1:30pm June 22, 2013

Are Modern Fathers and Families Changing or are Society’s Expectations?


Father’s Day weekend just wrapped, but changing family roles are ongoing. Many Americans no longer fit stereotypes of stay-at-home moms and breadwinning dads, according to the Pew Research Center.

Today’s dads are oftentimes morale-boosters, while modern moms are moneymakers. In Pew’s “The New American Father” report, released June 14, 58% of respondents said it is  “extremely important” that a father provide “values and morals” to his children.

About half said that it is extremely important that fathers provide emotional support (52%). Discipline was similarly ranked (47%). Forty-one percent said that providing income for children is among a father’s most pressing responsibilities.

Pew’s “Breadwinner Moms” report, released May 29, reported that 40% of households with children under age 18 include mothers who are the family’s sole or primary income source. Pew based this finding on analysis of census data, and noted that the statistic was 11% in 1960.

Everything from cultural mores to economic crises affects these roles. With foreclosures, unemployment, and government assistance remaining concerns, money woes strike countless Americans. Fear of never attaining or dropping from a middle class existence motivates people who might not otherwise work outside of the home.

It also appears that background affects how families respond to troubling economic times. Psychotherapist and relationship specialist Lisa Brateman told The Grio that among her diverse clients, African-American wives appeared most resilient as breadwinners.

“In general, African-American women were less likely to experience paralyzing devastation after their spouses experienced job loss,” she said. In many ways, (joblessness rates, wealth disparities and less access to sustaining careers) average black women were never afforded the seeming luxury of working only at home.

“They just swung into action because they just seemed accustomed to doing everything and anything to make life work,” Brateman said. She added that these women “seemed to not have the expectation that a man would financially support them all the time, so although they were just as vulnerable and saddened as other wives, they were also more resilient.”

These realities paint a different picture than that of other demographics. In her best-selling book Lean In, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote, “My generation grew up watching our mothers do the child care and housework.”

Sandberg acknowledged her monetary, academic and career privilege in the book, while also encouraging women to get out of their own way and strive for balanced work and home lives. While Sandberg and others similarly situated remember a time of limited women in the workforce, this generation comes of age as people do what works for them and their loved ones. This can mean adhering to gender roles about work and money, bucking expectations or mixing values.

Per Pew’s research, families, relationships and expectations are changing. As a result, people are –hopefully– becoming better selves and less societal adherents. It takes two to make a child, and increasing one parent’s life access affects another’s. Whether moms stay home, dads pack lunches or parents of the same gender build lives together, for most Americans, dictator, deep-pocket dads are more relics than reality.

The center reported, “Being a father in this era of changing family structures and converging gender roles means more than bringing home a paycheck or delivering punishment to a misbehaving child.”

About the Author

Imani Jackson
Imani Jackson
Imani Jackson is a journalist and FAMU College of Law student with social commentary and/or news stories published on HBCU Digest, Clutch Magazine, the Daily American newspaper in Somerset, Pa, and the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.


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