The Changing View of Fatherhood

The Center for Work and Family at Boston College researched the changing view on fatherhood through a series of in-depth interviews. The results of the study show that increasing numbers of men define the role of father as someone who has breadwinning and caregiving responsibilities. The fathers reported that many caregiving responsibilities were as important, if not more important, than financial responsibilities when defining what it means to be a good father. Fathers under the age of 40 are a little more likely to place a greater emphasis on caregiving.

The study also showed there is a gap between what fathers think they should do and what they actually do. Despite a desire to equally share in caregiving responsibilities, many fathers reported that in reality, they do not. Financial and career responsibilities dominate most fathers’ time. More than half of participants believe their job prevented them accomplishing everything they need to do at home, and slightly less than half reported their job interrupts time with their children.

How spouses share financial responsibilities impacts whether caregiving responsibilities can be shared equally. When there are high financial expectations, it is possible that many fathers cannot participate equally in caregiving responsibilities. The men who participated in the BC study earned significantly more money than their partners, and 56% of participants had a spouse who is unemployed (31%) or only works part-time (26%).

The BC study concludes:

“Thus, we are left with an image of today’s fathers as caring, commit­ted and conflicted, struggling to be engaged parents while striving for advancement in their careers. This leaves us with the obvious question: can they have it all? Can they increase their caregiving role without sacrificing their advancement goals in their workplace? Or must they adjust their expecta­tions – redefining what it means to be successful in both domains?”

One of the primary recommendations in the BC study is for fathers to explore their parenting goals in combination with their career goals. Marital mediation encourages spouses to examine together in a controlled setting with a neutral mediator how their ideal situation for sharing financial and caregiving responsibilities differs from the way responsibilities are actually shared. Spouses can reflect upon how splitting responsibilities impacts their goals. Marital mediation is a good way for spouses to explore parenting roles and create a plan on how to balance between competing responsibilities and correlate or adjust career expectations.

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