I'm surrounded by super-involved dads. Dacher Keltner, founder and faculty director of the Greater Good Science Center, is one of the most admirably hands-on dads I know. My dad was considered involved back in the day because he coached softball once and took me to Indian Princesses. Dads today do more than just the fun stuff. My own dad has done more work—changing diapers, picking up prescriptions, cleaning up dog barf—in my household with his grandchildren than he ever did when my brother and I were kids. Dacher coaches soccer AND ferries his children to and from school. My friend Gary, a creative director at an ad agency, does lots of traditional dad things fixing stuff around the house AND he plans their family's meals, does all the grocery shopping, and most of the cooking. Andrew, a patent lawyer with a PhD, is home by 5:00 every day to help out with dinner and bed time. And I've never been to a school meeting or event that Andrew missed.
All the griping from the moms around me gives me the sense that these men are
outliers. Perhaps their privileged economic status affords them more time with their kids. But then again, they have traditionally long-hours jobs. "Seriously," one mom recently said to me after the Father's Day posting, "HOW do we get dads to be more involved?" Family sociologists often conclude that despite all the gains that women have made in the work force, they are still facing a stalled gender revolution at home: men aren't typically doing their fair share of housework or childcare. The good news is that amount of time men spend doing housework has doubled over the past three decades. The bad news is that women are still doing 70% of that work.
Change takes time; at this rate, if we keep working on it, our most of our grandchildren will have dads who do half the housework and childcare, and they'll be better off for it [link to last posting]. Research shows that there are three things that make men likely to be involved dads:
1) A mother's support.
- Men are more likely to be involved dads when mothers expect and believe parenting is a joint venture. When a child's mom believes the role of fathers is very important, his or her dad tends to place greater importance on his own role—which in turn leads to greater involvement on the dad's part.
- Mothers sometimes serve as "gatekeepers" to father involvement. Women who are ambivalent about the competency of a dad or who don't want to lose control over the parenting domain tend to block greater father involvement (whether or not they are conscious that they are doing it). On the other hand, support from mothers can improve the quality of a father's parenting.
- Differing standards for housework and childcare can be a common barrier to greater father involvement. The more moms support and provide encouragement—rather than complain about how a job was done—the more involved a father is likely to be.
2) A good co-parenting relationship.
- The best predictor a dad's involvement is the quality of his relationship with his children's mother (whether or not they are married).
- If a marriage or a co-parenting relationship is fraught with conflict, fathers tend to have a very difficult time being involved with their children, which of course weakens the father-child relationship.
- Good fathering can also strengthen a marriage! Fathers who are positively involved in their children's lives are significantly more likely to have successful marriages.
3) Reasonable work-hours.
- Fathers report that long work hours are the most important reason for low levels of paternal employment.
- Dads who work long hours tend to be less accepting of—and empathetic towards—their teenagers.
- Organizations that want to improve the health and well-being of employees' children need to find ways to reduce the work loads of fathers working long hours.
I think that the benefits of being an involved father have got to be pretty darn motivating to dads. Are you an involved dad, or do you know one? What motivates you to be involved? What do you get from it? Know a dad that is involved now, but didn't used to be? How do you account for the change? We'd love to read your comments.
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