We’ve probably all seen some kind of footage from the 1950s or 1960s depicting the ‘perfect’ family. Mom in a full-skirted cotton dress and heels, dad in a suit, holding a brief case and scurrying out the door while the kids sit at the breakfast table eating a full hot breakfast. It’s an image that was a snapshot definition of fatherhood for many years in our culture: dad as the breadwinner, mom as the caregiver, clearly defined expectations for both parents.
But just like fashion and work has changed through the years, so to have the expectations and choices of today’s modern fathers. More and more dads are leaving behind the idea of being stuck at the office while family life rolls on at home. More fathers are taking active roles in the daily responsibilities of parenting.
We’re in a special three-part series on family life today, where we’re looking at what has changed in motherhood, fatherhood, and grandparenthood (click here to see what changes motherhood is undergoing today). Fatherhood in particular seems to be undergoing a large shift in our culture, one in which more dads than ever are engaging in deeper levels of involvement in the emotional development of their kids.
Psychologists have noted that the influence of a father underwent a period of decrease in the 20th century. Gone were the days where a father’s authority was unquestioned and his presence in the family home and business was central. Dads began commuted to jobs and to offices their children rarely saw. They would often be gone before the kids were up in the morning and weren’t often home until after bedtime. And there was little research looking into the roles of fathers. As Ditta M. Oliker Ph.D., writes, “The term “parent” was often meant as mother — and father, if mentioned, was equivalent to other influences. Only a small number of parent-child studies investigated the father’s role, and the few studies that were done at that time focused on the father’s involvement as reported by the mother.”
That tide began to turn in the 1970s when clinicians and researchers began specifically researching the impact of a father on his children. They found that “Even from birth, children who have an involved father are more likely to be emotionally secure, be confident to explore their surroundings, and, as they grow older, have better social connections.”
Today, more dads than ever say that parenting is central to who they are. Additionally, while work is still important to a majority of dads, many men report that they want to make sure their work/life balance is healthy so that family time can be a priority.
Check out these other ways in which fatherhood today is evolving:
- Shared Parenting and Co-parenting: Where it used to be assumed that Mom was the primary caregiver, that is no longer the case. Many parenting couples today strive to share duties, to co-parent. While the bulk of household duties still primarily fall to the women in the family, more fathers than ever do participate in chores and responsibilities involving their children.
- Stay-at-Home Dads: The latest research indicates that 2.1 million dads are now the primary stay-at-home parent for their children. This represents an 8% increase since 1989. And this number doesn’t include parents who are working from home and trading off childcare duties throughout the day.
- Emotional Engagement and Active Involvement: Diaper changing, feeding, bath time, playtime, these are all areas where today’s dads are more involved than ever before. While dads are statistically still not as involved in these activities as moms, 85% of dads say that they would like to be more involved and are willing to be part of these kinds of activities for caring for their children. Dads today also say they are more intentional about engaging with their children to understand their emotions, to help them navigate their feelings, and to express their love for their children more demonstrably and openly.
Today more than ever, dads have access to online resources, communities of support, and the research that shows the importance of a father in a child’s life. Moving forward, the trend for more involved, care-giving, present dads means a healthier future for today’s kids, and the positive role model of a dad in a child’s life can mean healthier fatherhood for the next generation and the next.
As we celebrate Father’s Day this year, take a moment to thank the dads in your life. Yes, the world is more complex, and work and life pressures can make fatherhood feel daunting. Let’s celebrate those guys who are making their kids a priority!