We need to update some old realities.
We really couldn’t be more thankful for the dads in our lives. Today’s fathers spend with their kids as men two generations ago. Still, despite this progress, the fact is dads trail moms when it comes to household responsibilities: 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 . “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: 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, 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: 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?
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 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: 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. , 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 .
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: 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.