While many sitcoms still portray men as bumbling, hands-off fathers, dads today are anything but. A new study celebrates a shifting modern fatherhood role that gives new definition to masculinity.
Brigham Young University and Ball State University found that most fathers today are much more involved in their children’s lives than previous generations. The study, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, is a signpost of cultural change embracing the research-backed importance of present fathers and nurtured childhoods.
“We found that today’s dads spend more time, provide more care and are more loving toward their kids than ever before,” said study coauthor Kevin Shafer, a sociology professor at Brigham Young University. “Most dads see themselves as playing an equally important role in helping their children as mothers do. At the same time, however, there is a group of dads who believe they are to be breadwinners, disciplinarians and nothing more.”
Researchers found that men who are more traditional in their definition of masculinity tended to be less involved fathers.
While some men may feel that being nurturing and masculine simultaneous to be an oxymoron, the two aspects of fatherhood don’t have to be exclusive.
“It’s important to understand what masculinity is and is not,” Shafer said. “In some circles, when people hear terms like hegemonic or toxic masculinity, they think those are attacking all men. Not so. There are some very beneficial aspects of masculinity — being goal-oriented or being loyal, for example. However, we are talking about more problematic aspects of masculinity — like aggression, detached relationships, not showing emotion and failing to ask for help. These are negative aspects of traditional masculinity, and our research suggests it hurts families.”
Previous studies found fathers tended to struggle with balancing cultural norms of masculinity with their instinct to provide nurturance and emotional availability to their children. More recent cultural expectations for fathers have allowed them the freedom to evolve into nurturing fathers while maintaining their sense of masculinity.
Researchers in this latest study assessed more than 2,000 fathers of children ages 2-18 on their perceptions of masculine behavior in fatherhood, whether more or less nurturing. Their results showed that, on average, fathers:
- Engage with their children several times a week, and knew extensively about their older child’s activities;
- Only sometimes used harsh discipline;
- View warm behaviors as an important part of fatherhood for both younger and older children; and
- Provide their older children with emotional support.
“Fathers continue to navigate changing social expectations,” said study co-author Lee Essig.” As current social trends are pushing for men’s increased familial involvement, we see more fathers stepping up to engage more actively in their children’s lives in various ways.”
Especially as more men grasp this perspective of nurturing fatherhood, the generational impact can be quite profound.
“As we teach boys and men to be more emotionally aware and cultivate emotional well-being, these men and boys will be able to become better fathers for their children,” Essig added, “as they will be able to provide for them not only through financial contributions but by being emotionally and mentally present for their children and their well-being.”
Just how to do this? Researchers give these 4 tips:
1. It’s OK for dads to show their feelings.
Doing so makes them better fathers.
2. Teach by example.
Kids learn more by what they see dads model than by what they hear. If dads’ behaviors support their beliefs, attitudes, and expectations for children, their kids will be more likely to adopt these, too. If dads’ behaviors contradict their expectations for their children, their kids are more likely to absorb dads’ contradicting behaviors than his verbal expectations.
3. Remember that there are many ways for a dad to be a man.
The “tough guy” tends to be the poor father.
4. Don’t be afraid to be nurturing, caring, warm, and hands-on.
Children and families benefit from involved, physically present, and emotionally available dads.
Photo Credit: Mladen Zivkovic / Shutterstock