Sharing the Load: Thoughts on Today's Dad

It was in the 1970s when women entered the workforce in droves. Soon after, it became a standard talking point that women had assumed double-duty: working at the job and working at home. The statement carried the connotation that men were only pulling single-duty: working at the job and sitting at home.

While I'm sure this scene was accurate in plenty of households, it wasn't that way in mine. My dad was involved in coaching his kids in every sport we wanted to play. He would show up for a practice or game in his suit, go into the bathroom, and emerge in his coaching gear ready for action!

But maybe, come to think of it, his domestic prowess was a little less spectacular. My mom worked, but she also kept things in order around the house - cooking, cleaning, and all those duties of a more domestic bent.

So there we were: dad worked and coached, mom worked and cleaned.

That was a big step among dads in that time. But a bigger step was looming on the horizon. Dads are now expected to take on more household duties. In fact, the Pew Research Center recently found that 62% of married adults said that sharing household chores was the third most important of a lasting marriage (behind faithfulness and sex). That number is up from only 47% in 1990!

The shift was highlighted in the 2010 Boston College study "The New Dad: Exploring Fatherhood in a Career Context" (published by the Center for Work & Family)[1]. That study found that the percentage of traditional families (consisting of two parents where one works and the other stays at home to care for the children and perform domestic duties) is down from 45% in 1975 to around 20%. The reasons for that could range from divorce to increased standards of living, but one has become certain: a new "dad" has been born.

Professor Brad Harrington, executive director for Boston College's Center for Work & Family, insists, "Young fathers ... feel that being a father is not about being a hands-off economic provider. It's about paying attention, nurturing, listening, mentoring, coaching, and most of all, being present. It's also about changing diapers, making dinner, doing drop-offs and pick-ups, and housecleaning"[2].

Today's dads are trying to figure out what moms already learned in the 1980s and 1990s: how to balance being a good worker and a good parent.

This isn't simple. The old paradigm still persists. For example, I recently informed a guy at the office that I would be leaving early to take my son to a doctor's appointment. He chided me: "Why doesn't your wife do it?" My wife actually had a presentation to deliver at an important meeting, but that was beside the point: it's not my wife's role to be the only one to take the kids to the doctor. This guy, so his wife told me later, never changed one of his kids' diapers.

That way of fathering seems as distant to me as mini-cassette answering machines. And that's the point. Fatherhood is changing, moms and dads are sharing the load.

I want to offer four takeaways:

* Find someone else who is striving to be a good worker and a good parent. Get together for breakfast once a month and trade "war stories."

* Make a list of household chores that balance the responsibilities so that neither partner feels like they're doing more than their fair share.

* Plan special times with your spouse (remember: household chores was third on the list).

* Play with your kids. Join in their imaginary worlds: be a dragon, sit down at the plastic tea party. Of course it's exhausting to do that after a full day at work, but you never get these days back. And, as someone reminded me just the other day, it just goes by so fast.

[1] I can't find that original study online anymore. Their latest study is called, "The New Dad: Caring, Committed and Conflicted." It's posted online here.
[2] Brad Harrington, "The Changing Face of Fatherhood," The Huffington Post, June 16, 2010.

Related Posts:
It's Just a Game - Addressing Dads & Athletes
A Humorous Take on "The Dad Life" (video)


  1. Thank you for sharing information on our study and for contributing to the conversation on the changing role of fathers in modern society. Per your note above, the original study can be found on our website (scroll down, in right column) or use this direct link:

  2. I am glad it worked out for your family, but it did not in mine. My mother went to work and that was all. No clean house, no dinner, no family time. Women are kidding themselves if they think they can work all day, and still have quality time for their families. Read Prov. 31.


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