During the Christmas season, much attention is given to the mother and child relationship. Christmas cards depict a thousand variations of Mary holding the baby Jesus, hymns tell of virgin and babe, and crèche spotlights in towns across America shine brightly on a woman cradling a baby. It’s a rare few weeks where motherhood is glorified and praised.
But what about Joseph? How does dad fit into the picture?
That ancient question is as relevant as ever, as a government-sponsored study released last week reveals that the role of fathers continues to evolve.
Just as we don’t hear much about the role of Joseph in the Christmas story, these days we don’t hear a lot about what dads have to offer. We hear constantly about motherhood. The mommy wars, the work-motherhood balancing act, the rise of single motherhood. But it’s foolish to try to resolve the struggles moms face without analyzing the role of fathers. Dads are as important in the life of a child as moms, and moms will struggle to flourish without good dads at their sides.
Thankfully, Friday’s study has good news: Fathers are increasingly involved at home and in the lives of their children.
The AP called the study “myth-busting” with regards to the notion that dads don’t pitch in at home, and studied how much time men say they spend doing things like changing diapers and giving baths, reading books and helping with homework, or feeding meals to their children. The study found that father have become increasingly hands-on in the past ten years, and it confirms other studies that find active fatherhood to be on the rise across demographics.
One stand-out detail: Fathers living with their children are far more involved in the daily lives of their children than their non-cohabitating counterparts. And involved fatherhood directly correlates with fewer behavioral problems, better physical health, and better academic performance in children. This all seems somewhat obvious, yet the study found that even as paternal involvement between cohabitating fathers and children is on the rise, father-child cohabitation is on the decline.
So women should take note: If you want an involved father, stay married to him. If you want a better chance for your children, marry their father. And if you want a partner helping to shoulder the burden at home, get married and stay married. Considering that the overwhelming majority of divorces among college-educated couples are initiated by women, it’s worth making this point.
So while it’s sometimes easy to forget about Joseph, this Christmas is a good opportunity to thank and encourage a dad. Men aren’t perfect, and many of them could probably do more at home. But women aren’t perfect either, and sometimes we are prone to overlooking men’s domestic contributions or undermining them when they try to help.
But it’s good for humanity if hands-on fatherhood is “in.” We can all do our part to keep encouraging a trend that helps men, women, and children live happier and healthier lives.