Can We Justify Bias Against Fathers?

Take a look at this quote from an article published on a prominent parenting site and then republished on a prominent news site:

You’ve accepted a sleepover invite for your son, not realizing that the family is Jewish. You’re not OK with it. What to do? 

The Solution: “Call and say ‘I’m sorry, and this is about me and not you, but I just don’t feel comfortable with a Jew supervising an overnighter,’ ” says Morris, a PhD., play therapist, mother of three, and founder of Counseling Center at Liberty, in Columbiaville, NH. Offer to host the girls at your place instead, if you can, or ask to turn the sleepover into a “late-over,” where your daughter stays only till bedtime. In the future, always ask who’ll be on duty before you say yes to a sleepover.

Appalled? Mortified? Already started writing your comment about the injustice, indignity, the irrationality of the statement. Well, thankfully, I made that one up. Here’s another one:

You’ve accepted a sleepover invite for your daughter, not realizing that only her pal’s divorced dad will be home. You’re not OK with it. What to do? 

The Solution: “Call and say ‘I’m sorry, and this is about me and not you, but I just don’t feel comfortable with a man supervising an overnighter,’ ” says Paone (a Ph.D., a play therapist, mother of three, and founder of Counseling Center at Heritage, in Montgomeryville, PA). Offer to host the girls at your place instead, if you can, or ask to turn the sleepover into a “late-over,” where your daughter stays only till bedtime. In the future, always ask who’ll be on duty before you say yes to a sleepover.

Appalled? Mortified? Already started writing your comment about the injustice, indignity, the irrationality of the statement. Well, unfortunately, this one is real and was posted originally on Parenting.com and then republished on CNN.com, so keep writing.

You might also be thinking that you agree with the parent’s concern and the advice that was given, and you are likely not alone. Many people are justifying these feelings because we are trying to do what’s best for our children. In a world surrounded with stories of rapists and pedophiles, could we ever live with ourselves if something happened when we let our child stay over at a man’s house?

These feelings aren’t new. Can’t we all think back to a time (not that long ago) when “experts” would have advised parents not to allow their children to stay overnight at the home of a Jewish family, or a black family,  because we weren’t “comfortable?” Do we still think it’s possible for “experts” to advise parents not to allow their children to stay overnight at the home of a gay or lesbian family?

When do we cross the line of “this is about me, not you” thinking being used to justify our actions to “this is about me” thinking as an opportunity to look inwards to address our own biases. None of us can justify to ourselves that it would okay to not let our children have a sleepover at someone’s house because they were poor, or handicapped, or a different race or a different religion, right?

If I were asked to comment on this question, I might suggest something like this:

The Solution: “Take a moment to think about why you feel this way. Do you know men that are excellent fathers that would provide a safe, caring, and fun environment for you child,” says Schneider, not a PhD, not a play therapist, not a founder of a counseling center, but a father of two. “Perhaps you should take some time to get to know the father before you decide you are uncomfortable. In the future, always get to know the person who will be caring for your child (man or woman) before you say yes to a sleepover.”

Since the dawn of humanity, parents have been put in uncomfortable situations that require us to make decisions. Over time, our thinking continues to evolve as we re-think our own experiences and prejudices. It’s time to force ourselves to re-think, as one of our Facebook followers put it, our Dadophobia.

Comments

  1. says

    I guess since my daughter is so young I had not thought about this. But I think it is critical for my daughter to be of a certain age where she can communicate to me clearly if anything where to happen.

    In my case I am not sure I would let my daughter sleep over anywhere unless I really trust those people she will be staying with.

  2. Anonymous says

    I am not sure your analogy comparing Jews and Men is a good one. One’s fear of Jews is irrational and unfounded. Jews don’t hurt people. One’s fear in a man improperly touching your child, while not the rule, has and does happen. Pedophiles do exist and they are almost always men. Not only are they men, but men we know and trust or are even family. Like it or not, that is the truth and and as a man and a father of a daughter, I will never allow my daughter to be supervised by only a man.

  3. says

    I debated what analogy I should use to compare to the bias that dads are experiencing. You have to admit, there was a time when you can fathom the sentence being spoke, “I wouldn’t let my child spend the night at a Jewish family’s home.” The reasons weren’t the same, but people felt somehow justified. The analogy is definitely uncomfortable, which is the point.

    To your point about the real danger, it exists and we as parents need to protect our children. The best advice that I have seen on the message boards covering this issue is that we need to prepare our children for a potential encounter with a sexual predator. My next step in that direction is to find an expert in this area to come speak to our group.

  4. Anonymous says

    I see what you are trying to say and I wish things could be different, but to me the risk is too great. Have you seen the movie with Clive Owen called Trust? This is about his daughter, a smart and model teenager, who is taken advantage of via the Internet by a male sexual predator. if a girl her age and with her intelligence can be fooled, surely a young child can. Point is, sexual predators are good at what they do and I am not sure any level of preparation can ensure safety. I also don’t think that not allowing your child to be supervised by a man is a knock or bias against dads or men in general. As a man, I would not be offended if someone didn’t allow me to watch their young child. I may be wrong, but again, the risk is too great and sexual abuse happens more than we think it does.

    On another topic, I want to applaud what you are doing with NYC Dads. I am a SAHD in NJ and am considering starting a group in my area thanks to you. Keep up the good work.

  5. NJDoItAllDad says

    Thanks Matt! Already read the how to article. Good stuff. I am actually outside Princeton and don’t know of any groups down here. I am on an email list for Mercer County Moms, but I am the only current Dad. Definitely awkward at times :-) Anyway, my wife is due with our second in 6 weeks, so once I get a handle on taking care of two little ones, I hope to initiate a group in my area. Will be sure to reach out to you for advice.

  6. says

    Definitely know the feeling of being the only dad in a world of moms. College towns are great for starting a dads group. To maximize participation, you might consider opening the group to all dads rather thank just at-home dads. I’ll bet there are a lof of dads that have time with their kids during the day, but still maintain careers (i.e. college instructors/professors).

  7. says

    Hi Matt: Thank you for responding to the Parenting.com post.

    Hi Anonymous: While I agree that “sexual predators are good at what they do” and that “sexual abuse” happens, according to this report: http://www.fosteringperspectives.org/fp_v10n2/stats.htm: “Offenders are most often acquaintances (approximately 50%) followed by family members (approximately 25% to 33%) and strangers (7% to 25%)” Do you keep your daughter away from your friends and family gatherings?

    Please don’t misunderstand, I am not suggesting you wholeheartedly abandon all caution. I am asking where you draw the line?

  8. says

    I hate to say it, but the leading researchesr on the subject of child sexual abuse say that about 10% of men in America are pedophiles. Only about 1-3% of women are. There are very few good tools availabie to figure out is any particular individual is a sex offender- sex offender registries only list offenders who got caught and convicted, which is a very small percent, and the objective, scientific tests are invasive and most people aren’t going to subject themselves to them. And most people will gain no useful information by “getting to know” someone about wheter or not they are a pedophile.

    Other than teaching your child never to be alone in a room with only one adult, and telling the supervising parent that is your rule, there isn’t much you can do to protect your kids in a situation like a sleep over. But I can’t blame a parent for being uncomfortable when the only supervision is coming from the gender that is most likely to sexually abuse a child.

  9. says

    Hi Melanie. Thanks for your comment. I agree that “getting to know” someone is not enough, and the I wrote a follow-up to this post, that indicates that we need to teach our children (in an age-appropriate way) how to handle these difficult situations. I assume you came to this site through a post from Jill Starishevsky, author of My Body Belongs to Me. I’m just getting to know her work, but I’m hoping it will give us more tools then the ones you list. I don’t think we should be willing to use the broad brush of gender to discriminate based on the actions of the criminals among us.

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