When we were kids, the roles of dads and moms were more easily defined. Dads went to work and were in charge of bringing home the income, but were fairly hands-off when it came to raising their children, while moms—even working moms—were expected to keep the house in order and have a more hands-on relationship with their children. But times are changing, and dads are expected to be more hands-on with their children than ever before. And that’s a good thing: Studies show that dads who take a vested interest in their kids raise happier and more well-rounded adults. But how do you become the perfect dad while getting everything else done, especially when your own father might not have modeled that same behavior when you were a kid? Here are 5 ways that being a dad is harder in this generation—and, more importantly, how to make it work.
Dads Do Housework
It used to be perfectly acceptable for a guy to come home after a long day’s work, kick his feet up, and watch a ballgame while his wife finished cooking dinner. Now, if you do that, you’re considered a jerk. What’s changed?
As women become equals in the workforce, men need to become equals at home. But if you were raised with the mentality that housework is a woman’s job, it may be hard for you to even know where to start in your own home. Blindness to the chores that need to get done around the home can continue the housework inequality in your home, not only leading to your spouse feeling resentful when you don’t help out, but also leading to children who also don’t know how to be equal partners at home.
To combat this, first, have an honest conversation with your spouse explaining that you honestly don’t always see what needs to be done around the house. Then, consider using an app like OurHome to track what needs to be getting done around the house at any given time and who’s doing it so that you know when you come home whether you should take your dog for a walk or empty the dishwasher. OurHome can even give certain chores a weight, or point-value, based on how long they take to do or how much you both hate doing the work. This way, you can start a friendly competition in your house about who’s getting more points—maybe with some sort of reward at the end of a week for whoever tackled more points worth of chores throughout the week.
Dads Do Carpool
Back in the day, the idea of moms running children to and from all of their afterschool activities was so ubiquitous that it even got its own term: soccer mom. These days, the soccer dad is becoming more and more common. Unfortunately, as men, many of us weren’t taught to keep track of tons of events in our calendars.
Trying to explain to your wife that you forgot that the kids had a piano recital is not a fun conversation to have. Instead, make a point of putting reminders in your phone about all the kids’ doctors appointments and events, and ensure that a pop-up message alerts you with enough lead time for you to stop what you’re doing to transport the kids. Phone calendars mean you don’t have to keep all that stuff in your head the way our moms used to, so take advantage of them!
Dads Get Kids Ready in the Morning
Did your dad know how to braid hair into perfect pigtails? Unless he was a single dad or particularly rare, I’m guessing he didn’t. These days, as dads, we need to be just as capable as our spouses at getting our kids up and ready for school in the morning, which can be hard for those of us who were never taught things like how to braid hair or how to match an outfit.
Make things easy on yourself from the get-go by pairing outfits when you fold laundry or picking them out the night before so that you’re not trying to figure out what matches on the fly. As for doing your daughter’s hair, YouTube is your best bet when trying to figure out how those hair pretties work.
Dads Are Sleep Deprived
Gone are the days when the mother was the only one getting up in the middle of the night to change and nurse the baby. Now, dads need to be hands-on even in the middle of the night—which means going to work after a measly two hours of sleep and powering through those meetings anyway.
Making this work looks different in every family. If your wife is breastfeeding, it may mean getting up to change the baby and bring them to the bed, and then putting them back to bed when she’s done. If she’s pumping or you’re using formula, it may mean trading every other feeding throughout the night or trading every other night.
Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for this one. Keeping the lines of communication open between you and your spouse is major. It can also be key, after a really bad night, to take a quick nap in your car on your lunch break or come home from work and trade off naps with your wife after dinner.
Dads Get Some of the Separation Anxiety
Of course, back when dads weren’t as hands-on, little kids were all about mummy. They wanted to make sure she was in the room with them all the time. Now that dads have a more active role in their kids’ lives, they get a hefty dose of this separation anxiety, too. They may find that their kids cling to their legs the moments they walk through the door, or scream when they have to head for work.
It’s heartbreaking to hear your kid cry, but it’s also a sign that your child has a healthy attachment to you as their parent. Work on boundaries with them by practicing leaving the room for 5 minutes and then coming back, and then slowly increasing the time that you’re away from them. This shows them that you’ll keep coming back every time and will help nip some of that anxiety in the bud.
Being a hands-on dad is a lot of work, but it’s also one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. It’s not just moms fighting for dads to be more hands on. As more and more dads reap the benefits of loving, close relationships with their children, they’re starting to fight for this equality as well. In the end, taking on tasks equally in the relationship will lead to a stronger marriage and to stronger, more rounded-out children—and isn’t that what we all want?