Modern Fatherhood Survey: the rise of the ‘hands-on’ dad

Modern fatherhood means being hands on in all aspects of practical childcare but also connecting emotionally with children. That’s the conclusion from the Modern Fatherhood Survey run by the Positive Parenting Project. The survey looked at the range of parenting tasks today’s dads undertake and how modern fatherhood differs from previous generations.

The key picture that emerged was a shift towards more equally shared parenting tasks and a breakdown of traditional divisions in Mum/Dad roles. “Dads are more involved than previous generations with more mothers returning to their careers. Dads have a clearer understanding on their role in the child’s emotional development as well as the physical side,” was how one dad summed up changes in modern fatherhood.

Modern fatherhood survey: picture of the word 'Dad@

A recurring theme was how modern dads see practical childcare tasks and household chores as an integral part of their role as a fathers. But dads also aspire to a relationship with their children which involves playing and listening and which is loving and nurturing.

“fathers are much more involved in raising their children, more emotionally open and available for their children, less authoritarian and more aware that respect is earned not deserved… more willing to allow their children to be themselves… more willing to admit they’re wrong and to apologise”

Here are the results in more detail:

How is modern fatherhood different from previous generations?

A large majority (64%) of the dads who responded to our Modern Fatherhood Survey characterised modern dads as being more engaged in parenting and more involved in day-to-day childcare and domestic chores. Nearly a quarter commented that parenting is now shared more equally between mothers and fathers, with 20% of the respondents specifically using the phrase ‘hands on’ to describe modern fatherhood. This greater level of engagement was identified as emotional as well as practical – with 12% of respondents characterising modern dads as more emotionally open and connected with their children.

Many dads (21%) identified changing employment patterns (such as the fact that women are more likely to be working and Dads are less likely to be a the sole wage earner) as contributing factors in this shift. Being more hands on whilst also working means dads having to juggle work and family life. “Most new dads see being a parent as more important than career and want to be a hands on parent,” commented one dad. “I do quite a bit more around the house and I’m not the main ‘bread winner’. I think this differs significantly from generations past and is certainly different to my own childhood experience.” said another.

However, a sizeable minority of respondents (14%) felt that there were barriers to Dads’ active engagement in parenting and expressed concerns that the role of fathers in children’s lives is still not sufficiently valued by society, especially where parents are divorced or separated.

What do today’s dads do that their own dads didn’t?

We asked dads to name things they do with their children that their own dad didn’t do. Nearly two-thirds of respondents identified practical childcare tasks (like bath time, the school run, getting kids dressed, changing nappies, helping with homework and household chores) as tasks that they regularly undertake that their own dad didn’t do. A quarter of dads said that the biggest change was simply in the time they spend talking, listening and spending one-on-one time with their kids. 20% of dads identified playing with their children more and taking them out to activities, with a similar number specifically citing creative activities like crafts, music and cooking as non-traditional activities that they do with their children.

Two dads said that there were no significant changes between their approach to fatherhood and that of their dads. Their fathers had been amazing and done everything and anything – so their aspiration was just to try and be as good a dad as their own fathers had been!

How do dads describe the type of father they want to be?

We asked dads which words best described the kind of father they wanted to be. Interestingly, the most frequent words that came up were adjectives relating to softer interpersonal skills like loving (a whopping 38% of the dads who replied specifically named this word!) and supportive (35%) and kind (19%) and nurturing (12%). Words indicating engagement (such as ‘involved’ and ‘present’) were also popular. Words associated with dependability were common too, such as reliable (15%), fair (12%) and strong (8%). A third of dads said they wanted to be role models or to inspire or motivate their children, while one in five dads identified ‘fun’ and ‘funny’ as the type of dad they wanted to be.

Obviously, all dads and all families are different. But the picture that emerged from our survey was of a band of dads who were happy to wear their hearts on their sleeves, saw their role as one of emotional connection as well as practical childcare and who were determined to be utterly engaged on the parenting front – with both the good stuff and the drudgery. Do feel free to add your own answers to these questions in the Comments!

The Modern Fatherhood Survey was distributed via social media and the respondents were self-selecting. I can’t claim that it is in any way statistically representative of society at large. But I still think it offers an illuminating snapshot of how dads view parenthood. There were 46 respondents, all male, aged 25-55yrs.

©Anita Cleare 2019

Found this useful? You might also like Confessions of a working Dad (24hrs in PJs) or Best parenting websites for Dads. Or sign up for our monthly newsletters.

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