I think I saw this book on one of NetGalley’s emails, and although I’m not a parent (not by choice) myself, I enjoy reading parenting books.

Paul Morgan-Bentley – “The Equal Parent: How Sharing the Load Helps the Whole Family Thrive”

(22 February 2023, NetGalley)

Women cannot ever achieve equality in the workplace if fathers are seen as a rare and wonderful thing at their own children’s doctor appointments, at children’s play groups or at the school gates.

This was an interesting one, being written by a man who is married to a man and raising a child together. Having this very male perspective in the book, I will admit I had to push back against the fact that I was reading a book by a man about how to arrange child-rearing, wondering if he got to publish it because he’s a man. But he does have plenty of useful stuff to say about men and parenting, and as well as it being backed up by research, either things he’s read or interviews he’s conducted with experts and parents, he also shares details of his own family life.

Morgan-Bentley’s central thesis is that men are just as “programmed” to care as women, and that if they have early access to doing the basic care for a baby – encouraged into skin-to-skin contact after birth, not being thrown out of the hospital within hours, taught skills like bathing baby if they don’t know already, if the mother is breastfeeding, still taking on responsibilities around that (e.g. going and getting the baby and putting them back down after the night feed), being responsible for weaning, being allowed to just get on with it and being accepted in areas that are inexplicably women-only (like the baby’s NHS record!), they will be just as able, “natural” and caring as the mother, and the family is likely to achieve – and model – a truer equality than is available now. It is important that this is supported by policy instruments such as use-it-or-lose-it parental leave that does not undermine mothers’ leave, childcare support including financial and alteration of record-keeping to include fathers.

He also has some specific concerns about the way policy handles surrogacy, including naming the surrogate and her male partner on a child’s birth certificate until a court order can be gained, leaving medical records falling short and health professionals calling, for example, their baby’s birth mother about appointments way after they’ve amended the birth certificate.

This is two books in one, really, a narrative of how Morgan-Bentley and his husband Robin negotiated the start and continuation of their family and a more journalistic piece about the rights and responsibilities of fathers (of whatever kind: it’s made clear that genetic links do not automatically generate better parenting), which being clear that it’s not a Fathers For Justice type campaign but a campaign to take pressure off women and enlarge and enhance men’s lives in families.

In terms of intersectionality, there is a section about a trans man as a single father and other trans men in general, quite a lot about gay and lesbian parenting but nothing about the impact of ethnicity on parenting and equality in parenting as far as I recall (this would make it an even bigger book, though). Interesting and with solutions gleaned from best practice.

Thank you to Thread Books for making this available to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “The Equal Parent” was published on 2 March 2023.