- The lazy dad stereotype also runs amuck when we look at the kinds of work that men and women do. Tweet This
- Even in sitcoms, dads today still come off looking more incompetent, immature, and self-absorbed than moms. Tweet This
- After a baby is born, both mom and dad undergo hormonal and brain activity changes that enhance bonding, nurturing, and communicating w/ their baby. Tweet This
Our demeaning myths and stereotypes about dads are a lot like vampires and zombies. Their “bite” hurts people. They can be cleverly disguised, sneaking up on us in clever ways. And when we relax a little, confident that we have finally defeated them, they rise again. Gotcha.
One of the most indestructible dad myths—too often promoted in “funny” Father’s Day cards—is that dads don’t contribute as much and aren’t as necessary as moms. The message might disguise itself in gentler terms: dad is mom’s sidekick—often a bumbling, reluctant one at that. It’s as if someone hit the alt-delete button on decades of research showing that children have fewer academic, behavioral, mental and physical health, substance abuse, and romantic relationship problems when they grow up in the same home with their father.
Sadly, negative stereotypes about fathers are still rampant and powerful enough literally to fill a book, like my latest, Myths & Lies About Dads: How They Hurt Us All. Take just five of these myths:
- Unlike women, men lack the inborn instinct for knowing how to care for and communicate with their babies.
- Babies form an earlier, stronger, more beneficial emotional bond with their moms than with their dads.
- Compared to moms, dads are less empathic, less compassionate, and less skilled at communicating.
- Most divorced dads don’t pay any child support and dumped their wives to marry a much younger woman.
- Most husbands refuse to do their fair share of the work involved in raising children.
So how does the research compare to these myths?
First, women are not born with an instinct for mothering. Like fathering, mothering is learned. Indeed, after their baby arrives, both men and women undergo hormonal and brain activity changes that enhance bonding, nurturing, and communicating with their baby.
Second, babies are not capable of forming emotional bonds with anyone until 7-9 months of age. This is when they form equally strong, equally beneficial bonds to mom and dad.
Third, there are no significant differences between males and females on empathy, compassion, and communication skills.
Fourth, only about 20% of divorced dads pay no child support. Only 20% of men marry women at least 10 years younger than their ex-wives.
Fifth, as for dads being slouches on couches, according to 2021 Time Use surveys from the Department of Labor, this is nonsense. While it’s true men are better at relaxing at home than women, married men tend to work more, on average, outside the home. Averaged over the course of a week, when the youngest child is under 6 and both parents are employed, dads spend about 37 minutes a day less than moms taking care of their children (1.45 hrs. vs. 2.24 hrs.), even though dads spend 1½ hours more at work each day than their employed wife. The difference shrinks to 33 minutes of fathering time when the youngest child is over the age of 6. Only when the mom is not employed does the dad spend much less time with the kids (1.4 hours) than she does (3 hours).
What about leisure time for dad? When both parents are employed and the youngest child is under 6, dad has about 45 minutes more leisure time (3.4 hrs.) than mom (2.9 hrs.)— which increases slightly to 4.18 leisure hours for dads and 3.58 leisure hours for moms with kids aged 7-17. Remember, though, that these husbands are working 1½ more hours than their employed wives. Since both parents are equally sharing the overall workload of raising kids, it isn’t surprising that men (84%) are almost as likely as women (91%) to say that being a parent is tiring and stressful.
The lazy dad stereotype also runs amuck when we look at the kinds of work that men and women do. Most dads wish they were free to cut back their hours at work and spend more time with their kids. So why don’t they? Because men are providing most of the “financial” child care, and because their jobs are not as family friendly as women’s jobs. For example, men are more likely to have to work overtime, on holidays, and on weekends, to work more than 50 hours a week, to work night-shift jobs or have to be at work before 8 AM, and to have jobs that require more hours of commuting. And even if a man wants to pursue a more family-friendly job, he will likely encounter more discrimination trying to get hired in a predominantly female field than women encounter getting hired in a predominantly male field.
Selfish, sexist dads shirking their responsibilities to their children—really?
There are still journalists promoting the myth of the lazy dad in prominent media outlets. For example, in a recent New York Times op ed, Jessica Grose claimed: “Women are doing an extra month of unpaid labor at home every year while men get an extra month leisure.” And in her best-selling book, published just before Mother’s Day in 2019, Darcy Lockman shamed and blamed men by asserting that research showed that fathers are “passively refusing to take an equal role" in the family.
So what? Are the myths about dad being less important or less involved than mom really “taking a bite” out of children or their fathers?
Yes, they are. For example, only five states have enacted custody laws that allow fathers to live with their children at least 35% of the time, despite the fact that these children have better outcomes than children who live primarily with their mom after the parents separate. Then, too, stay-at-home fathers, whose wives are the sole breadwinners, still get a lot of flak for being “losers and wimps.” Even in sitcoms, dads still come off looking more incompetent, immature, and self-absorbed than moms—a form of harmful stereotyping that TV networks and advertisers have tried to overcome when it comes to women, racial minorities, and other marginalized groups. While several other countries, including Britain, South Africa, and India, have adopted advertising guidelines that prohibit portraying males or females in derogatory stereotyped ways, the U.S. has not.
In my new book, I offer dozens of ideas for combatting these disparaging, baseless beliefs about dads. Let’s start by acknowledging that they are taking a nasty “bite” out of children’s relationships with their fathers and out of the choices women and men might otherwise be able to make when raising their children.
Dr. Linda Nielsen is a Professor of Education at Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, NC. An international authority on father-daughter relationships and shared parenting, her work has been featured in a PBS documentary and on BBC, NPR, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Time, and Oprah. Her latest book is Myths & Lies About Dads: How They Hurt Us All.
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or views of the Institute for Family Studies.