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June 20, 2019

Good Job, Dad

Dads get criticized a lot -- mostly by their spouses. Such comments don't tend to lead to improved parenting, however.

Father's Day is over, and hopefully fathers everywhere received the acknowledgement they deserve — at least for one day a year anyway. The rest of the time dads get a lot of flak for their parenting skills, maybe too much. A national poll highlights the many types of criticism fathers face with respect to their parenting. Worse, nearly half of this criticism comes from the other parent.

“Family members — especially the other parent — should be willing to acknowledge that different parenting styles are not necessarily incorrect or harmful.”

Constructive criticism can be helpful, but too much criticism can leave dads resentful and demoralized. “Even subtle forms of disparagement can undercut fathers' confidence or send the message that they are less important to their child's well-being,” said Sarah Clark, co-director of the poll.

“Professionals who work with children should avoid negative assumptions about fathers' level of involvement or interest in parenting. Family members should also be mindful of comments or critiques that may make dads feel like they don't know how to parent the ‘right’ way.”

Dads most often felt criticized about discipline, with two-thirds saying this was the issue on which they faced the most disapproval, according to the report.

It's not uncommon for parents to disagree on the many facets of discipline, Clark says, but it is one of the most important areas for parents to find common ground. “Addressing a child's misbehavior is one of the greatest challenges of parenting and parents aren't always on the same page when it comes to expectations and consequences. Inconsistency between parents in responding to a child's behavior can send mixed messages to the child, and result in conflict and criticism between parents.”

Feeding — diet and nutrition — was the second biggest area of complaint. Two out of five dads said they were criticized for what they fed their kids.

Other common criticisms were not paying enough attention to children, playing too rough, and critiques related to child's sleep, appearance and safety. Forty-four percent of the criticism came from the other parent. Grandparents were next highest at 24 percent.

And 43 percent of the fathers polled said they felt that the criticisms they faced were often unfair.

“While some fathers say criticism prompts them to seek more information about good parenting practices, too much disparagement may cause dads to feel demoralized about their parental role,”Clark says. “Family members — especially the other parent — should be willing to acknowledge that different parenting styles are not necessarily incorrect or harmful.”

The C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health at the University of Michigan is based on responses from a nationally-representative sample of 713 fathers of children 13 and under. Its poll on father-shaming can be seen here.

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