Today's Dad Is Way More Fun
The stern and stoic father is a thing of the past, replaced by the conscientious man who is in touch with his feelings and his role in the family dynamic. He understands that healthy kids are the product of a healthy home. And he’s not afraid to change a diaper or take the kids to the park.
Fathers have been called the “single greatest untapped resource” in children’s lives. In fact, a dad becoming intimately involved in his child’s life early on will help that child develop and navigate the world so much better. This isn’t to say dads of generations past were necessarily bad at the job, but they certainly didn’t have the resources, knowledge and support that modern fathers enjoy.
This means many stereotypes of fathering have been broken over the years, and a new generation of dads are leading a new generation of kids into a brighter future for everyone. Let’s see exactly how the father’s role has changed over time.
Childcare and Chores
Since 1965, the number of hours fathers spend on childcare weekly has tripled to eight hours on average. Dads are also pitching in more than ever around the house, doing chores for 10 hours a week on average compared to four hours in 1965. Moms still dominate in these areas, with 14 and 18 hours respectively, but men are proving more and more that they are committed to fatherhood.
That really bears out in Pew’s findings that 63 percent of dads feel they aren’t spending enough time with their kids, citing work. Fathers are also critical of their parenting, with only 39 percent saying they do a very good job.
Not the Only Earner
The U.S. still has a long way to go when it comes to pay equity, but women’s economic empowerment in recent decades has changed the earning dynamic in households. The Pew Research Center reports that only 27 percent “of couples who live with children younger than 18 are in families where only the father works.” Further, the American Psychological Association (APA) found that “between 1948 and 2001, the percentage of working-age women employed or looking for work nearly doubled — from less than 33 percent to more than 60 percent.”
This means the number of two-earner households has increased so much that they are “the majority of two-parent families with children.”
Men as Caregivers
In one of the classic examples of American contradiction, most people (71 percent) think it’s important for mothers and fathers to both be home and bonding with their newborns, yet the U.S. is the only developed nation that doesn’t offer paid family leave on the federal level. Regardless, younger generations are changing the mold when it comes to who should be the primary caregiver.
The Pew Research Center found that the vast majority of those 50 and older believe moms are better at caring for children than dads. But only 47 percent of adults 30 to 49 years old agree with that assessment, and it’s 40 percent for those under 30. So, while dads might get a chilly reception at a playground full of moms, it’s becoming more and more likely to see them there with their kids.
The Rise of Stay-at-Home Dads
Moms still dominate the stay-at-home parent demographic, but attitudes toward this have greatly evolved. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly one in five at-home parents are dads.
The APA found that the number of stay-at-home dads increased by 50 percent from 2003 to 2006. Factors included that their partner was earning enough or more than them that they felt a need to be the primary caregiver or that neither parent wanted a stranger looking after the child. Researchers also discovered that, unlike in the past, these fathers were unaffected by societal norms and more interested in raising healthy and happy kids.
Dads in the Kitchen
Gone are the days of dads coming home to a hot meal, clean house and well-behaved children. But it’s not because moms lost the superhuman powers that made them capable of achieving such feats. It’s because more and more fathers are sharing the household responsibilities with their partners. This is perhaps most prevalent in the kitchen.
There are entire websites dedicated to dads who cook at home, such as the aptly named DadCooksDinner that feature good recipes that make sense for all types of households. Besides being a great role reversal, eating home-cooked meals can have tremendous positive effects on children, from improving their images of themselves to creating healthy habits early.
Resources for Him
If the old proverb about a village raising a child is true, the modern version involves dad-specific books, blogs, support and activity groups, and Instagram pages. Dads have more resources than ever before aimed squarely at helping them succeed as parents. Case in point: “The Expectant Father” is a New York Times best-selling book on preparing for fatherhood.
But that merely scratches the surface. There are numerous blogs and Instagram pages written by fathers for fathers, such as this popular one by Doyin Richards in which he shares his learning experiences and inspirations as he raises two daughters. And while support and activity groups are still geared toward moms, there are more options for dads (even gay dads) than ever before. Just check your area if you’re curious.
What does all this mean? Dads don’t have to be afraid of whether or not they’re doing things right because someone or something is there to help them along the way, which is good for everyone.
Accessories for Him
Not only are there more resources for dads these days, the expanded role of the father has led to more accessories for men to carry out that expanded role. There are snazzy diaper bags or flexible bags designed just for dads that don’t necessarily look like a sack for baby items. There are shirts that act as front carriers for infants that actually look like a normal shirt. Other carriers are sturdily designed with dad in mind.
And the hands-on dads of today are even more inclined to do bottle cleaning, for which entire sets can be purchased, or man the stroller, which in some cases acts more like a baby room on wheels than just a means for pushing your child around.
More and More Single Dads
There are still stigmas related to single parenting for men, but things are moving in a more positive direction. For instance, there are four times as many single-father households in the U.S. today than in the 1960s. Overall, dads accounted for 16.1 percent of all single-parent households in 2017, which is still not a ton but is almost 4 percent more than 10 years prior. Cohabitating single fathers also outnumber mothers by 41 percent to 16 percent.
Shifting viewpoints on the ability of fathers to be good parents and courts making more favorable rulings for dads in custody arrangements are a few factors driving the increase in single-father households.
Comfortable in Their Own Skin
Modern dads are more open with their emotions and thus show more love and affection to their children. This is important, as the APA found that a father’s love is just as important to a child’s development as a mother’s love.
“Fatherly love helps children develop a sense of their place in the world, which helps their social, emotional, and cognitive development and functioning,” according to the APA. “Moreover, children who receive more love from their fathers are less likely to struggle with behavioral or substance-abuse problems.”
More Gay Men Become Dads
With acceptance of gay marriage reaching two-thirds of the U.S. population, it’s no wonder more and more gay men are becoming fathers. And as with their heterosexual peers, more and more gay fathers are sharing the responsibility of parenting.
Research has also evolved in this area, with recent findings showing gay parents can provide the same supportive home environment as heterosexual parents. The APA also debunked several long-running but unfounded claims about foster or adoptive gay fathers, including that they are mentally ill or don’t have time for parenting due to their lifestyles.
No Longer the Sole Disciplinarian
Modern dads have ditched the “father knows best” ethos, and a whole generation of children are better off for it. It’s healthier for parents and kids when both parents enforce rules and listen to each other and compromise on their different parenting styles. A shared approach to discipline is encouraged to show kids a united front and that conclusions can be reached even when two people don’t completely agree.
Ninety percent of parents still say their upbringing influences their own parenting. But 50 percent of millennials and Gen Xers say they’re more positive and use less harsh disciplinary tactics than their parents.
Dads Become Active Before Birth
Women are the main focus of pregnancy, and rightfully so for obvious reasons. But that doesn’t mean men cannot be involved, and it’s actually healthier for them and for women if men understand what women go through each step of the way.
As part of the modern man’s approach to parenting, more and more dads are becoming involved from the get-go, as preparation is something parents share more often these days. Men are more willing, even if anecdotally, to be involved in birthing and centering classes and to study up on all the ways their lives will change once their child is born. All of this improves children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development, according to this study.
Men Become Fathers Later in Life
First-time dads are getting older and older. The average age of fathers of newborns was 27 in 1972 but is 31 nowadays. There are also twice as many fathers of newborns over 40 years old today than in the 1970s, accounting for 9 percent of the 4 million or so births annually in the U.S.
But some fathers of newborns are even older. Michael Eisenberg, an assistant professor of urology at Stanford University Medical Center, told NPR he was surprised to learn that “about 40,000 newborns have a father over the age of 50.”
More Concerned With Work-Life Balance
As we’ve discovered, the classic image of the breadwinning father who spends little time at home with his partner and kids (or just kids if he’s single) is a relic of the past. That’s a really good thing for the family dynamic, but it’s even more crucial on an individual level because it means more and more men are realizing that their careers and jobs define them far less than their personal lives and their families.
In fact, a Boston College study found that only 4 percent of millennial dads would sacrifice family or personal time in pursuit of career advancement even though 80 to 90 percent of that same demographic wants to grow professionally. “The c and as the third most important criteria for choosing a job,” according to the study.
Parenting Represents Who You Are
More men are admitting that parenthood defines their very being. Pew Research Center findings show 57 percent of men think being a dad is extremely important to their identity. Generationally, this number reaches 60 percent for millennial dads and 51 percent for baby boomers. As for Gen X fathers, 58 percent agree with the identity metric.
Being proud of fatherhood is also good for children’s development. A child wants to please both parents, particularly the father, so an involved dad is more likely to have an emotionally developed kid. This dynamic is important for how kids views their own relationships as they grow up. A strong father-child bond will positively influence how a child relates to friends, colleagues, authority figures and partners.