First came The New Woman, a 19th century feminist. Then came the New Man, just trying to help her out and make things equal. Now we have The New Dad. What does he look like? According to the Boston College Center for Work and Family, he looks a lot like a woman who's trying to Lean In; he wants it all, but the system won't let him have it.
BCCWF researchers spent several years doing multiple studies on 2,000 largely white-collor professional dads, which they've culled into a master study called "The New Dad: A Work (and Life) In Progress." You could also call it the State of Certain Kinds of Dads in America That Reveals Nothing Incredibly New, But is Interesting Nonetheless. Researchers Brad Harrington Fred Van Deusen and Jennifer Sabatini Fraone might not have released any findings that don't sound like common sense, but here are a few that are at least interesting:
1. Fathers believe that a good father takes care of their family financially while also actually spending time with their kids.
"The further away fathers were from traditional breadwinning definitions of fatherhood (and thus closer to purely caregiving images of fatherhood), the greater confidence they have as parents and the more hours they report spending with their children on a typical working day."
2. Breadwinner dads still spend less time with their kids than dads in split-earner households.
"Fathers spend an average of 10.7 hours per week in solo childcare, while women spend 30.2 hours per week in solo childcare....Men with at-home spouses spend about 8 hours per week in solo childcare compared to men in dual-earner couples, who provide 11-15 hours of solo childcare per week."
3. Fathers might say they should spend equal time with their kids as their wives, but they don't do it.
"...65% of fathers believe that both partners should provide equal amounts of care and 30% feel their spouse should provide more care. In reality, however, only 30% of fathers reported that caregiving actually is divided equally and 64% acknowledged that their spouse provides more care than they do."
4. Over half of fathers profiled said they'd be a stay at home dad if they could financially swing it.
5. New dads take very little time off before going back to work.
"...the time off men in the study took after the birth/adoption of their most recent child was very brief (generally one week or less) compared to the months that mothers typically spend at home with their newborns. The brief time fathers take to bond with their child and immerse themselves in caregiving immediately promotes the identification of the mother as the primary and 'more competent' caregiver."
6. The more flexible and supportive the work environment is towards having kids, the better the home life is.
Though "the myth of having it all" has typically been applied to women (until recently!), the researchers posit that that the concept could be weighing down fathers also, who want to be there for their children while also achieving high success at work:
"...86% agreed/strongly agreed that 'My children are the number one priority in my life'. However, 76% also wished to advance to a position with greater responsibility with their employers and 58% had a strong desire to reach senior management."
One solution they propose suggests that – in the most general terms – companies become more flexible and support the growing number of different kinds of families.
It's these kind of families that are worth wondering about. Harrington, Van Deusen and Fraone say it's employers who have to figure out ways to understand that family structure is changing, and that's certainly true. But is it possible to think further down the road and imagine a time in which studies about "fathers" are going to be hard to do? As families become increasingly diverse, will we eventually have to stop using the words father and mother as much because they don't fit enough people's experiences of parenthood? Or will heterosexual two-parent households always dominate the conversation to the point where single parents or gay parents won't be able to change the majority labels we use?
In an ideal world, it seems like in 50 years the BCCWF wouldn't even be able to do a study like this. Or they will, and the next one will be called something like "The New Parent: Who has it all – Parent #1 or Parent #5?"
Image via Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP