A lawyer in Bermuda became internet-famous for dancing ballet alongside his two-year-old daughter, comforting her stage fright by being there and doing the dance moves right with her. He knew the part because he had practiced ballet with his children before – and said it was just a normal part of fathering daughters.
That isn’t a common sentiment about fatherhood, even now. But social norms have been changing over the past 40 years, as more women – and mothers – have entered the workforce. While mothers still do more work at home, the burden is becoming more equal. However, the concept of father-as-breadwinner is still stronger than ideals of fathers as nurturers. As a result, fathers often find themselves out of place at parks, malls and other areas frequented by mothers and children. The same problem happens when they visit most parenting forums online.
My research focuses on understanding how modern fathers find and use online communities of men in similar situations, as they all try to make sense of their own parenting identities. By interviewing fathers and using big data analysis, my co-author and I found that fathers seek information and support online, use more anonymous social media sites like Reddit to discuss sensitive issues such as divorce and child custody conflicts, and blog about do-it-yourself projects as a way of legitimizing their childcare and domestic work as masculine labor.
Fathers look for community online
Analyzing 102 interviews, a team of us found that fathers are active on social media, including posting photos about their children’s milestones, such as walking or crawling, and pictures of activities like dancing and baseball. But fathers are less involved than mothers in managing online sharing of child-related content. We found that moms were fielding the questions and making the decisions about whether Grandma could share a picture with the baby on her Facebook wall or if friends could share photos of the child’s birthday party.