Parenting websites aren’t just for mums


First published in The Telegraph

It’s half past three in the morning and after two hours of trying to coax the youngest back to her bed, I’ve admitted defeat. Sitting cross-legged on the sofa with her duvet tucked under her chin, she is watching an endless stream of Peppa Pig while I sit staring into the middle distance trying to remember what it was like to have more than four hours sleep.

My wife has played a tactical blinder. After I’d out-pretended her in the daily ‘I’m still sleeping, I can’t hear a child shouting’ game, she shook me awake an hour later to take over and supervise the long lonely hours when even night owls and hardened drinkers have hit the hay.

There really is something spectacularly isolating about being awake when the rest of the world, including your triumphant wife, is fast asleep. It’s little wonder then that bedtime rituals – the pains and the pleasures – make up the bulk of discussions on parenting forums. Even if it is a situation where no solutions can be offered, a touch of sympathy or a just a bloody good moan can work wonders.

But, and here’s the rub, while there are numerous sites dedicated to supporting parents, including Netmums, BritMums and mumsnet, they are all decidedly…well… mumsy. To any male interloper the cliquey language of DD and DS (demon daughter? dangerous son?) conjure up an image of the same kind of impenetrable playground clique that many fathers can find it hard to break into (should they choose to).

Of course, I’m not saying sites like mumsnet don’t have their place. They are an amazing resource and I’m sure an invaluable support network for many women. But I find it hard to believe they could ever perform the same role for men. In fact, the only time men seem to get a mention is when they do something wrong (“Mine never gets up for feeds”), or revolting (who could forget the furore caused by one rogue husband’s habit of performing a post coital clean up in a “willy beaker”?) On the whole, men, and male main-carers – who it could be said are already more socially isolated than their female equivalents – are not included.

For Sam Sims, one of the driving factors in the creation of new parenting website Up All Hours was a desire to move away from gender-specific websites to something that could be accessed by men and women. Featuring advice from a wide range of bloggers, experts and an interactive chart of who else has been dragged prematurely from their beds, the site was designed in collaboration with the Fatherhood Institute.

“We appreciate it’s not just mums who feel lonely; the key is, you just need to know you are not alone,” she said. “I’ve been interacting with fathers quite a lot over the last 18 months and spoken to them directly, so I had purposively tried to get feedback from fathers that are quite active in the parenting community. The Fatherhood Institute is also supporting the site; they are one of our experts so we spoke to them quite a lot about the idea that dads are very pigeonholed. What we’re saying is that there is as much here for dads as there is for mums. We are a parenting website rather than just a website for mums.”

The site, which is not yet a month old, follows the success of Sims’ blog of the same name and has already attracted the public support of chef and celebrity dad Jamie Oliver, who admitted that dads are “more vulnerable than we all care to admit”.

“Sometimes we’re out of our depth and we want some support and help and people to talk to. The thing about Up All Hours is that it is for everyone: mums, dads, grandparents, whatever.”

But do men really go online looking for support? After all, there are, if you Google hard enough, forums just for dads. Could the reason why they haven’t taken off be simply that men just aren’t interested in chatting about parenting issues? Maybe, but I think it’s a bit more complicated than that. Aside from the fact that many existing ‘dad forums’ are focussed on gaining access to a child rather than dealing with its squalls and sleeping habits, society is changing. Even if it is a slow process, the number of stay-at-home dads is rising and as men take up the cudgels at home it won’t be long before they are going online for help or just to vent spleen after being given the cold shoulder on the school run or being branded a “manny.”

Sims agrees. “I do feel that more dads are becoming aware of the importance of online communities. Speaking with the Fatherhood Institute highlighted that some dads didn’t like the idea of being pigeonholed into ‘dad areas’, so I wonder if that may be a reason that some specific dad forums haven’t taken off as much as we might expect.”

Sims admits there is still likely to be more women using her website than men, but the forum does seem to have its fair share of male voices. Speaking online, one user said he has always been bothered by the implication that parenting sites aren’t for dads. He adds, “I was attracted to join Up All Hours as it’s not gender specific like a lot of other parenting communities are – it’s clearly for everyone, which is exactly as it should be. Something that always bothers me about other sites is the implication that they’re not really for dads – we seem welcome enough in conversations, yet ‘mums’ are the only parents who are included in the sites’ names. It somehow suggests that parenting isn’t really our thing. As a result, I’ve used Twitter more than anything else until now. I think the arrival of this site should be of great benefit to all parents and, hopefully, it will challenge the perception that talking about parenting is something that only mums do.”

As to whether the site will take off? Only time will tell. But I know tonight, although I’m exhausted and dreading the start of the day, I’m also glad that I’ve got more than just Daddy Pig for company.

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