Dad is a loaded word. Of course, it conjures up images of provider, protector and disciplinarian, but what about comforter, nurturer and caretaker? While the changing role of mom is at the forefront of media, there is a cultural evolution taking place behind the scenes, helping to shatter stereotypes and redefine fatherhood.
As we discussed recently, moms are having children later, more are working full time, they are spending more time with their kids and the pressure to be perfect is reaching a boiling point. The spotlight has been shined on the intensity of motherhood, and for good reason. But what’s interesting is that dads have a higher desire to be a perfect parent than moms do.
Why is that do we think? The most obvious pressure point comes from playing the role of provider.
Thi is a strong part of the traditionally held stereotype that dad is the breadwinner. Because it's "always been that way", it makes it easy to forget the constant stress that comes along with the seemingly never-ending goal.
One reader from Texas describes it this way: "I feel like even with an increasing shift to working moms, perhaps there’s still the underlying legacy that hasn’t fully shifted in my opinion yet—the viewpoint that the dad is responsible for bringing in the money and ‘providing’ for the household and children, and when you can’t pay for that music class or what-have-you, you may feel like a bit of a disappointment because of that pressure to provide."
To that point, another reader whose marriage is 100% co-parent, dual career says, "the stress of being expected to earn enough to provide for your family even if your wife chooses to work is real."
Similar to the pressures that moms are dealing with, balancing family time with work and personal time is making the pressure for dad perfection skyrocket. As more moms are working full time (and more dads want to be increasingly involved), more responsibilities are being shared between couples.
While responsibilities aren’t evenly split quite yet, many do welcome a more egalitarian model. Dads are spending significantly more time taking care of kids (3.2x) and doing housework (2.5x) than in decades past as you can see from the chart below. Additionally, dads are spending more overall time on childcare, housework and paid work combined than moms (61 hours per week vs 52.5 hours) according to Pew Research Center.
A factor that contributes to dads sharing in duties has a lot to do with their upbringing—according to HBS, "of the U.S. men surveyed, those who had working mothers spent nearly twice as many hours on family and childcare as those hailing from more traditional households."
The same notion seems to be true for the opposite: sons with dads that spent time taking care of them and doing household chores had a similar effect. A reader from California recounted, "I am working to model myself after my father, who was always cooking breakfast and dinner, helping me with my homework, coaching my sporting teams and giving me the environment to chase my dreams."
The way both parents nurture creates a strong, self-fulfilling cycle of behaviors for the next generation. As the roles for both moms and dads continue to shift, parenting responsibilities are on its way to reach parity.
Another major factor contributing to the pressure of fatherhood is the massive role-redefining taking place between generations. The dads of today are caught in the middle, trying to figure out how to navigate the new world while simultaneously keeping the old rules and advice in mind.
Many dads I interviewed referenced the complexities surrounding this.
One reader in Texas said, "there’s a clash of generations where my parents were very traditional in their life and my upbringing. I think now the dad is leaned on for more of a balance between work and home life versus my dad who was just supposed to work and not do as much around the house."
Another reader added to this saying, "older family friends who are fathers are surprised to hear that I change diapers, help prepare food for the kids, etc. because they didn’t really do that."
A reader in the Northeast dimensionalized this even more: "The generation before me also didn’t openly address things like mental health issues, learning disabilities, and all of the BS that comes with digital connectivity."
While every dad I interviewed overwhelmingly noted that being a mom is harder, in some less obvious ways, that’s not always the case. Dads are a largely overlooked demographic across holidays, resources and advertising. And when they are represented, it’s often not accurate.
In comparing Mother’s Day to Father’s Day, the NRF reports that 10% fewer people celebrate Father's Day and 36% less money is spent overall.
In regards to parenting resources, there is WAY less content specifically written for dads.
According to a Think with Google survey, 58% of millennial dads say there is not enough or barely enough dad-focused content online, and 69% say they wish there was more parenting content available for dads online.
In my conversation with Fatherly, a site whose mission is to "empower men to raise great kids and lead more fulfilling adult lives", they told me that at the time the site launched in 2015, there were over 5MM mom blogs but NONE for dads. When Fatherly’s founder told investors about his idea, over 100 said no because they thought there was no market for dads and that dads didn't care about parenting. WRONG.
In fact, dads are just as committed as moms—57% of dads reported that being a parent is extremely important to their identity with 58% of moms saying the same thing, according to Pew Research Center.
But don’t worry, Fatherly has since raised $6MM in funding from investors, all of which they said are very forward thinking. And their hunch was right—they beat revenue goals two years in and have a passionate fanbase of 3.1MM monthly unique visitors and 3.2MM followers across their social platforms.
The old stereotypes are slowly fading, finally opening up the door for dads to break the mold and just be themselves.
A survey of 1,100 dads found that 85% said they know more than people give them credit for, and 80% think a "real man" is one who's comfortable expressing his feelings.
This sentiment was shared by nearly every dad I interviewed: "I think being a dad has changed a lot because people are willing to be themselves more now than in previous generations where they were put into a box and didn’t venture out of that path."
"Our culture doesn’t really allow for men to show as much emotion, so it’s a bit harder to have that level of connection that kids really need. There’s also a stereotype of the dopey dad, whereas, in reality, you want to show that you’re just the opposite."
It is definitely time for advertising and media to catch up and set the new, more accurate portrayal of dads in stone.
Nearly three-fourths of millennial dads say that they think advertisers/marketers are out of touch with modern family dynamics, according to a Saatchi & Saatchi NY survey.
A study from Millward Brown shows that campaigns over-target women and under-target men for categories like baby products, laundry and household. Not only does this reinforce stereotypes of the past but, it also isn't smart—80% of millennial dads either share grocery shopping or are the main shoppers.
For TV characters, the representation of a multi-faceted, multi-modal dad has been slow to make it to our screens. In a study from BYU, they reveal that "50% of the on-screen response of children to their fathers is negative. Child actors were often seen reacting to their screen dads by rolling eyes, making fun of them, verbally and non-verbally criticizing them, walking away and expressing annoyance."
For men overall, the representation of masculinity is in question. According to Dove Men+Care, only 7% of men can relate to the depictions of masculinity. And in the era of "toxic masculinity" and #metoo (where the spotlight has rightly called out offenders), unfortunately, there has been an adverse side effect of making it even more complicated for men to be themselves.
The good news? Even though things can be tough, it's all worth it—dads are way happier than their single counterparts. On all counts, millennial dads ranked higher than single men for being satisfied with their life, saying their life is close to ideal, their conditions are excellent and that they have the important things.
Regardless of roles and responsibilities, the importance of dads is profound. Dads make different contributions to child development than moms, from language complexity to risk-taking to cognition.
Developmental Science reports from Natasha Cabrera, a psychologist at the University of Maryland about this.
"Cabrera gave moms and dads the prompt to ‘just talk to your child.’ Then she recorded how many words were said, and which types of words were used. She found that fathers talked to their children in longer and more complex sentences and included more diverse kinds of words than mothers. As a result, the two-year-olds knew more words and more diverse kinds of words."
Additionally, dads are more likely to participate in activities that give their kids the experience of "excitement and energetic feelings, like rough-and-tumble play, sweeping the baby high into the air, or going for hysterical giggles," which is thought to contribute to a baby’s "emotion regulation and healthy willingness to take risks."
According to Fatherly, when both parents are involved, kids score higher in cognition.
What does this all mean? Dads are shattering stereotypes and blazing their own trails to meet the needs of their families in a more holistic and unconventional way than previous generations. As a society of marketers, advertisers and spouses, empowering dads to be themselves will only contribute to a better future.