[Editor's note: While this article is about fathers in heterosexual relationships, we extrapolate that the positive impacts described are consistent among same-sex and gender non-conforming relationships. This is based on research showing that children have similar outcomes no matter the gender of the parents raising them. Unfortunately, at this time there is a lack of research on non-traditional family structures—but things are changing, and we support the continuation of efforts that support all families.
We also acknowledge that single parents work exceptionally hard to ensure that their children have the best outcomes and that the absence of a father or partner does not automatically preclude children from healthy and happy lives. We stand behind all families.]
As we begin a new decade, we need to acknowledge that we're in a new era when it comes to parenting. It is 2020 and while mothers still do the majority of the childcare in our society, fathers are doing more and want to be doing more than they are—and society needs to not only let them but expect them to.
A recent study concluded that enabling fathers to do more childcare by promoting work-family balance "should bring moderate‐to‐high gains to their children in terms of cognitive functioning."
Basically, kids get a brain boost when dads get to be the dads they want to be.
Today's dads are doing more than previous generations
In the last decade, millennial dads surged way ahead of previous generations when it came to time spent with their kids. Today's fathers are spending three times as much time with their children as men did two generations ago, but we also know that moms are still carrying most of the load.
Millennial dads want to be equal parents but there are several factors, including expectations at work, holding them back.
Work-family conflict starts early
In 2019, a survey of fathers in the United States, the UK, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands found a whopping 85% of dads said they would do anything to be very involved in the early weeks and months after their child's birth or adoption...but less than 50% of fathers took as much time as their country's policy allows.
Of course, in America paid parental leave is scarce, but even in countries that have a national policy providing paid paternity leave, dads still feel like they cannot take time off. In Canada, for example, (where fathers can take paid parental leave and receive 55% of their earnings) fewer than 50% of dads use all of the paternity leave available to them.
The loss of earnings is only a part of the puzzle when it comes to new dads feeling pressured to stay at work: In many workplaces, paternity leave is still stigmatized and many fathers worry that taking it will negatively impact their relationship with their boss.
Unfortunately, not taking it can negatively impact their relationship with their baby and partner: Research shows the length of the father's parental leave is a strong indicator of how much childcare dad will be doing in the years to come.
When dads take paternity leave everyone—baby, mom and dad—benefits, but kids need their dads long after diaper duty is over. A large body of research proves that when dad is there to read to, play with and care for his child the child's developmental and educational outcomes are improved. Dads are a secret ingredient when it comes to maximizing the potential in the next generation, and we are letting them go to waste when we rob them of work-family balance.
It's twisted, but becoming a father is often good for a man's reputation and remuneration in the workplace, but only if he's seen as a secondary parent. In too many workplaces a man who has a framed photo of his kids on his desk will be rewarded, but a man who leaves the office to attend an event at his child's school or needs to work from home when his kid catches the flu will be punished.
Helping dads helps families
As we head into 2020 all employers need to realize that the children in those framed photos are real people with real needs and that dads are "real" parents.
In 2019, mothers sounded the alarm: We are burnt out and need help. Motherly's 2019 State of Motherhood survey found the majority of moms (61%) report handling most household chores and responsibilities themselves and 62% report having less than an hour to themselves in the last day in which they didn't have some kind of obligation to take care of. In addition, a recent study published in the journal Sex Roles found almost 90% of the 393 married or partnered American mothers researchers surveyed say they are solely responsible for their family's schedule.
This is not because most mothers are stay-at-home parents. In fact, most moms are working and we are increasingly the breadwinners for our families.
Our partners want to help us...and we need their bosses to let them.
Flexible work is the future
It's 2020. We have to stop creating work environments that assume parents have a stay-at-home partner doing the unpaid work at home because most of us don't. And if we are going to close the wage gap and help prevent mothers from burning out we have to allow fathers to do what they want to do: Care for their kids.
Today's businesses and lawmakers can create change that will improve families' lives in a meaningful way. The research suggests that "enabling paternal involvement in their children's upbringing should bring moderate to high gains to their children in terms of cognitive functioning, particularly if paternal involvement is directed at educational activities." That means that if employers give dads more flexible options so that they can do things like attend their child's school events, chaperone that trip to the museum or go to the science fair at 11:00 AM on a Tuesday the next generation will benefit.
Unfortunately, research from Daddilife and Deloitte indicates that while dads are asking for flexible working arrangements in record numbers, their requests are often denied. These dads aren't asking for the world. They're just asking to work from home one or two days a week or for a change in working hours.
Employers, please, in 2020 give dad a break. Approve his request for a flex day. Work to de-stigmatize paternity leave in your organizations and encourage the new fathers on your team to take it.