"Dads are more interested and involved than in the past," said Stephanie Coontz, co-chair of the Council on Contemporary Families. "Married dads are tripling the amount of child care they provide. Unmarried dads, as well. Divorced dads are much more likely to ask for joint custody. Even unmarried dads see they have a legitimate interest in getting involved."
Gender roles are less defined than in 1960. Coontz said that just as laws have changed to give women more equal access to the workplace, they are providing men with more equal access to family life, including an increase in joint custody presumption.
"These are all very big changes that only occurred in the past 30 years," Coontz said.
It's important, Coontz said, for parents to be amicable for the sake of the children, even if their personal relationship has broken.
The increased hands-on parenting involvement of men comes with the upside that men tend to earn more income, she said. On the downside, "many men are less experienced in terms of talking about intimate things with kids and in terms of understanding the kind of supervision involved," Coontz said. "It's not inherent. But men of good will can learn this."
The increase in men who are single-father heads of household, while relatively new, also harks back to an earlier era, Coontz said. During the Revolutionary through Civil Wars, men typically were awarded custody of their children. Then it swung so that women usually received custody.
"Now there is more joint custody, which is potentially more fair, but it means a woman who is pregnant has to stop assuming the baby is totally her deal. And man has got to stop seeing it as a power play in terms of relationships with women and be sure he is interested in the kid's welfare," Coontz said.
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