Let me officially declare the old stereotype of the bumbling idiot Dad OFFICIALLY DEAD!! Today’s Modern Dad gets it! He knows that he needs to be more than just the guy that goes to work every day to earn the paycheck and then comes home to zone out in front of the TV.
Modern Dads want to be more plugged in, more physically present, and more emotionally available for their kids than ever before! Modern dads –married dads, divorced Dads, single Dads, gay Dads, adoptive Dads, and/or stay-at-home Dads – know that being a Modern Dad takes time, effort, and commitment to be the kind of Dad the Modern Kid needs.
In light of Father’s Day coming up on Sunday, I thought I would comment on what it means to be a Modern Dad. Modern Dads have discovered that they need to update their roles as Dads in order to adapt with these modern times. The Today Show has introduced several segments on Modern Fatherhood this week and it seems that Modern American Dads are saying that they want the experience of being a hands-on parent because they view themselves as being integral in passing on the wisdom, values, and traditions that their kids need to become successful adults. They see this as both a way to show love to their children and as a way to satisfy an inner drive to be a great Dad.
The Today Show surveyed 2,000 moms and dads for their Modern Dads segment and found that Modern Dads are more hands-on and feel more emotionally connected to their kids than their own fathers were. Specifically, 54% of fathers who responded to this survey said that they regularly changed their child’s diapers, while acknowledging that only 37% of their own fathers changed diapers for their children. Today’s Modern Dads are loving their role as a Dad! In fact, 51% of the fathers surveyed by the Today Show stated that they would give up their “day jobs” to become a stay-at-home Dad if their finances allowed them to do so!
Modern Dads Come In All Shapes and Sizes
Today’s Modern Hands-on Dads come in all shapes and sizes and this is a good thing because the Dads of today need to transform their parental role (just as Modern Moms have been doing for decades now) in order to keep up with our Modern Kids! Let’s take a closer look at today’s Modern Dads.
Traditional Dads. I define traditional dads as men who are married to their wives, with one or more kids, and who are the primary breadwinners of their families. Modern traditional Dads may have a day job that serves to bring home the bacon, but these guys know how to turn into “Dad mode” when they get home by playing with the kids, doing chores around the house, changing diapers, cooking dinner, or any other task that leads this type of Dad to “plug in” to his family.
Traditional Dads have modernized this important parental role by throwing themselves into the work/family balance head on – these Dads are now more than ever taking parental leave for a new baby, prioritizing kids’ needs over career demands (i.e. taking time off from work to see their child get an award or stay home with them if they are sick), and choosing to spend time with the family over promotions that would demand more of their time at the office.
Stay-At-Home dads. According to the National Stay-At-Home Dad Network, about 1.4 million Dads are stay-at-home Dads. As the name implies, these Dads choose to be the primary caregiver to the children while the mother is the primary breadwinner. These Dads might work part-time from home or have put their careers on temporary hold in order to ensure that their children are being raised the way that they feel is best.
Stay at home Dads are modernizing the Dad role by declaring that childrearing isn’t just a Mom’s job – Dad’s provide great wisdom, structure, and guidance just as much as Moms do. While in the past, society might have judged a stay-at-home Dad unfavorably, current perception of this type of Dad is quite encouraging. More and more dads are choosing to stay at home with their kids because they know that they can possess a great skill set for raising their kids. Anecdotally, I can think of many stay-at-home Dads at my kids’ schools and these guys always seem to look like they are having the times of their loves! Way to go stay-at-home Dads!
Gay Dads. It is hard to get a definite number of how many gay Dads are raising children because of the sensitive nature of presenting as a gay Dad, but it is estimated that 37% of LGBT-identified adults have raised a child at some point in their lives (The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, February 2013 report). To give you a better perspective, this same report estimated that 6 million children have been raised by a gay parent.
Current research in my field of psychology lends support to the fact that kids raised by gay parents are as socially, academically, and behaviorally well-adjusted as their peers who were raised by traditional parents. Furthermore, these kids do not show any more behavior problems or mental health diagnoses than kids raised by heterosexual parents.
Both heterosexual and gay parents (in general) have specific strengths and weaknesses inherent to the way they parent, as research also suggests that a strength with gay parenting is that their children tend to be more empathic, understanding of the differences of other people, and more proactive in standing up for peers who are perceived to not be treated fairly. Basically, my point here isn’t to say that traditional parents or gay are better or worse, but that gay parents are just as good as their heterosexual counterparts at raising great kids.
Divorced Dads. More and more divorced Dads are redefining what it means to be a Dad who is not longer married to the child’s mother. Gone are the days when divorced Dads only saw their kids a couple weekends a month (or less). These modern divorced Dads are prepared to be creative when working out custody schedules, willing to create a good relationship with their ex-wife (even when it is difficult!) in order to minimize the trauma endured by the kids when they see their parents argue, and these Dads are also ready to prioritize their kids’ needs over career demands.
Both my ex-husband, Jeff, and I know first hand that divorce is hard and I have seen Jeff bend over backward to maintain a good relationship with me, be there for the kids even when it meant a lot of driving or buying expensive Disneyland passes (Ha! Ha! Yes – Jeff is a typical Disneyland Dad!!) in order to spend quality time with the kids. I think divorced Dads have come to the realization that a divorced family can be a happy family if you are willing to be creative and not let little things bug you.
Increased Involvement By Dad Leads To A Range Of Positive Behaviors In Kids
Research has also shown that when Dads are positively involved in their child’s lives, kids do better in school, have fewer behavioral problems, and use less mental health services. It doesn’t matter the type of Dad involved, but what counts is the quality of the relationship between the Dad and the child. Kids are smarter and more perceptive that we give them credit sometimes, and they know the difference between a parent who gives lip service to wanting to be an important part of their child’s lives and actually being there for their child!
As a child psychologist, I have witnessed many positive things when Dads make a point to be involved in their child’s lives. When Dads are “plugged in” with their kid, they are:
- More understanding of their kids’ quirks
- More comfortable showing their love and affection for their child
- Less worried about how they are dealing with a child’s problem and more focused on working with their kids to solve the problem
- More willing to take control of a family problem which, in turn, models to the child that we are able to solve our own problems
As a rule of thumb, a Dad can’t go wrong by erring on the side of spending time with their kids. Dads have so much to contribute to their kids’ lives and when you think about it, 18 years is really a short period of time to instill in our kids all of the lessons that we want them to know.
Take Home Message
So this is a really long blog post today, but the important thing to take away from this article is that just as we support mothers in having a choice on the type of Mother they want to be, we should also extend this choice to Dads as well. I know that I keep citing research today, but as a psychologist, empirical research is my bread and butter and I feel more confident recommending advice to my clinical patients when I have research to back me up. As such, research shows that current societal beliefs tend to dictate the common role of “Dad”. If this is the case, then we have the opportunity to influence and change the current societal belief of the role of Dad to include the modern characteristics of the Modern Dad.
Finally, you might agree or disagree with my ideas regarding the “Modern Dad”. Tell me your ideas of the Modern Dad in the comments below.