In this season of churches rethinking how they can connect with families, could you start a toddler group for dads and their children?

Vicky shares her experience and talks about the impact her group ‘Just 4 Dads’ has had on her community.

My name is Vicky Reedy and I set up ‘Just 4 Dads St Chads’ in September 2017. I was already a volunteer at our church baby and toddler group and I loved welcoming families.

I had a few friends who were stay at home dads and I encouraged them to attend church toddler groups. They said how they felt uncomfortable in those groups as no one spoke to them and some even questioned why they were there. This made me think about how it would be great to offer a group for dads and grandads where they felt welcomed, accepted and could chat with other dads. Parenting can be a lonely place for dads as well as mums, sometimes more so, and that’s how our midweek group started. Initially, we had seven attending, and six of them were full-time stay at home dads. They stood at our kitchen hatch like they were propping up a bar, talking about chores, school runs and being a dad. Friendships formed and they met up at the pub, played sports together and it quickly became more than our midweek group.

Then COVID-19 hit and we stopped.

During lockdown, I was running peer support groups for mums, when one mum mentioned that her partner was struggling to bond with their son and it would be helpful if he had something similar. So, I started a similar group on Saturday mornings for dads and their newborn to crawling stage babies. This age range was easier to keep on separate mats to maintain social distancing and it meant the dads also had to stay at their mats and talk to the dads around them. Most of them were working from home, with little contact during the week, so they enjoyed being with other dads. Great friendships were formed and after lockdown, they started to play football together and set up a WhatsApp group to support each other and arrange events.

Because we had been meeting every week, we carried this on. The dads say they love that we are always there. If they miss a week, they know we are there the week after, and they don’t have to wait another month.

Those who attend say how much they enjoy having something for them because so many other baby/parent activities are focussed on mums. They have found that when the family is together mum will often take the lead, or the baby naturally goes to mum. However, attending the group has boosted their confidence to care for their child and they have taken this back to their families. One mum said, ‘He came home telling me all about baby’s development, then said, I’ll take him for a bath and make his bottle.’

Another mum shared how thankful she was because her husband had been listening to the other dads and what they do at home. Afterwards he started helping more around the house; he was a more attentive husband and it had improved their relationship.

Others said how they experienced depression after their baby’s birth, but coming along to the group and listening to others had helped them feel less alone. Being among other men has freed them to talk openly about issues they wouldn’t at home. The children also love doing something with their dads. A dad of triplets said that every week his boys ask whether they are going to dads club.

The dads who come on Saturdays after working all week, love spending time with their children. It’s easier to come to a group than stay at home, they can mess up our space instead of theirs and whenever bacon butties are mentioned the dads are pleased!

We’ve also started working with a local child’s art class. Some love taking part in a more structured class like this, but won’t attend our stay and play, so these classes are a way of dads joining in with a different type of group. It’s a messy morning of painting fun for baby and dad. They explore different art techniques and have a go themselves. At the end of the session they have made something they can proudly take home.

I have loved providing groups for dads and children. There can be a misconception that dads are not really interested, or are too busy, but we’ve found the opposite to be true and I would encourage others to look at starting a group. Whether you start with a more structured activity, outdoor group or a stay and play like ours, you’ll discover that in reality dads love to come along, they are just waiting to be invited.

If you’re looking to start a group for dads check out Care for the Family’s – Who Let the Dads Out? for information and support.

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