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MenCare - how a group of fathers changes perceptions about raising a child

25 December 2020

   

-Nobody believed me, but I knew you’d come back.

-How?

-Because my dad promised me.

 

 

 

 

 

This is one of the most emotional excerpts from the final scene of Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar”, in which Cooper, a former scientific engineer and pilot returning from an interstellar voyage, meets his daughter Murphy, who is very old now, in a hospital. I will not tell you much about the movie, because it would be enough to watch it only once to feel what it means to have a special bond between a father and a son, and what invisible strings there are between us and our fathers, and how the mutual trust can inspire us to do good things.
This is how it happens  in a real life too - no matter if our fathers go into space to save the world or not, we always believe that they are the most caring ones and they will leave no stone unturned for us.
MenCare — this is the name of the campaign initiated by the UNFPA Georgia Country Office in 2016, which aims at promoting the involvement of men as caring fathers and spouses for the health and well-being of families. It is open to all men who share the spirit of the campaign.

There was a number of initiatives implemented as part of the large-scale campaign, including the Fathers’ Group, which was formed in early April in 2020.
Mirian Jugheli is a digital communications specialist. He runs a group of the Fathers’ Group, and as he says, even before Facebook announced promoting the groups, he had already thought that such unions – or groups - would be an innovation of future in the digital world.
“I used to open various thematic groups on Facebook ten years ago. The number of groups has increased significantly in the last two years, and many new groups emerged - those of mothers, women, self-care or cars. At the onset of the pandemic, when many questions appeared in the social networks about childcare, we thought it would be the right time to create a group for fathers” – says Mirian.

Well, raise your hand, how many of you have run out of fairy tales?
How many times have you been asked a question to which you had no answer?
Do you realize that it is time to update your collection of cartoons and movies?
Is there anyone among you who have old handmade spaceships at home, and your children are asking you to build new ones? 
Have they realized already that the living room is not a football pitch?
Has it slipped from their mouth that they are missing Teacher Iza? 
And, they also got tired of arranging trips to the kitchen, right?!
 
That is why a thematic group was created, where the fathers were not only given an opportunity to talk about their personal concerns, depression or other “invisible” problems, but also to have some space to discuss completely trivial issues. Here they share useful tips, exchange interesting information, ask questions about raising children or family chores, or answer the questions of others.
The Fathers’ Group now unites about 5,000 men and they, as Mirian points out, joined the group independently, based completely on their own free will. There are dozens of thematic updates posted here during a day. All group members follow the main rule, according to which any kind of discrimination and insult is prohibited. The posts are always filtered, and new members are added once a week. This ensures keeping a healthy atmosphere in the group.
As Mirian says, discussion is always encouraged here. The fathers help each other, giving advice on children’s nutrition, health, family chores and even legal issues.

“They always take each other’s problems close to their hearts. If necessary, they also provide financial assistance to one another and share practical advice. There are lawyers in the group as well, who made appearance when one of the members needed legal aid; there were cases when the fathers who already had a biological child asked for advice on the adoption of children; there was a case when many fathers got united for a child who was left without food during the curfew, among them the couriers, who had permits.”
- Mirian Jugheli, Admin of the Fathers’ Group

They also often organize charity campaigns. As Mirian tells us, recently, one of the group members came up with a similar initiative, joined by the dozens of people who quickly managed to organize everything, bought foodstuffs and various items. Today, the group members have identified about ten families, they often visit them and deliver the collected products.
In addition to serious issues, the fathers also share funny news and photos among one another. “You can often see foreign videos on the Internet, when a mother leaves a child to a father, and he, for example, paints mustache on the child, puts on strange clothes, does hair. There are many Georgian versions of this in our group. This is the content that could absolutely go viral globally,” says Mirian.
One of those videos leaked “out” and it was seen by thousands of people.
The girl’s father, Gigi Tsereteli, tells us that when his daughter was taken to a kindergarten on Sunday, it was hard for her to go back, but eventually she agreed to go for a walk in the park instead.
Gigi has been working from home lately, so he spends all his time with his daughter and has already gained a lot of experience:
“We walk every day, we draw, we invent games, we have a small tent where we “sell” things. Although the isolation is quite tiring for all of us, I am still happy that we are having a good time together.”
However, everything was not that easy in the beginning. Gigi explains that when his daughter was born, he was too preoccupied about everything.
“Several times when the baby was crying, I was so worried that we even had to call the ambulance. Then I slowly got used to it. Truly, I have always been a very emotional father, but gradually I learned more, I was reading information on the internet all the time and asking doctors for advice,” he said.


Photo: Dina Oganova / UNFPA Georgia

The girl likes to spend time with books. Although she cannot read fluently, she recognizes letters: “She likes it very much when I read fairy tales to her, we do puzzles together. However, the most important thing is that she is growing up in a free environment - she does not have any special restrictions,” - says the father.
Gigi thinks that after they had a baby and started to live on their own, every day he and his wife have been breaking down stereotypes about raising a child. According to him, in general, the Fathers’ Group plays a big role in this.

There is a very friendly environment in the Fathers’ Group, there are representatives of almost all the generations gathered here, and we often share information, photos, funny moments or advices on family issues. I also leave comments often and I hope my experience is useful to others. This group is doing a very good job. It is true that most of the people gathered here are already equally involved in domestic work, but the group may also motivate those men who do not know, for example, that doing the house or other domestic work is his duty too. - Gigi Tsereteli, a member of the Fathers Group

In regard to undermining the prejudices about child upbringing and domestic chores, Gigi counts on the media engagement, information campaigns and the unions such as the Fathers’ Group.
“In the West, for example, there are courses, where they teach fathers how to do hair for their daughters. We need to launch this kind of fun projects, awareness-raising trainings or other campaigns intensively, and the media should cover these stories to change the public attitudes,” says Gigi.
According to him, the situation is even more complicated in the regions, so some funds should be allocated for educational projects so that more people can learn about the equal involvement in child rearing and become more motivated to care.

Domestic work is distributed 50/50 in our family as well. When the baby was born, my wife was a university student and attended lectures every day, and I would stay with the baby for months, feeding and walking her. So, we do all the work equally, which is very important and, probably rare; however, as I can see in the Fathers’ Group, now there are more such cases, and this is commendable. - Gigi Tsereteli

Shalva Liparishvili is another distinguished member of the group. He is a military officer with seven children. He said it may seem quite many in figures, but it is actually a completely ordinary family where all the members are trying to do a lot of things together.
“We do what they care about. In addition, children are involved in domestic work. This brings experience and makes us get to know one another, which helps us to be more open with one another in the future,” says Shalva.
They usually have different times for fairy tales before sleep. According to Shalva, children are accustomed to going to bed independently. The little ones are like that - when they see what their older siblings do, they are also getting used to being on their own. They manage to get dressed themselves, wash, proceed with hygiene procedures and do not need the help of parents in all this. In addition, they communicate easily with other children and face fewer challenges on a daily basis.
According to Shalva, raising a child is a useful process in every way.
“We are both equally involved in household chores and childcare. I would not call it the division of labor. We do what needs to be done, and this is done by whoever is available at that moment – whether it is about changing a diaper or anything else that the kids need,” says he.


Photo: Dina Oganova / UNFPA Georgia

According to him, obviously, it is easy to raise seven children; moreover, he is away from his family because of his work for a certain period, sometimes even for months, and it is only his wife to handle many things there.
“However, I may not be physically present with my children, but there are so many ways to communicate with them,  and I can always do it”, says Shalva.
For Shalva, the Fathers Group is very informative. According to him, here you will meet the people of all types, views or professions; they are very enthusiastic and often share information about child nutrition, sleep or other issues in the Georgian and foreign languages.
“The group had just been created when I was added. I had more time then and would engage in the discussion even more actively; however, I am still trying to give more and get more, because this information is useful to everyone.”

“The presence of such groups is very important for defying the stereotypes. There are not only experienced fathers in this group, but also other men who are expecting a child now, or are involved in raising young family members, so the more open we are in our conversations with each other, I think, the easier it will be to overcome problems. All this comes with experience - the more we talk to one another - the more we open up, and the more we learn about problems - the more we look for solutions. Eventually, all of this will help them become better fathers, and on the whole, their children will grow up to be better citizens and benefit their family and their country.” - Shalva Liparishvili

Shalva points out that it is important for both men and women to feel free to talk to each other, ask about their problems, give advice. “After some time we will get to the point where we no longer need separate groups. Until then, it is better to have a space where fathers can share experiences and talk more openly about various issues,” he says.
Giorgi Katsitadze also watches the group every day. His daughter is already seven years old. George says that when others ask questions about younger children in the group, or share stories of a younger child, he can see his past experience in everything; while those who write about their older children, help him to imagine what the future might hold.
Anna used to spend more time with her mother during the first six months, though after that she started to be with her father all the time.
“She would not even let anyone else to take her socks off if I was at home. Consequently, it has been quite natural for me to take care of her, I cannot imagine things to be different. If she woke up at night, I would wake up with her, prepare food, change, bathe her. There are many stories like this in the Fathers’ Group. I have not even heard anyone protesting against the engagement in childcare or to think that this is not his business,” says Giorgi.
He tells us that Anna had hardly ever slept at night for about three years after she was born, so he and his wife had to stay up for many nights. Sometimes they slept in turn, or stayed up all night together, this is why he thinks that a group like this and sharing the experience of others could have made things so much easier.
 


ფოტო: დინა ოგანოვა/UNFPA Georgia

Now Anna already has many “rituals” with her father, such as reading a book, and she would not go to bed without it.
“This is not only a pleasant process and a prerequisite for falling asleep easily, but also a time spent with the child, which is also important and pleasant for the parent as well.”
Giorgi says that they have not forced his child to do anything - everything happens naturally, they just follow her wishes and do not forbid anything.
The pandemic has also posed challenges to Ana and her parents - online lessons turned out to be difficult for her, she finds it hard to concentrate in front of the monitor and dreams about getting back to school. Although she goes for a walk with her parents at weekends, still, she has to stay at home most of the time, and misses being outdoors every day, going to school and interacting with her friends.
“I also had to stay at home for a few weeks, and it is very difficult to work and to take care of the child, as she is always moving around and you have to be attentive,” says George.

“There is one important fact about this group – it helped me to discover how many fathers in Georgia think about parenting the same way as I do. In general, the more information we can share, the easier things get. The MenCare campaign is also very interesting, which promotes this issue and lets many people realize that fathers should be as involved in the upbringing of the child as mothers.
In general, I do not support any differences - a parent is a parent, and I am glad that this is the motives I hear from the group all the time. It will be very important to disseminate this issue, to reach out to more people.” - Giorgi Katsitadze

Mirian’s motivation has been the same regarding this group - to keep on doing what he has been into for a long time. He is one of the few fathers who took paternity leave after his child was born, and he also actively works for and talks about the issues of equal care as well.

“I think it is wrong to urge others to do things that you have not experienced yourself. I have been on a paternity leave, now we are expecting our second child and I am going to use the paternity leave again. I passionately talk about this, and, in general, about the issues of childcare wherever I can.” - Mirian Jugheli

“So far, we have carried out many projects with a very small budget within the framework of the MenCare Campaign – the projects “For One Lari, the real value of which was much higher. This group is a logical continuation of this, where these efforts are accumulated in one space”, - says Mirian.


Photo: Dina Oganova / UNFPA Georgia

According to him, the campaign is often criticized for promoting the fathers to do the things such as, for example, to care for a child, to take a child to school, despite the study findings suggesting that there is a need to carry out the campaigns like this in our country as well.
“We conducted a survey a few years ago at UNFPA - Men and Gender Relations in Georgia, being the first one to address this issue. In general, the UN has a very correct approach – first it conducts a study before starting to work on any issue in the country. This survey demonstrated that the issue is really problematic. This is where the campaign started”, - says he.
There was a smaller-scale campaign “Daddy Read Me a Book” implemented before launching the MenCare project. Back then, many people could not understand what it was about. In fact, the campaign got its name from the survey - as the findings revealed, 82% of fathers do not read books to their under-6 children and are not actively involved in their upbringing.

“We had two options: one was the “conventional” way – not to pay attention to this problem, or the other – to approach men and tell them that if they got actively involved in childcare that would make them better people. We opted for the second one, where we started to change the people’s mindsets with positive communication and examples. We call it “Daddy, Read Me a Book” because reading a book is the easiest thing, which does not require many efforts.” - Mirian Jugheli

There were many people involved in the campaign, including the athletes, clergymen, representatives of various professions. They took photos, conducted book reading sessions, and fathers wrote diaries for their children. As a result, very strategically, step by step, today they managed to unite the people of all segments. The campaign continues - the organizers conduct studies, publish books and fairy tales, plan meetings, celebrate the Father’s Day, travel to the regions and organize shows. They also created a reality show where fathers spent one day with their children without the help of mothers or nannies.
“Personally speaking, I cannot recall any other campaign in Georgia that would have been active for so long. This campaign is more than just a Facebook group or a page now. It has become a self-sufficient organism and will acquire an even more intensive, educational-informational function in the future“, said Mirian.
Next year, with the initiative of the UNFPA Georgia Country Office, it is planned to open Fathers’ Schools in Tbilisi and Kutaisi. In addition, the campaign will focus on further expansion in the regions, awareness-raising of fathers, promoting the issues of education and paternity leave.
The  MenCare Campaign is initiated by the UNFPA Georgia Country Office and implemented by the UNFPA Georgia Office and the NGO Care Together, with the financial support of the Swedish Government and the European Union, within the framework of the programs: the  UN Joint Programme for Gender Equality and the EU 4 Gender Equality: Together Against Gender Stereotypes and Gender-Based Violence.
The campaign was launched in 2016. It aims at promoting the involvement of men, as non-violent and caring fathers and spouses for the health and welfare of families, so that the men show more support to gender equality, and this way – contribute to community empowerment. It is open to all men whoever shares the idea of the campaign.

 

The article is prepared by  On.ge