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The Evolution of Dad: From Breadwinner to Diaper Changer

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 (iStock)

Men no longer feel their main job as a father is to be a breadwinner. Most fathers today see their role as an equal balance between breadwinner and caregiver—someone who is there physically, not just financially—for their kids.

That doesn’t mean they’re picking up equal slack on child-rearing chores (they still lag on that front). But how they define themselves as men and fathers has dramatically shifted, according to a new survey.

The survey, conducted by researchers at Boston College’s Center for Work and Family, questioned nearly 1,000 white-collar fathers who worked in large corporations.

Lead author Brad Harrington and his co-authors found that the majority of men had high aspirations for their careers, but in spite of that, did not think their work defined them as men or as fathers.

Here are the most eye-opening findings:
•Almost 70 percent of the fathers saw their responsibilities to their children as both caring for them and earning money to support them. The majority of men said that being a father means “paying attention, nurturing, listening, mentoring, coaching and most of all, being present,” the authors wrote.

•Two-thirds of fathers agreed with the statement “To me, my work is only a small part of who I am.” In the past, men were frowned upon as not high-achieving if they took time off of work for family responsibilities, but this study found that today two-thirds of respondents did not hold this opinion.

•Fathers that rejected traditional breadwinning definitions of fatherhood felt more confident as a parent and spent more time with their children on a typical working day.

•Many dads said they would switch roles with their stay-at-home wives if it were financially feasible. About 53 percent said they would feel OK if they didn’t work outside of the home, provided that their spouse earned enough money for the family to live comfortably.

The report, however, found that the corporate culture is not shifting at the same speed as the ideals of their workers.

A man’s desire to be a hands-on dad was hampered by his work schedule and demands. Very few fathers took more than two weeks off after the birth of a child, though many men said they wished they could have. Men did use flexible work hours or telecommuting but in an informal, almost secretive way.

“It may suggest that fathers are more comfortable using flexibility in a subtle or ‘stealth’ fashion in order to avoid any negative organizational implications,” wrote Harrington. And nearly everyone said that if looking for a new job, they would consider how much the position would interfere with their time with their children.

The authors made several suggestions for men:
1. Take more time off after the birth of your children. “Fathers who take more time off early in their child’s life will have a higher likelihood of being a hands-on caregiver than fathers who do not,” wrote Harrington.

2. Support all fathers. If you’re in a managerial position, support your employees’ efforts to juggle work and home responsibilities. Since men are still the majority in management positions and they created much of the corporate culture that exists today, it’s in their power to change it.

“Men can either reinforce ‘macho stereotypes’ (for example, only those who work excessive hours are truly committed) that make it difficult for women and men to be effective parents, or they [can] change the norms and recognize individuals’ work and family responsibilities,” the authors wrote.

Laurie Tarkan is an award-winning health journalist whose work appears in the New York Times, among other national magazines and websites. She blogs about the Affordable Care Act for the WellBeeFile. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.