In our last blog we talked a bit about the changing image of fatherhood in the media. Showing dads as more involved and active in their children’s lives. Is this change a byproduct of social change occurring around us?Research confirms the rise of co-parenting. A recent U.S. Census Bureau report found that 32% of fathers with working wives routinely care for their children under age 15, up from 26% in 2002. The reasons behind this shift are still uncertain. Be it men who have grown up with the women’s movement and have adapted to the subsequent changes. Or, men who experienced a certain degree of “faithlessness” during previous eras of family dynamics.
“Fathers are no longer seen as just providers or occasional babysitters, but as actively engaged in their children’s emotional and daily lives, down to their routine care,” says Lauren Rinelli McClain, an assistant professor of sociology at Savannah State University. She is one of more than 30 researchers and policy makers who will present papers at a conference on “Fathers and Fathering in Contemporary Contexts” later this month at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.
It’s an area of growing research. We have previously spoken on everything from the joys of fatherhood to recent studies linking fatherhood to certain health benefits. Amid this are, of course, benefits for the children as well, as studies have shown that children with active fathers are less at-risk than those with non-active fathers.
There is another element to this overall wind of change: marriage.
“We’re getting a new cultural script for a ‘new dad’ but not for a ‘new husband,’ ” says W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project. “That married people with children now often refer to themselves as a ‘stay-at-home mom’ or ‘stay-at-home dad’ instead of as ‘wife’ or ‘husband’ signals that we now prioritize parenthood over marriage itself.”
As men try to be better dads, they are running into the familiar difficulty of balancing kids, career and marriage—a problem that women have been trying to manage since the 1970s. With men as with women, it is marriage itself that often gets short shrift.
“Men are experiencing what women experienced when they first entered the workforce in record numbers—the pressure to ‘do it all in order to have it all,’ ” according to a report released by the Family and Work Institute last year. It also found that the acceleration in “work-family conflict” has been particularly conspicuous among fathers in two-income families, with 60% saying it was an issue in 2008, up from 35% in 1977. That figure remained relatively stable for women, at 41% in 1977 and 47% in 2008. As men adjust to contemporary family life, Mr. Coltrane speculates that American culture may be on its way to phasing out the gendered roles of “husband and wife” and “father and mother” and replacing them with the functional roles of “spouse and parent.”
“This indicates, at least for a growing minority of men, that marriage is a greater economic and cultural capstone than fatherhood,” says Susan Brown, the center’s co-director. “They’re saying, ‘I need to complete my education and find a stable job before I get married, but not before I have a child.’ ”
For children, this is not an encouraging trend: Fathers who are married to their children’s mothers are, statistically, the most active caregivers. Still, it appears that today’s dads often remain involved with their children even if they do not live with the children’s mom or have a strong emotional connection to her.
In a 2010 report published by the Future of Children, a joint project of Princeton University and the Brookings Institution, researchers found that “involvement [with their children] is high even among fathers who are not in a romantic relationship with the mother.” Even more striking, the study went on to highlight, “a high proportion of all unmarried fathers say that they want to be involved in raising their child, and the mothers say they want the father’s involvement.”
The Men’s Divorce Law Firm believes fatherhood changes a man in positive ways and that happiness is passed onto the children. If you are in a marriage, or divorced, your relationship with your children does not have to change.