The responsibilities of fatherhood change over time. No longer solely the provider and disciplinarian, today’s fathers are much more hands-on but they’re feeling more stress, too.
“Dads face continued pressure to be breadwinners, but also want — and are expected by their partners and society — to be involved in their children’s lives,” said family sociologist Jennifer Augustine, associate professor of sociology at University of South Carolina. “This creates a greater double bind for dads today — just as it has for decades for mothers — because work demands are so great and flexible work options are so few.”
The particular challenge fathers face is that their main contribution to their family is viewed through the traditional breadwinner model, Augustine said.
“This means that dads face unique challenges when it comes to arranging work schedules that accommodate their family needs. For example, fathers are highly stigmatized and penalized for taking parental leave, and as consequence, rarely do so compared to mothers, even if they want to,” she said.
Carving out quality time to spend with his son is the biggest challenge for David Bakke, a working father and parenting expert at DollarSanity.com. Working fathers, especially if the spouse is not employed outside the home, often feel pressure to bring home as much money as possible, which typically leads to longer hours at work and more stress, he said.
“That results in fathers who aren’t around as much in general along with them being tired when they are,” Bakke said. “Even if the spouse is working, these issues can tend to crop up. For me personally, it breaks my heart when I have to tell my son, 13, that a sports workout needs to be cut short because I’m too tired, or that I can’t attend a school function because I have to work.”
Modern dads are much more likely to share in the domestic work of raising a family, but their time in caregiving lags far behind that of mothers, Augustine said.
“When they do engage in caregiving, it is typically ‘fun’ work, rather than the labor intensive, less enjoyable work that defaults to mothers,” she said. “Mothers also continue to do more of the household management, which can be both time consuming and exhausting.”
In households where married or partnered mothers and fathers both work full time, wives are more likely than husbands to take the lead on almost all household chores from child care, laundry and cleaning to shopping for groceries, preparing meals and furnishing the home, according to combined data from three recent Gallup polls. Fathers are more likely to take care of the car and yard.
While parenting is often a central part of a man’s identity, being seen by their children as a caregiver can prove difficult.
“Despite working from home, I must admit that like most fathers I struggle to make my presence known to the kids, especially when work just keeps on piling in,” said Mike Richards, founder of The Golf Einstein. “Despite being near my kids, I’m just physically present but absent mentally and emotionally, which makes me feel that I’ve grown quite distant from my kids. Though I try to make up for it by traveling and bonding with my kids, a part of me will always regret not being with my kids all the time.”
No matter how much effort a father gives to parenting, society views men differently than women.
“Society views women as children’s primary caregivers. Men who chose to adopt this role (stay-at-home dads) are often isolated, stigmatized and assumed to be out-of-work or plain lazy,” Augustine said. “This is because men’s main contribution is viewed as financial, which is why men are far less likely to make career compromises than women, whose work is often seen as less obligatory.”