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The world is not designed for equitable parenting

So far, I’ve been the primary nappy-changer in my child’s world. That’s not virtue signaling or trying to make a point: it simply seems fair that, given that I’m biologically incapable of breastfeeding or carrying a child to term, I help out where I can.

Aaron Hoyland’s tweet the other day is exactly how I feel:

Putting baby change stations in the women’s washroom (and maybe the family washroom if there is one) but not the men’s washroom sends a very clear message about whose responsibility you think raising children is, and frankly, I hate it.

The world isn’t set up for equitable co-parenting. Bathrooms are one example. Don’t click through to the tweet if you’d like to skip being angry for a morning: the comments are dominated by people making excuses for dads not changing their children, or trying to argue that it’s women’s work like we’re back in the forties. A mother’s sacred duty, apparently, is to be the sole person cleaning their child.

I’m completely on board with having changing tables in every men’s bathroom. I intend to use them; please give them to me. In return, I will spend money in your establishment.

Unfortunately, this chauvanistic design mentality doesn’t stop at bathrooms. They’re everywhere. I call them “mommy defaults”.

I’ve discovered that a lot of the parenting apps we use - primarily Huckleberry, which allows us to track events like diaper changes and different kinds of feedings - don’t provide for more than one parental user account. If both parents want to track events and gain access to the log, they need to share a password. We’re not logging frivolously (our child needed to go to the ER for dehydration on their first night home), and it’s crucial that we both have access to this data.

Even the Snoo, our expensive and overtly high-tech smart bassinet, only allows for one account. If we want to track sleeping and adjust settings, we once again have to share passwords. It’s not incredibly difficult to use a shared 1Password vault, but I expect most parents default to using something easily memorable, and therefore easily hackable.

Finally, the biggest, most irritating version of this is that every provider - starting with hospitals and pediatricians - wants to have a single parental contact number. Go visit parenting forums and you’ll find message after message complaining about this, for good reason. The assumption that there’s one primary carer in parenting is deeply baked into institutional service design, and perpetuates inequality every time it arises. As the dad, I really want to take on my fair share of making appointments, dealing with administration, and otherwise caring for my child.

You can take the boy out of startups, but you can’t take startups out of the boy, apparently. My solution has been to treat our baby like a call center and set up a 24/7 virtual support line using a tool designed for that purpose. Now, we can provide a single number for text messages and calls, but we’re both essentially baby support agents. Whoever picks up first takes the call. It’s not the cheapest, but I couldn’t find an app or other solution that would allow us both to effectively be primary carers in someone’s database. Our own contact details are abstracted away.

The nice thing about this solution is that it also allows for additional caregivers. For example, I have to wonder how my friend David Jay - who is an adoptive third parent - deals with these design defaults. Families come in lots of shapes. Many people also care for children in a communal, village-like environment. Creating a baby call center allows you to bring anyone into that circle, even temporarily. Obviously, I’ve been using tools for business sales and support to achieve this, but maybe there’s a genuine startup here?

There are real cultural headwinds to overcome: just go back to those replies to Aaron’s tweet. Lots of people have lots to say about the place of fathers vs mothers, using language that isn’t far off from “a women’s place is in the kitchen”. They must be overcome, and they will be.

If you’re designing a parenting app or service, I implore you: dads are carers too. Please let us be by giving us full access to services designed to support our child. We’ll reward you with our loyalty. The dads are ready.


Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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