Newer Dads More Committed to Parenting Than Those of Past Generations, Study Says
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Today's new dads equate being a good father with "being there, being present, spending time and being accessible," and not with being a traditional "breadwinner," according to a new study released by the Boston College Center for Work and Family.
With Father's Day around the corner, these timely findings demonstrate a shift in men's attitudes about parenting and workplace commitment.
"Overall, our research found fathers who were deeply committed to care-giving and sharing the work as evenly as possible with their spouses," the authors write. "Men seem poised to embrace a new definition of fatherhood and to step up to the challenges and the rewards of parenting in a much fuller sense than was the case in the past."
Surprisingly, most fathers in the study reported their self-image at work increased in a positive way after having children, enhancing their reputation, credibility and even career options. However, the researchers found that most new fathers did not arrange formal flexible work schedules, as new mothers often do, even though the dads say they felt supported by their bosses with regard to work-life flexibility.
Instead, the authors report, these fathers used more informal, sometimes "stealth" approaches to balancing work and family issues.
Less surprisingly, the men studied said they were not prepared for how much work it takes to care of a young child. Yet, they said they choose to spend time with their children, frequently at the expense of personal activities they previously enjoyed. Often, their priorities changed to focus more on family and less on work, say the authors. And, in some cases, the men adjusted their career ambitions to take into account their "new responsibilities and joys."
It is clear that women have earned legitimacy in both the home and the workplace, as women comprise 50 percent of the U.S. workforce for the first time ever, the researchers say. In addition, they report that young women are less likely to take on the position of "accommodating spouse," placing their career aspirations second to those of their husbands, and are just as likely as men to seek jobs with greater responsibility. Differences in values from the baby boom generation to the current Millennial Generation also factor in here, according to the authors.
"In many studies, younger workers have placed a greater emphasis on autonomy and work-life balance than is the case with previous generations," the researchers explain. "One hypothesis is that the affluence that the youngest working generation has experienced has led to a greater emphasis on and concern for quality of life issues, as opposed to simply focusing on earnings and promotional opportunities as the most important determinants of success."
The shift in men's attitudes about parenting and workplace commitment is attributed in large part to these demographic, societal and generational factors, but the researchers emphasize that men have not experienced a similar revolution in terms of their role in the home and family sphere.
"The low number of stay-at-home fathers suggests that for a whole host of reasons, men's role as father, nurturer and caregiver is still not fully embraced in our society nor by the vast majority of employers," the authors say. "Fathers struggling to balance career aspirations with a focus on parenting, thereby finding legitimacy in both work and home spheres, may encounter 'paternal walls' not unlike the maternal walls working mothers have faced."
In conclusion, the researchers suggest the view of fatherhood in the workplace must change, as fathers increasingly take on an equal share of family responsibilities. They say employers need to see fatherhood as a more serious and time-consuming role and stop assuming that being a good father simply equates to being a good breadwinner.
"Men seem poised to embrace a new definition of fatherhood and to step up to the challenges and the rewards of parenting in a much fuller sense than was the case in the past," the authors say. "It is time we helped and encouraged them to do so."
Related: Opinion: Dads Can Stay Home With the Kids, Too
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.