what the 31-year-old dad did in his East Renfrewshire community earlier this month – and the take-up for the new Barrhead Men and Toddlers group has amazed him.
“As soon as we set up the Facebook page, the interest exploded,” says Chris, who received help from the Early Years Collaborative. “We got more than 100 ‘likes’, and lots of fathers seeking support or offering help. We’ve got 10/15 dads coming next week!”
The group meets for two hours every Saturday morning, providing a sociable space for dads to chat and play with their under-fives. It’s just the latest in a growing number of groups springing up across Scotland as fathers take responsibility for sharing childcare.
“I had tried to access the services that were available in my area,” explains Chris, “But they were all angled towards women and called ‘mother and toddler groups’. It’s not helpful when you turn up and everyone greets your daughter but ignores you!”
EXCLUDED BY DEFAULT
It’s a complaint we hear frequently at Fathers Network Scotland. Like many others, Chris had felt most marginalised immediately before and after the birth of his daughter. “I was asked to leave the ante-natal classes because there were young mothers and they didn’t want men there,” recalls Chris, who lived in Oban at the time. “I refused to leave – that’s never going to work for me as a parent, particularly as I’m trying to care for my disabled wife.”
Things still didn’t improve when Emily was born. “In the first 6/7 months after my daughter’s birth I didn’t feel like I had any input in her life. All the health visitors were very mother-centred and didn’t really want to involve dads in the process. Loads of dads are sick of hearing: ‘can you go away – I want to talk to your wife’. I think we still live in a situation where people still assume parenting is mothers work. It scares me that it still happens today.”
Things only changed when Chris took the initiative to set up his own group with help from the Early Years Collaborative, a Scottish government-funded multi-agency improvement programme. “They’re putting lots of money into local areas and helping child development and healthy living initiatives,” he says. “They gave us lots of help finding a location which has been opened up just for us!”
Now Saturday mornings are transformed for Chris and a growing number of dads who can have a blether and a play with their children without feeling like outsiders. “The head of early years services even turned up as a client with his child – that has to say something!”
So what would Chris say to other dads feeling shut out of childcare?
“Just go out and do it yourself! There’s obviously a need for it. There are loads of other men across Scotland who are in the same situation and trying to set up a group or a Facebook page will show you you’re not alone.”
At Fathers Network Scotland we’re delighted to be able to add Barrhead Men and Toddlers to our growing network. Cultural change is coming, as next April’s new Shared Parental Leave legislation will help encourage millions of others to take an equal part in their children’s birth and early childhood.
But it’s dads like Chris, taking bold initiatives to support their partners and families, who will transform society from the inside out.
Barrhead Men and Toddlers meets every Saturday morning from 10am to 12noon at Arthurlie House, Barrhead, and is open to all men with children aged 0-5. The group has its own facebook page – why not ‘like’ them to show your support?