It wasn’t so long ago that dads were mostly absent from parenting — working all day, then coming home to dinner on the table and kids who didn’t really demand much from them, except maybe some fatherly advice. Occasionally, mom put dad in the parenting game, playing the position of the disciplinarian. “Just wait until your father gets home,” is scripted in almost every black and white family sitcom that comes to mind, and it was reserved for situations when the punishment was far too much (gasp) for mom to handle.
Transition to the Modern Dad
Dad has come a long way from the stereotypes of Don Draper to the baby-wearing, minivan-driving guys we love today. Dads today are, for the most part, still working full-time outside the home, but here is where it gets interesting: According to Pew Research Center, roughly half of working dads polled in 2015 felt like they weren’t spending enough time with their kids.
Dads today are running laps around dads of previous generations (while pushing double jogging strollers), but they still somehow feel like they aren’t doing enough. Where did that mentality come from? This modest self-evaluation could be the result of increased social pressure on the shoulders of today’s dads. Modern TV, movies, advertisements, and — yes — even moms push dads to be more hands-on. It’s no longer enough to just provide financially and show up for the family, dads need to be involved and they need to be excited about it.
If Dad Is More Fun, What Are We?
Modern dad is more fun (and pretty funny in a laugh with you, not at you sort of way). After all, he’s the guy who inspired the onesie with labeled openings (it snaps at the bottom, guys).
Modern mom is an expert parent. She does it all: career, PTA, school drop-off and pick-up, errands, two dozen appointments, and a house that looks like page 12 of the Pottery Barn catalog. Mom delegates to dad when convenient (meaning she doesn’t have to stop what she’s doing to explain where the trash bags are). Dad does his best to complete the task, but his top skills remain tickle fights, blanket forts, Lego houses, tea parties, and prolonging bedtime.
When dad comes through the door (whether it’s a typical Tuesday or the end of a long deployment), the kids run to him, arms outstretched. Mom, the lady who kept them clothed, fed, accountable, lost sleep over a procrastinated science project, and managed to keep the walls standing around them, is chopped liver.
Are We Cool With This?
So, dad is more fun. That should cut us deep. But what’s the alternative? If we nag (err, encourage) dads to pitch in more around the house, playtime takes a hit. This is a two-fold problem:
- Our kids will follow us around begging to play while we’re elbow deep in dingy dishwater while we ever-so-gently say “not now” for the millionth time.
- Our kids will miss out on that precious play time that the fun parent so effortlessly rocked.
Being the one who interrupts the tickle fight to remind all parties — ahem, dads — not to get too carried away because someone could get hurt isn’t the most glamorous role in the house. Back before we were moms, we used to say and do pretty cool things. Now it’s just 15 different variations of “no” throughout the day and picking things up that we know will be on the floor again in 20 minutes.
But, dad is more fun. He’s honed the superpower to focus on fun and ignore that sink full of dishes (much to the aggravation of moms everywhere). Fun tends to take a backseat to many moms, and that’s OK. It’s OK to be better at organizing, planning, and cleaning than playing Barbies. That’s how we were raised, moms. We grew up playing house (yes, cooking, cleaning, and changing diapers for fun).
If We’re Not Cool With It
If we genuinely have a problem with one parent being the fun one while the other one is doing the work of 15 people, then the solution starts with our kids. Blur the lines. We can show our kids that mom can be fun. We can teach both our sons and daughters to bake, vacuum, build with blocks, and instigate tickle fights.
If we are OK with the idea that dad is more fun, then we have to own that choice. Give him a break. When he’s home, he’s truly present. He’s wearing babies and driving a minivan. He’s giving his kids a role model and the makings of a life-long friend. And, as much as we want to curse him for it certain days, he’s giving us 15 minutes of uninterrupted time to get the laundry folded while he has the kids outside playing catch.
Fine Print for the Modern Military Family
The modern military family is not one-size-fits-all. In some families, mom wears the uniform and dad stays home. Maybe the fun role is reversed in those situations, maybe not. Both parents may serve. Maybe they split the fun and the work 50-50, maybe not. Single moms have to be both parents; the same is true for single dads and, intermittently, any military spouse working through deployments.
In some families, fun is king and the housework can wait — ignore the mess and make memories, right? Everyone has different comfort levels. Every family has its dynamic. If your strengths are the less-than-fun things, do them with gusto. If you are the parent who says yes when your child asks if you can play, roll up your sleeves and get into character. Every parent can be a good parent in their own unique style, and every child needs just that — good parent.
Photo Credits: Corry Frazier Photography
Resources: Pew Research | Health Guidance