Few fathers attend P.E.I. parenting education sessions
Only 15% of the people attending Triple P Parenting sessions are men
Only about 15 per cent of people attending P.E.I.'s Triple P sessions, which offer general tips for parents, are men.
The Triple P – Positive Parenting Program is an internationally-recognized program used in more than 25 countries that provides guidance for all parents, as well as strategies and interventions for parents dealing with challenges. The P.E.I. government introduced the program in 2014.
"I know a lot of people who are fathers and they are really invested and interested, and I wondered if there was something more going on than just 'people don't want to go,'" UPEI psychology student Alex MacDonald told CBC Radio's Laura Chapin.
'Something for moms'
MacDonald decided to tackle the topic for her honours thesis by holding her own training sessions and trying to discover ways to encourage more fathers to attend.
MacDonald said men often cited work as a reason for not attending, leading her to conclude many fathers see themselves first as a family provider rather than a caregiver.
No one gets a manual when they start parenting.— Alex MacDonald
She also looked at whether the program had inadvertently been targeted to women, by where they are advertised and who is in the advertisement. Even something as simple as advertising "dads and moms" rather than "moms and dads" can make a difference, she said.
Finally she said gender stereotypes came into play.
"It is really still the idea that this is something for moms. Even though lots of fathers are really involved in their childrens' lives, we still think about women as being the ones who have to find a session and ask her partner to come with her if he's available."
Sending mixed signals
MacDonald concluded that two-parent households benefit from having both parents attend sessions together.
"The results of the parent education will last longer, as well as those results will be stronger," she said.
For example, she said when parents are attempting to promote good behaviour in their children rather than stopping bad behaviour, working as a team is key. If not, a child may receive one message from one parent and one from another.
Having both parents attend sessions did pose a problem — with what to do with the kids? But MacDonald had a solution. Chances Family Resource Centre offered to provide free child care.
After the sessions, MacDonald interviewed four men who told her they valued shared parenting but that gender stereotypes remain a hindrance.
"Two of them said there are lots of men who see reaching out for help as weakness, and that can be really hard because we know weakness is not something we allow men to show," she said.
MacDonald said changing such deeply-held perceptions was beyond the scope of her current project, but she believes it's worth discussing.
"Start telling everyone that they can reach out for help when they need it. To start telling men they are an important part of childrens' lives," MacDonald said. "And this is an important part of that role, to seek help parent help or education when needed."
MacDonald said she believes there remains a stigma in seeking help for all parents.
"Maybe sometimes we assume there's something wrong or you're doing something wrong. But the thing is, no one gets a manual when they start parenting."
MacDonald is completing her BA in Psychology before she is heads off for her master's at Western University. She plans to look at the rise in alt-right comments on media sites, including the CBC.
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With files from Island Morning