Dads value opportunities for solo parenting

Cambridge University event on dads finds they have the skills and qualities to parent but need opportunities for solo parenting

Dad and daughter laugh and eat ice cream


A fascinating Cambridge Festival webinar provided plenty of insights for working dads. The event, titled In Conversation with Dads was led by Cambridge University’s Centre for Family Research.

Researchers Kitty Jones and Anja McConnachie shared their work and spoke to a number of fathers who identified as stay at home dads. However most of the men also did paid work, many in a freelance capacity.

McConnachie’s research, focussed on adoptive gay fathers, shows the qualities regarded as important to being a good parent are not reliant on gender. She said men are equally capable of being sensitive or warm for example.

Solo parenting

Ian Blackwell, who has done PhD research into dads groups said he found many men said they value attending separate groups for dads. The men said they appreciated the opportunity to do some solo parenting, particularly without feeling judged or supervised by their partner or other women. He found men are particularly sensitive to what mothers and other women think of them or what they might be thinking about them. He said, “Men put more value on perceived appraisals rather than actual appraisals.”

Many of the dads in the conversation reported incidents where strangers had stepped in to check on the welfare of their children. McConnachie said she’d found dads had to deal with well meaning mums questioning if their kids were warm enough for example. Dad Ben Hiron-Grimes admitted he’d ‘developed a chip on his shoulder’ around being judged and particularly disliked when folk said of his daughter that she ‘looks like she’s been dressed by her father’.


The dads also reported that parenting can be lonely. Ian Blackwell said that attending dads groups and doing solo parenting gave men an insight into the amount to work that goes into looking after a child.

However, where women naturally fall into conversation at parenting groups, he said men need encouragement to talk. “Women are in the habit of chatting about parenthood and men aren’t” he said.

Ben Hiron-Grimes set up a dads group in his village in an effort to forge more connections. Dad Alex Faget said, “I wouldn’t say it’s lonely but I miss social interaction during the day.”

The dads discussed their experience of the pandemic. And Anja McConnachie had advice for working dads. She said, “Parenting is so hard it’s important not to be a perfectionist, to be gentle on yourself, particularly in a pandemic.”

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