New dads often feel like they’re in competition with their kids for mom’s attention. As brood are added to the nest, that feeling often intensifies. For dads who share in child care responsibilities, a new study shows that dads’ feelings about their relationship with mom tend to be quite different.
Moms carry the heaviest share of the load when it comes to childcare. The situation has improved compared to what it was 50 years ago. A recent survey by Pew Research Center reveals today’s dads participate in child care more than dads did in the 1960s. In 2015, fathers helped moms with child care seven hours a week, compared to the average of 15-hour load carried by moms.
Many dads recognize the disparity between the amount of child care they do, and what mom does. In the Pew survey, almost half of the dads admitted they’re not doing enough. Counting the potential benefits to their kids, there are plenty of reasons to do more. Studies show kids stand to benefit from greater health, intelligence, and social adjustment, compared to their peers whose dads are not involved.
Parenting Dads Form a Stronger Bond with Moms
Adding to the reasons to get involved is research at Georgia State University in Atlanta showing that a dad who shares in his children’s care is also likely to benefit from a stronger bond to the mother of his children. These dads report a higher quality relationship and more satisfying sex life with mom. The study was conducted Daniel L. Carlson, assistant professor of sociology, and graduate students Andrea Fitzroy and Sarah Hanson.
The researchers reviewed data from 487 heterosexual couples with children and grouped them into three categories:
- Relationships in which women did 60 percent or more of the child care
- Relationships in which men did 60 percent or more of the child care, and
- Relationships in which men and women split the child care between 40 and 60 percent.
Looking at each couple’s relationship quality, the researchers concluded that when women were responsible for most or all of the child care, men and women reported lower quality relationships and less satisfying sex lives compared to couples that split childcare responsibilities.
The Best Parenting Arrangement is…
Perhaps the most surprising finding was that when dad took on most or all of the childcare responsibilities, couples were just as satisfied with their relationship and reported having as much sex as couples who had split their childcare arrangements. However, these men were the least satisfied with the quality of their sex lives (perhaps they were too tired to keep up with their wives).
Based on the study, the ideal arrangement, producing the best combination of relationship and sexual satisfaction, is for parents to share childcare responsibilities.
Working Out the Details of Shared Parenting
I recommend that husbands not wait for their wives to raise the subject of sharing in childcare responsibilities. The chances are she will not raise the issue until she is exasperated. At that point, husbands are more likely to become defensive or feel like a heel for not stepping in sooner.
Discuss your childcare arrangements with your spouse. Many frustrations in relationships occur because wishes and needs aren’t expressed or heard. Look for a time where the two of you can talk and listen without distractions. For example, sit on the patio, take a walk together without the kids, or go on a date to a quiet restaurant.
Create an inventory of the all the household childcare responsibilities and which one of you currently handles each one. This would be a good time for dad to give moms credit for all the work they do. She may think you don’t have a clue how much she does. If you don’t have a clue, this would be a could time to humbly fess up to it.
Moms, if you want dad to be more involved in child care, this is a good time to give dads credit for any of the work they do, as small as it may seem. A study at Ohio State University found that dads got more involved in the day-to-day care of a child when they received encouragement from mom.
How to Reach and Agreement
Be sure to understand the difference between your own wishes and needs. Be able to express the difference. Share with each other your thoughts of what the ideal childcare sharing arrangement might look like. Dad, let mom share first to avoid embarrassing yourself. Allow her ideas to influence your ideas of how an ideal sharing of child care responsibilities might look.
Agree on changes to the child care arrangement, and set a time a few months down the road to discuss how things are working. Dads, don’t expect moms to settle for an even split of the duties. Moms views on how much a dad should participate in child care vary. Working toward an arrangement that satisfies both of you will benefit from efforts to understand each other’s wishes and needs. In the end, most dads should expect to walk away with greater responsibility.
A few months down the road, as you revisit your childcare arrangements, make adjustments as needed to assure each other continued satisfaction. Adjustments will be needed as each child grows, and as your other responsibilities change.
A version of this post also appeared on LifeZette.com.