Becoming a dad with my husband showed me how little is expected of men by society

Paul Morgan-Bentley (L) and Robin Morgan-Bentley with their son Solly.

When Paul Morgan-Bentley and his husband welcomed their son, Solly, they were struck by how little is expected of men when it comes to raising kids.

Solly was born in 2020, just as lockdown began, via a surrogate. So far, Paul and Robin’s parenting journey has been beautiful and life-affirming, without any of the homophobia they feared they might encounter.

But it’s also been an incredible lesson on how gendered society remains.

“Lots of people were lovely or didn’t bat an eyelid which was lovely, but what we did find repeatedly just how little was expected of men at all when it comes to being a parent – being a fully engaged parent with primary responsibility,” Paul tells PinkNews.

Paul, who is head of investigations at The Times, wants parenthood to be equalised, and believes that can only be achieved by doing away with gender norms and encouraging all parents to pull their weight equally.

“In a non-traditional family, you just get the job done and you can feel really liberated from expectations,” he says.

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“Lots of women face years and years of cultural expectation about what it means to be a woman and how that means you should be caring.

“We write it on the slogans of young girls’ t-shirts that are sold in supermarkets – it’s all about caring and nurturing and boys are ‘cheeky little monkeys’ and are not expected to be nurturing. It’s nonsense.” 

Paul Morgan-Bentley (C) with Robin Morgan-Bentley on the right. Paul is holding their son Solly.
Paul Morgan-Bentley (C) with Robin Morgan-Bentley on the right. Paul is holding their son Solly. (Supplied)

Before and since becoming fathers, Paul and his husband were surprised by just how gendered things still are.

“To our faces we haven’t faced much direct hostility – often it’s embarrassment,” he continues.

“In the IVF clinic, even going through that process, all the paperwork is mum and dad – we had to cross off mum all the time. 

“We’re not massively sensitive about it but society has changed in lots of ways and actually what we found is that often the institutions haven’t kept up.

“Often with hospital births, most hospitals in the UK kick dads out – or any partner out – and you can only come back in visiting hours. What message does that send to the mother?

“It’s all geared towards a heterosexual couple and there’s this idea that there is a mother who will be looking after the baby.” 

Those attitudes also extend into the way parental leave and childcare work.

“If you look at how childcare is organised in the UK, you have some help – very little help, actually – financially from the state during that first year of parental leave, and then nothing for most families until your child is three.

“Either the government doesn’t believe one or two year olds exist, or there is still fundamentally this subconscious belief that a wife is at home looking after the baby.” 

These realisations inspired Paul to write The Equal Parent. Released in March, the book interrogates societal attitudes towards parenting and looks in-depth at the mistakes we’re making when it comes to raising children.

The front cover of The Equal Parent.
The Equal Parent. (Supplied)

Paul believes it’s time society moved into the 21st century and accepted that parenthood doesn’t look the same as it did in the 1960s.

“We should be playing to our strengths and communicating as parents and couples in relationships and working out what’s best for everyone – not just doing things because it feels like the normal thing to do because of our gender,” he adds.

The Equal Parent by Paul Morgan-Bentley is out now.