Shared Parental Leave: It’s Lonely as the Only Dad

Carlos is finding it hard being the only father in his local 'Mother and Baby' group; he just wants someone grown-up to talk to!

The first time I took SPL I found it hard being the only male attending the baby groups. This second time around, I've kept an eye out and recently saw that there was a father and baby group in my local area. Great, a chance to connect with other dads!

When the actual time came round though it was no longer available due to lack of attendees.

The only man in the 'mother and baby' group

So I'm back to being the only man in the 'mother and baby group' which I'm sorry to say where I live are still very common ... as opposed to parent and baby groups...or just baby groups. After all a lot of grandparents or childcare professionals also attend. It seems unnecessary to mention the adult relationship, it's not as if a baby would attend on its own.

For the most part I don't dwell on being the only man in the group but there are always one or two points during the sessions that irk a little. In the singing group we sing "row, row, row your boat all across the puddle / if  you see your mummy there / give her a lovely cuddle," and at swimming we'll be given a new instruction beginning with the phrase 'now mums...'.

If I'm feeling brave, I'll bring attention to this by singing 'daddy' or by asking if I'm also allowed to do whatever the instruction was. Clearly there aren't many men attending these groups and the leaders have got used to set phrases, but it doesn't help to encourage those few of us men that give it a go.

Changing the group dynamic

The loneliest bit though is at the end of the group when the mums go off together to the café or for lunch or whatever other activity they've prearranged. I did manage to get invited to one of these post-group café visits by chatting to the organising mum. I enjoyed it, but in my keenness to have a conversation with other adults I might have talked too much. There was me and eight mums, half of whom appeared not to be happy with my inclusion and said nothing. Maybe having a man there changed the usual group dynamic and they didn't feel able to discuss things that they wanted to with their fellow mums?

The others bombarded me with questions, I guess due to the novelty of being a man in my position, which is still pretty rare, especially in the area I live in, which is no metropolis. Even though child rearing was pretty much all we spoke about, probably as that's the only thing we've all definitely got in common, I wonder if I caused offence in some way because I wasn't invited again?

Engaging safely

I wonder if part of it is that some women are wary of interactions with someone of the opposite sex, for fear of signals being misinterpreted or previous bad experiences? I say this because for the last few weeks, since starting swimming lessons with my daughter, my wife now joins me at the pool to get our son ready for his class while I'm in the water with our daughter.

I've now spoken more with the mothers of the other children in his class in the last month than I did in the previous two years. I wonder if that's because now my wife is there they feel safe engaging with me in conversation without the risk of me getting the wrong idea about their friendliness?

Socialising with either sex

I'm not sure what the solution to this is. I hope more men will take up their SPL opportunity and attend classes so there'll be more men to talk to.

In turn I hope this results in women feeling more comfortable with having men attending and it becomes more acceptable to socialise with their fellow parents of either sex.


Carlos, sharing how he's faring on his shared parental leave