Emotional Health · Family & Friends

Fatherhood: A Changing Picture?

A caring, emotionally involved father is a wonderful thing, an asset to every family that has one. But no matter how much a father cares, is he caring if he lets his wife suffer with more than a fair share of chores, housework, and basic responsibility for keeping the family on track?

While there have been great social changes in the past 50 years, with women entering the workforce en mass, sometimes bringing home bigger paychecks than their husbands, the division of domestic chores has not kept pace. Many women still feel like they do the lion’s share of the work at home, a “second shift,” in addition to their paying jobs. Men are congratulated and admired when they pitch in still, whereas women are doing “what’s expected.”

It is well worth noting that many of these issues come up in the households of same sex couples, both male and female. Nevertheless, traditional gender roles have persisted and often fathers and mothers have recurring problems with family chores and responsibilities. There are many families that have worked out more equitable arrangements, and it’s interesting to note how they do it. There are a few recurring themes in this debate:

  1. Responsibility

Many families operate like a business or a military unit in which the mother is the overseer. As the CEO and field marshal, she keeps track of troop movements, supplies, and general goals. Schedules, school trips, doctor’s and dentist appointments, camp forms, child-care arrangements, etc., etc., occupy her mind and wind up on “honey-do” lists. Many husbands are happy to follow instructions, but do not keep track of the general picture.

  1. Quality Control

Women often complain that men’s standards do not match theirs. When they ask their husbands to do something, the job is not done right. This “creative incompetence” sometimes leads to a mother deciding she’s better off “doing it herself.” Some women suspect that their husbands are purposefully incompetent, whereas men argue that their wives’ exacting standards are unreasonable. Who cares how the dishwasher is loaded? (We do.)

  1. Perception

A woman comes home and sees that her house is a mess, the refrigerator is half-empty, and the children have not finished their homework. A man comes home and sees none of this. Or so it has been said. Again, standards differ, but men often can tolerate a level of disorganization and disorder that women cannot. Again, this may be due to a sense of responsibility to and awareness of the bigger picture. Knowing that if x isn’t done, then y won’t happen either, mothers have more concern and feelings of responsibility for the whole enchilada.

Mothers, knowing that tomorrow is school picture day, are mindful that the children must be bathed and have clean clothes by the morning. Fathers who aren’t aware of this might not think it’s such a big deal if everything doesn’t get done right now.

  1. Selfishness

While men may not be more inherently selfish than women, there’s no doubt that women in general are more concerned about and aware of others. At home and at the office (sometimes to their detriment), women assume caretaker roles and are unhappy if they see others’ needs are not being met. Men are less likely to perceive when others are unhappy, and less likely to feel responsible for it.


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