When most of the country was ordered to stay at home in March, senior Eli Jones’s school environment did not change. The child and family development student was already completing coursework online while interning in Illinois.
“I currently work for a family-focused, child-centered welfare agency called Hobby Horse House (HHH) in Jacksonville,” Jones says. “I’ve been able to be part of many aspects of the services we provide, a major one being parenting classes.”
The spread of COVID-19 means Jones is completing intern duties remotely, too.
“While I can’t go into details of my casework, I can tell you that we’re doing the best we can during this situation to provide our services while limiting person-to-person contact and working through telecommunications,” Jones says.
Fortunately, working in ways he isn’t used to hasn’t meant the halt of what he calls his passion project: a parenting program exclusively for fathers. The idea came to Jones during a discussion with his workplace’s parenting services coordinator.
“The goal of the program is that fathers will be able to handle all aspects of raising their children,” Jones said.
He hopes it will also combat the notion that men cannot parent like women can.
“Honestly, men get a bad rep as fathers, because many aren’t taught to be nurturing individuals,” Jones said.
His goal is to combat toxic masculinity—an adherence to traditional, male gender roles that limit the emotions of boys and men.
“Through toxic masculine traits, and the thought that it’s the mother’s job to raise children, we have created a standard that dads aren’t really parents, but simply babysitters.”
Stages of life
While Jones’s progress for his project has slowed, much of it has already been laid out. The program will consist of 12 modules—including several for every stage of childhood through maturity—to be covered across 12 weeks:
- Weeks 1-2 covers development from birth through two years of age. Fathers will learn how to feed, bathe and diaper their babies, as well as how to aid them as they learn to walk and talk.
- Week 3 teaches fathers about self-care, self-worth and how to ditch toxic masculinity.
- Week 4 covers ages 2-5, as well as how to find child care and preschools.
- Week 5 focuses on school-age children ages 5-12. It teaches fathers how to assist children with schoolwork and help them understand their changing bodies, gender roles, sex and body sovereignty.
- Week 6 shows fathers how to navigate the world of dating as their children become curious about romantic relationships.
- Week 7 covers brain development across stages of childhood, as well as how to manage stress and money as a parent.
- Week 8 focuses on puberty.
- Week 9 includes information about ages 12-18.
- Week 10 teaches fathers how to structure their days, managing chores, errands and schedules.
- Week 11 focuses on children’s educational needs and the possibility of raising a special needs child.
- Week 12 is for leftover information and unanswered questions, Jones says, as he is sure there will be spillover from previous modules.
Jones acknowledged the program covers a lot of material in a short amount of time. It’s his hope, though, that the additional formation of a group to help fathers socialize will build community. Dads will receive support in their learning and growth.
Putting it to work
Jones plans to form a trial group next spring to go through each module. Feedback will help him adapt the program to fathers’ needs.
Jones is currently looking into grant funding for researchers to help with further development.
“The end goal for this program is to publish the curriculum, so that other centers like HHH could use the content,” Jones says.
Childhood education and family studies assistant professor Dr. Elizabeth King knows it’s possible. She calls Jones an “engaged and critical” student.
“He doesn’t simply take content at face value, but he pushes it,” she says. “He wants not only to learn whatever material is covered, but to challenge the concept, turn it on its head and consider it in various contexts—always with a social justice lens.”
Dr. King, who has worked with Jones for about two years, claims students like him make professors better at what they do. She’s happy for the opportunity to finally talk him up.
“His approach to the parenting program he’s developing is innovative,” she says. “It’s not only a how-to for fathers, but it focuses on updating the narrative of what fathering looks like.”
Many parenting programs put a focus on mothers, she says.
“His program aligns directly with the American Psychology Association’s call for positive father involvement.”
What’s better? Jones’s program aligns with his own ideal that fathers feel empowered to be the best parents they can be.
“I believe this program will help fathers not only be better for their children,” he says, “but for themselves.”