When I was growing up my father worked hard to make sure he could provide for his family. But when he got home at 6:30 pm, he was greeted at the door by my mother and dinner was on the table by 7:00 pm. No one expected him to cook (unless we were grilling), clean the kitchen or change diapers. His role was primary breadwinner and there were no other expectations put upon him, except the manly task of taking out the garbage.
Now, just 42% of dads are the sole providers, according to a recent survey by online job site CareerBuilder.com. Sharing the financial burden, however, doesn't seem to make life any easier for men and they certainly aren't working any fewer hours. Thanks in part to the recession, 63% percent of working fathers say they clock in more than 40 hours per week at the office. Thirty one percent who take work home, typically do so five days a week or more. And 30% toil away over the weekends.
All that work is infringing upon the quality time fathers get to spend with their kids. Close to 37% of working dads spend two hours or less with their children each work day, according to the survey. And more than 35 percent missed two or more significant events in their child's life due to work in the last year.
Still, moms expect men to play an active role in their kids' lives and men seem to be trying their best to do so. Dads with children between the ages of three and five say they read to their little ones six times a week, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And 68% of fathers with children under the age of six say they play with their sons and daughters at least three times a day.
As for my husband, I know he feels torn between his responsibilities at work and at home. And while he may not always get home in time for dinner, that doesn't mean he isn't an active parent. His special skill is turning the limited time he does have with our children into teachable moments. Just last night I watched in awe as he prepped our older daughter for a kindergarten entrance exam (don't ask...) in such a creative way that she was convinced he had just invented a new game they could play together.
As much as I appreciate my husband's efforts, I know I'm guilty of not telling him often enough what a great job he's doing with our kids. Unfortunately, there's something about getting just a few hours of sleep a night that makes me a bit grumpier than I'd like. So let this blog post be my official thank you to my parenting partner and all of the other wonderful fathers out there trying to do all they can to be spectacular dads.
Elias image by Vivian Chen, courtesy of CC 2.0.
Stacey Bradford is the author of The Wall Street Journal. Financial Guidebook for New Parents.