Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Today's Dads do Change Diapers, After All

From Po:

Back in March, Ashley and I did a series of ten posts called "Do Men Change Diapers?" We were well aware of the phenomenon of "New Dads" (I'm one) who do a lot of the childraising, nurturing, cooking, and cleaning. And yet, despite the fact is seemed like so many recent fathers were in this mold, nevertheless the aggregate statistics indicated men really don't help much with domestic work. In the aggregate numbers, women still did 70 to 80 percent of the domestic work, for instance. And for every stay-at-home father, there were 56 stay-at-home mothers.

It was hard to reconcile our perception of what was going on (the people we meet) with the statistics. And the stats didn't lie.

One possibility was that the numbers were changing quickly - that recent fathers act very differently than fathers ten years before, 20 years before, et cetera. We wished we had a good sample poll just looking at fathers of babies today.

Well, just such a study was released this afternoon. In 2001, the National Center for Education Statistics polled over 3 million families - all who had a 9-month old baby. About 80% of these babies had their fathers living with them. And of those fathers who lived with their baby, their stats looked pretty darn good. Bottom line: they really like being Dads; they are affectionate with their children and seem to be doting nurturers; and while they still don't do 50-percent of the caretaking (not by a long shot), most make a significant contribution.

Men are finally changing the diapers.

Of the 3.1 million babies who have their father living at home, almost half of those fathers change a diaper more than once a day (two or more diapers a day). Another 20% change a diaper about once a day.

Why do I fixate on diapers? Well, it's because men have always enjoyed being Dads, but they are famous (in sociological circles) for cherry-picking all the fun caretaking activities, leaving the diapers and the mopping to mom. Men classically avoid the icky stuff. Men tell stories to their kids, but don't get up in the middle of the night.

So the diaper-changing test is a useful barometric as to whether men are shifting their behavior from just the fun parts of being a dad to the truly equitable, sometimes-hard responsibilities of being a parent.

In 2001, fathers with a 9-month-old reported the following:

88% disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, "The activities a father does with his children do not matter. What matters most is a father provides for his children."

92% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, "A father should be as heavily involved as the mother in the care of the child."

Now, men aren't backing up their values with actions in quite the same numbers, but they're doing much better than in the past.

96% of these fathers tickle their baby or blow on their belly at least once a day.

60% put the child to sleep at least once a day. (A 9-month old could be napping anywhere from once a day to three times a day).

72% give the baby a bottle or feed the baby at least once a day.

85% think holding and cuddling their baby is fun all of the time, rather than some of the time.

And, as I said, just over 2/3 change a diaper at least once a day.

Ashely and I are currently reviewing research on how fathers and mothers build their identity. The data suggests that men have a proud identity as fathers regardless of whether they do a fair share of the caretaking. Women, however, have identities as mothers inextricably bound up in the daily actions of caretaking. Unless they are completing those actions, they don't feel like a good mother. A man can feel great about being a dad regardless of what he's doing. But a woman is tied to doing mother's work, and can't feel the glory of being a mom unless she's got everything taken care of. Most women know that the ultimate responsibility lies with her. The father gets to choose how active he is; the mother never gets to choose. She's always active.

But with these New Dads, that could be about to change. We could be seeing an era where men not only help out, but their identity as a dad becomes literally tied to the actions of caregiving.

12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

That all changes if a man gets divorced. Family law overwhelmingly punishes men who work outside the home in terms of minimizing time with his children and allowing the custodial parent (usually the mother) to interfere at will with the dad's relationship with his kids.

Due to unproven ideas like the "Tender Years doctrine" and a strong financial incentive by states to interfere with the father-child relationship, the real backwardness in terms of father involvement with children is the legal barrier that seems to exclude fathers from their children at every turn in the event of divorce.

10:41 AM  
Blogger Po Bronson said...

Great comment. As we said, these numbers I'm reporting are for the kids who live with their fathers. But 20% of those 9 month olds did not live with their fathers.

3:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting comments....

I have seen that in some cases, divorce can be a good thing in some ways. Actually, some men become Better fathers and are more attentive to their kids. They become more involved in their kids' lives after the divorce.

Before the divorce, the wife did all of the work. But after the divorce, it seems to me the caring of the kids are divided more equally. This is only based on personal observations.

Have there been any studies done on fathers before and after the divorce, in terms of being an involved parent?

- Hayley

9:07 AM  
Blogger Tyler Mace said...

Totally, Haley.

As a divorced dad of a 2 year old, where my wife left when my son was only 2 months old, I had to sit up, pay attention, and change a ton of diapers. Today, my duties are still changing diapers, but now potty training, too, not to mention meeting some of the more educational and emotional needs of my son.

Although there is an element of hatred and mud slinging that go across our broken ties, my job has continually to deaden the hatred and redirect not just my son, but in particular his mother to more constructive parenting.

May I now pay tribute to the divorced dads who received no gift or recognition from the mothers of their children on Father's Day:

Here's to you, men. Keep up the hard work.

5:33 PM  
Blogger Ashley Merryman said...

Haley,

Kudos to both you and Tyler for continuing to be involved, even increasing your parenting following your divorce.

Unfortunately, the studies that have been done to date show that you're the exception to the rule: most divorced fathers become increasingly absent from their children's lives. In fact, the drop in contact (even a phone call) has been dramatic and pretty sudden, too. A lot of this has to do with the fact that women tend to get custody of kids in the majority of cases, and the men tend to start entirely new families that get their attention.

But I do think/hope that this may change, as fathers become more involved as a whole.

10:36 PM  
Anonymous DKW said...

I have two boys ages 4 and 8. I held both of them in my arms at the moment of birth,even before my wife did,and I have been intimately involved in their lives ever since.I have done at least 50% or more of the childcare,including feeding,dressing,shopping,cleaning,bedding down,and more diaper changes than I can count.All while maintaning a full time career.Does this make me a "new Dad"? Women don't have a monopoly on love.Societal changes have allowed men to express what has always been there.I can't imagine fathering any other way.

11:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ashley,

please forgive me if I mislead you. I am not a man nor a father. I was referring to what I knew based on friends who divorced their children's fathers and the fathers became more involved after the divorces.

A relative was always involved even a generation ago before and after the divorce because the mother of his children had severe postpartnum depression.

Hayley

8:58 AM  
Blogger Ashley Merryman said...

No worries -- I should have remembered that from other posts. Sorry for the confusion. Tyler, now it looks like you're really the exception, now! lol

9:29 AM  
Blogger Andreia said...

In fact, the drop in contact (even a phone call) has been dramatic and pretty sudden

For my husband, the only way to reduce the conflict with his exspouse was to reduce the contact. Sad, but true. You know what they say about a woman scorned!

1:13 PM  
Blogger PJS said...

I have been divorced for about a year. I have 2 girls. Love them and always have loved them since they were born. I can say that I have become much more involved and closer to my girls since the divorce. Fortunately my exspouse does not interfere with that. We are at peace for the most part. We do have our moments, but the girls do favor me over their mother. I am less harsh on them, but I do get more respect out of them and have less behavioral problems out of them than my ex does with them. She thinks I am a push over, but I just parent in a different way. I don't resort to screaming and spanking as a first resort. In fact, I don't use either one of those tactics at all. All in all, I can honestly say that my relationship with my girls has increased by 100% since the divorce.

7:56 PM  
Blogger PJS said...

I have been divorced for about a year. I have 2 girls. Love them and always have loved them since they were born. I can say that I have become much more involved and closer to my girls since the divorce. Fortunately my exspouse does not interfere with that. We are at peace for the most part. We do have our moments, but the girls do favor me over their mother. I am less harsh on them, but I do get more respect out of them and have less behavioral problems out of them than my ex does with them. She thinks I am a push over, but I just parent in a different way. I don't resort to screaming and spanking as a first resort. In fact, I don't use either one of those tactics at all. All in all, I can honestly say that my relationship with my girls has increased by 100% since the divorce.

7:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DKW said...
I have two boys ages 4 and 8. I held both of them in my arms at the moment of birth,even before my wife did

>>>even before my wife did

Well what does this mean, The Mother has just gone through the most painful / life changing / Physically draining experience of giving birth.
So do you expect her to get up in that state and hold the child first ??? Just curious by what do you mean EVEN BEFORE MY WIFE DID?

12:06 AM  

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