NYMP Q&A: Do Fathers Matter?
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Which parent tends to feel more conflict between work and family today?
The downside of the economic shift is that fathers are now experiencing the pressure to have it all. If a man stayed at home in the 1940s, it would raise a lot of questions, so for the past 70 years it was traditionally the mother who was the most conflicted since she was the one to leave the family to bring in the second income. But today, working fathers are more conflicted. They are being pushed harder at work, the boundaries between work and family life are blurring, and they work significantly more hours per week than men without children.
Do you have any practical advice for mothers to make the role of the male parent more impactful?
Some women cherish and resent being the primary caregiver. Many mothers say they would like more help with child care and housework, but reports suggest that 60 to 80 percent of mothers actually do not want their husbands to be more involved. Some mothers actively discourage that through ‘maternal gatekeeping.’ For example, if Mom criticizes and fixes Dad’s baby diapering, Dad just thinks, “What is the point!” Mothers need to make sure they’ve opened the ‘gate.’
Are there any fathers in the public arena who you feel offer up a well-rounded example of fatherhood?
Since we don’t see public figures in their homes, we don’t truly know how they behave. Barack Obama has certainly spoken on the importance of fathers—he missed his own father being around, and says that whenever he himself is home, he always has dinner together with his family.
Do you have any advice for single mothers?
Studies have shown that fathers do provide unique things for kids. Therefore, single mothers should try to involve a male in the family somehow—a friend, brother, or uncle, to set a male example. From an evolutionary standpoint, if both parents didn’t contribute something unique, we wouldn’t have the situation we have now. In the animal kingdom, there are plenty of instances of fathers who procreate and never return. But it takes between 15 and 18 years for a human infant to feed and shelter himself, and that amount of effort requires as much help as possible.
Paul Raeburn, author of Do Fathers Matter? What Science Is Telling Us About the Parent We’ve Overlooked, has written for The New York Times Magazine, Scientific American, Discover, and many other publications. He writes the “About Fathers” blog for Psychology Today. Raeburn lives in New York City with his wife and children.