Millennial dads want to be equal parents—what’s holding them back?

We really couldn’t be more thankful for the dads in our lives. Today’s fathers spend three times as much time with their kids as men two generations ago. Still, despite this progress, the fact is dads trail moms when it comes to household responsibilities: Research shows the majority of new dads believe childcare should be evenly divided between both parents—but most Millennial dads admit that’s not reality in their own homes.

What’s behind this disconnect? To answer that question, we listened to eager-to-help dads who say they remain held back for various reasons. Then we talked to experts for advice to help us all achieve parenting parity.


Defaulting to mom starts early

Nick, a 24-year-old father of one, tells Motherly he had trouble soothing his newborn, so that generally fell to his co-parent. “It was much easier for her mother to calm her down,” he says.

Nick’s experience is not unusual, says licensed marriage and family therapist Jill Whitney. “Because mothers often nurse babies and spend more time with small children, their bond may happen with less effort,” she explains. “Some dads fall in love immediately with their child and connect naturally, but other fathers aren't as quick to know what to do. Sometimes this causes them to hold back and defer to their partners.”

She suggests fathers schedule blocks of baby-duty time when mom isn’t available. “Then he figures out for himself what a certain cry means,” Whitney says. “Figuring that out boosts his confidence, which makes him more likely to participate fully.”

Their dads might not have been equal parents

For Brian, a 33-year-old new father of one, dealing with his daughter’s diaper changes didn’t come easy so he passed that on to mom. He’s not alone: Polls show two out of three moms say modern dads don’t do their share of diaper duty.

That’s not to say we haven’t seen progress. Back in 1982, 43 percent of dads had never changed a diaper—a number now down to about 3 percent. For the men raised by that generation, that may seem like a success. For the women who are still stuck with the majority of diaper duty, it probably feels like there’s a way to go.

“If his dad wasn't as involved as his mom, he doesn't have an internal template for what a fully participating father might look like,” Whitney says. “He may also compare himself to his own father and see the ways he's much more involved than his dad was—when his partner may see the ways things aren't really even.”

For Millennial dads who were raised by men who didn’t do diapers, the changing table may not be their comfort zone. But it is important to try: Research shows bathing, dressing and diapering helps dads build better relationships with their kids long after they’re out of diapers.

Dividing careers and chores—what’s realistic?

Modern dads devote 30 more minutes to daily household chores than their dads did, according to a recent Canadian study. However, moms just do more.

This is no surprise to 34-year-old father of six Simon, who tells Motherly he finds housekeeping, laundry and meal prep to be particularly challenging parts of parenting. He admits he thinks those duties are best left to his wife, a stay-at-home mom.

According to Dr. Gary Brown, a licensed marriage and family therapist and parenting coach in Los Angeles, sometimes it’s just not possible for working parents to do as much around the house as their partner. “I know of several families where the father is the primary caregiver and the mother is the primary provider,” he says. “It isn't practical to split parenting roles, unless both parents have equally demanding careers.”

Brown says he and his wife agreed that he should focus on his career (and earning potential) as a therapist while she took a step back from working as a registered nurse to raise their children. In his view, that worked out well for everyone. “From her perspective and mine, it simply made more sense for her to work part-time.”

Families who assume this kind of structure should just be prepared for the trade-offs: Studies have shown that when dads don’t do their share, the couple’s relationship suffers. Indeed, researchers have found the lowest quality relationships between parenting couples happen when 60 percent or more of the parenting responsibilities fall to mom.

That is true in both families with one or two working parents. According to the Pew Research Center, in American households where a father works full-time and the mother works fewer hours or not at all, the distribution of childcare and housekeeping labor is less balanced than in households where both parents work. Even in those dual-income households, moms are still doing about 54 percent of the work.

Dads have come a long way in recent decades—and, often, all it takes to realize that is a good look at a set of wonderful co-parents. Still, old attitudes take time to change: 53 percent of Americans believe moms are better at caring for children, a statistic that shortchanges Millennial fathers who are as enthusiastic about parenting as their partners.

We may not be there yet, but if today’s dads keep it up, our mutual hopes for equal parenthood may soon be a reality.

In This Article

    These challenges from Nike PLAYlist are exactly what my child needs to stay active

    Plus a fall family bucket list to keep everyone moving all season long.

    While it's hard to name anything that the pandemic hasn't affected, one thing that is constantly on my mind is how to keep my family active despite spending more time indoors. Normally, this time of year would be spent at dance and gymnastics lessons, meeting up with friends for games and field trips, and long afternoon playdates where we can all let off a little steam. Instead, we find ourselves inside more often than ever before—and facing down a long winter of a lot more of the same.

    I started to search for an outlet that would get my girls moving safely while we social distance, but at first I didn't find a lot of solutions. Online videos either weren't terribly engaging for my active kids, or the messaging wasn't as positive around the power of movement as I would like. Then I found the Nike PLAYlist.

    I always knew that Nike could get me moving, but I was so impressed to discover this simple resource for parents. PLAYlist is an episodic sports show on YouTube that's made for kids and designed to teach them the power of expressing themselves through movement. The enthusiastic kid hosts immediately captured my daughter's attention, and I love how the physical activity is organically incorporated in fun activities without ever being specifically called out as anything other than play. For example, this segment where the kids turn yoga into a game of Paper Scissors Rock? Totally genius. The challenges from #TheReplays even get my husband and me moving more when our daughter turns it into a friendly family competition. (Plus, I love the play-inspired sportswear made just for kids!)

    My daughter loves the simple Shake Ups at the beginning of the episode and is usually hopping off the couch to jump, dance and play within seconds. One of her favorites is this Sock Flinger Shake Up activity from the Nike PLAYlist that's easy for me to get in on too. Even after we've put away the tablet, the show inspires her to create her own challenges throughout the day.

    The best part? The episodes are all under 5 minutes, so they're easy to sprinkle throughout the day whenever we need to work out some wiggles (without adding a lot of screen time to our schedule).

    Whether you're looking for simple alternatives to P.E. and sports or simply need fun ways to help your child burn off energy after a day of socially distanced school, Nike's PLAYlist is a fun, kid-friendly way to get everyone moving.

    Need more movement inspiration for fall? Here are 5 ways my family is getting up and getting active this season:

    1. Go apple picking.

    Truly, it doesn't really feel like fall until we've picked our first apple. (Or had our first bite of apple cider donut!) Need to burn off that extra cinnamon-sugar energy? Declare a quick relay race up the orchard aisle—winner gets first to pick of apples at home.

    To wear: These Printed Training Tights are perfect for when even a casual walk turns into a race (and they help my daughter scurry up a branch for the big apples).

    2. Visit a pumpkin patch.

    We love to pick up a few locally grown pumpkins to decorate or cook with each year. Challenge your child to a "strongman" contest and see who can lift the heaviest pumpkin while you're there.

    To wear: Suit up your little one in comfort with this Baby Full Zip Coverall so you're ready for whatever adventures the day brings.

    3. Have a nature scavenger hunt.

    Scavenger hunts are one of my favorite ways to keep my daughter preoccupied all year long. We love to get outside and search for acorns, leaves and pinecones as part of our homeschool, but it's also just a great way to get her exercising those gross motor skills whenever the wiggles start to build up.

    To wear: It's not truly fall until you break out a hoodie. This cozy Therma Elite Kids Hoodie features a mesh overlay to release heat while your child plays.

    4. Have a touch-football game.

    Tip for parents with very little kids: It doesn't have to last as long as a real football game. 😂 In fact, staging our own mini-games is one of our favorite ways to get everyone up and moving in between quarters during Sunday football, and I promise we all sleep better that night.

    To wear: From impromptu games of tag to running through our favorite trails, these kids' Nike Air Zoom Speed running shoes are made to cover ground all season long.

    5. Create an indoor obstacle course.

    Pretending the floor is lava was just the beginning. See how elaborate your personal course can get, from jumping on the couch to rolling under the coffee table to hopping down the hallway on one foot.

    To wear: These ready-for-any-activity Dri-FIT Tempo Shorts are perfect for crawling, hopping and racing—and cuddling up when it's time to rest.

    This article was sponsored by Nike. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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