Engaged fathers lead to better children, so how do we make this more of a reality?
Kevin Shafer, Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at Brigham Young University, delves into which work policies and societal changes could help us build better families.
Kevin Shafer has been an Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at Brigham Young University since 2011. His work addresses men’s mental health, fathering, and how paternal mental health impacts father involvement and child wellbeing.
According to Pew Research, American mothers and fathers work essentially equal hours when paid work hours are combined with time spent doing housework and childcare. However, compared to fathers, mothers continue to put more time into parenting and are marginalized in the workplace. While dads tell researchers they want to be more involved, inequalities at home and work endure. My research suggests that public policy and social institutions are barriers to involved fatherhood that helps drive inequalities between moms and dads.
In the United States, its normative to think of mothers as primary parents and dads as secondary parents. These expectations are taught through childhood socialization and reinforced in adulthood. Here are two examples.
First, expectant fathers are often excluded from prenatal care and are asked to support moms, not co-parent with them. Yet, we know that fathers engaged in the prenatal period do more at home, take care of kids, and are better dads in the long-term.
Second, the workplace often keeps dads from taking on a bigger role at home. The lack of family leave policies penalize mothers and burden fathers. My own work, with colleagues from BYU, suggests that workplace culture, too. Even the most reluctant father is more involved at home when they work for a family friendly organization.
It is well established that children flourish when they have engaged, nurturing fathers. Moms benefit at home and work when dads share in caregiving. The failure to provide supports for fathers blocks them from the opportunity to be involved in their families. This shortchanges dads, hurts children, and overburdens mothers. Until our public policy and social institutions take family life seriously, it seems that gender inequality at home and work will continue to endure.