Fatherhood in America is changing. According to the Pew Research Center, 57% of fathers are saying that parenting is extremely important to their identity[i]. Also, on average, dads are taking a more central role in childcare than in the past[ii]. In 2016, fathers reported spending, on average, eight hours a week on childcare – about triple the time they provided back in 1965.
While on average fathers are spending more time with their children, many consistently feel that they are not doing enough because of work obligations. While we generally refer to work life integration as synonymous with moms, this posed a real issue for dads as well. I deter from using the term work life “balance” which is most commonly used because for both moms and dads it can never be truly achieved and sets us all up for perpetually being disappointed with ourselves.
My heart goes out to my husband for all that he must contend with as a dad to our four children who are all in various stages of development. I want to acknowledge his hard work, pressures, and dedication to be the best father that he can be. I want him to know that I notice all that he must contend with and want to validate his accomplishments, concerns and challenges.
I Get That:
* As a dual earning family who shares the financial commitments and responsibilities for providing for our family, you still feel the obligation and pressure as if you are and need to be the primary breadwinner. There is a part of you that feels guilt that we are a two-income family, because in an ideal world, you would appreciate giving me the opportunity to be a stay at home mom, and for our children to have us around more often.
These feelings are exacerbated by the way your generation was raised in believing that it is your role and responsibility to carry the finances and if you didn’t adequately fulfill these obligations then you would feel inadequate and are considered a failure.
* As much as you take on a key role in our children’s care, you still may perceive that as a mother that I am emotionally better equipped to care for our children than you are. With task-oriented things, you take on a leadership role and tend to feel secure, with other instances such as planning, scheduling, and organizing you inevitably defer to me.
Again, you were led to believe that based on your gender role that your competency lies in the “doing”, being task-oriented, and purposeful.
* You struggle at times regarding our different approaches to parenting and the ability to problem solve through parenting challenges that come up. We were acclimated to the idea that tough love and negative reinforcement were the best and most common parenting approaches.
When we grew up, the belief was that we had to “toughen” things out, punishment would extinguish undesirable behavior, and that conflict and expression of feelings were to be avoided and disregarded. Especially as a boy, there was limited tolerance for it, and a lack of awareness and knowledge about how to do things otherwise.
* Society has steered us toward having differing parenting values that dictate for example what activities we steer our children toward, how they handle their social challenges, and how they think about their futures.
All of these, among other things are influenced by our societal, cultural, and gender mores.
* You mostly defer to me when our children need emotional nurturing. As you know, emotional bonding and connection are critical for all children from both parents[iii].
As much as we try to raise our children differently, we are habituated and engendered with the ideas that girls need it more than boys, that mothers are better at providing it, and that mothers rather than fathers are responsible for disseminating it.
* You always want to protect our family. In today’s day and age with mass shootings, hate crimes, and terrorism its destabilizing and makes that task even more daunting.
As a man, you were taught that you’re in charge of ensuring all of our safety and that we are to rely on you for this. I can imagine it sometimes feeling like an impossible task because so much is out of your control.
* It takes a village to raise children and unfortunately, we are not part of a village.
The lack of ongoing continual support as it was when we were growing up makes it harder to talk about things when they get challenging, solicit assistance when it’s needed, and maintain reassurance and hopefulness that we don’t have to rely solely on ourselves.
* You were led to believe that you should always be grateful and “happy” no matter what, and that talking about your feelings will burden others, should be kept personal and private, and that you have to manage on your own because it’s expected of you. When you get together with friends, which gets challenging because of how busy you are, you mostly talk about work, sports, or what your children are up to. You rarely if ever talk about your concerns and challenges as a partner, father, or economic provider.
As a man, society taught you that you are considered weak and that it is off putting to show your vulnerability and frailty.
What I want you to know is what an intrinsic role that you take in our children lives. You model for them so many important characteristics and attributes that contribute to their character and who they fundamentally are.
They see your work ethic, your conscientiousness, your care, and dedication. They know how much you love and deeply care about their well-being. They know that almost everything you do is to be a better you so that you can be an improved father for them.
You are one of our children’s most important teachers. On a daily basis you teach them about values, how family members should treat one another, and about relationships in general. You matter more than you could ever know. That will never ever change.
[i] Pew Research Center survey of parents with children under 18, Sept 15-Oct 13, 2015.