The Sling Dad can be at times tricky to find, but when you do, he is truly a treat for the eyes. Normally found carrying his offspring on either the front, back or hip, Sling Dad is a social creature and extremely close to his children. Adorned with colour and pattern, Sling Dad wears his child with pride, sharing an intimate bond that is unique to this breed.
Silliness aside, I am proud to say that I baby-wear. I carry my 21 month old son in a sling and have done since he was 6 months. ‘Right, so what?’ I hear you say. The reason for me writing this post was not to “come out” of the baby-wearing closet, but to highlight what it’s like to be a male, in a typically female slingy section of society.
Baby (wearing) steps…
Let’s start at the beginning, with how my journey began. Without throwing around sweeping statements, it’s fair to say that more women baby-wear than men. This was very much the case in our household, my wife found slings before me and I wasn’t interested in the slightest. It wasn’t until a local market that I opted to try it out for practical reasons, as it would be just too busy for the pram.
I was converted from that point and was introduced to a local baby wearing community group Sheffield Slings. I must admit that when I first joined, I felt a little out of place, as the vast majority of members were women. However I received all the support and advice I needed and my concerns were soon laid to rest.
Through using my wife’s sling more regularly, I decided it would be more practical to have one of my own. I went to the same company that produced her custom mei tai, SnugiWraps, and picked out my own fabric. The head phones symbolised not just my love for music, but also at the time I was doing regular work as a freelance music writer.
It was from here that I began to realise how beneficial using a sling was, not just for the practicalities, but for the bond it created between me and Isaac. We interacted much more and it brought comfort to him being closer to me.
As my interest and passion for slings grew, I became intruiged about other methods in which to carry and woven wraps soon grabbed my attention. Once I learnt how to wrap, I found my first woven in the form of a preloved Didymos Anthracite Hemp Indio in a size 6.
Once I had gotten used to a size 6, I moved on to a size 5 Oscha Starry Night Raven (picture 1 below) and ending my woven journey with my legacy wrap, a Kokadi Diorite Stars (picture 2).
However, woven wraps aren’t for everyone and if I’m being honest, I am one of those people. Neither I or Isaac had the patience for any other type of carry than a FWCC and so it still didn’t feel like I’d found my perfect sling.
Enter stage left, the ring sling. Simple to use, great for quick ups and downs with an energetic toddler and sits on the hip, which was perfect for my pre-existing back issue. I had finally found ‘the one’. After I had trialled one by hiring from a local sling library, I had the Anthracite Hemp Indio converted from a wrap to a ring sling. This was the best sling decision I have made and I no longer reach for anything else.
Man, I don’t feel like a woman…
There appears to be an odd feeling about a man baby-wearing. When I walk down the street in the ring sling, some people look at me like I’m wearing an alien on my hip. These looks are usually born out of curiosity and I simply return a friendly smile and answer any questions that are asked of me.
However sometimes the reactions are more negative. I’ve had groups of lads laugh at me in the street, some people just flash a snooty look in my direction; and it’s made me think about why this is. When a dad walks around using a high street carrier, there isn’t as much stigma associated as there is with a woven or ring sling. Are these carriers therefore less socially acceptable? Are they viewed as too feminine for a man to wear? Is it that people think that I should no longer be carrying my son at his age and I should put him in a pram?
When my wife carries, from what I’ve seen, the reactions are more positive and she sometimes doesn’t even get a second glance.
Therefore, is baby-wearing just for women?
From speaking to other sling dads, I understand there are around 5 men trained up as Baby-wearing Consultants in the UK, and maybe 2 or 3 times that as Peer Supporters. There are upwards of 20 female Peer Supporters in Sheffield alone, but as far as I’m aware, I am the only male Peer Supporter in the steel city. So why is there such a difference?
It’s not like there isn’t a community for men who sling. Sling Dads are a group of fathers that adore wearing their children and are passionate, not just about carrying, but about the carriers themselves and the vast array of slings available nowadays. They offer advice and support, whilst promoting an amazingly refreshing and positive image of the modern father.
Insignificant Inequality or Parental Prejudice?
The main question that stems from all this is; does it matter?
Does it matter if men are viewed slightly differently?
Does it matter if people look at men oddly?
Does it matter that men carry less than women?
I discussed similar questions of parental inequalities in a previous post, The Invisible Dad, but I can only really comment based on what I’ve personally experienced and discussed with my friends and peers.
The answers to all the previous questions are down to individual opinion and I would never dream of saying that what’s best for my family, will be best for anyone else’s. Of course, I want fathers to be addressed equally, for their views and needs to be heard. Personally, I’d love dads to be confident wearing their children and feel how I feel when I carry Isaac.
If a dad wants to baby-wear, great. If a dad wants to use the pram, great. Either way, what is best for the family comes first. But if a dad chooses based on the idea, or the fear of being judged, then there lies the problem.
A problem with society, not with the dad.