Monday, May 24, 2010

The 21st Century Dad

As many of you know, we're definitely a non-traditional family. When Lily was 8 weeks old I went back to work part-time until Richard was done with the Army. When she was 5 months old we packed our life in Kansas up and moved to Washington. I found a full-time job and Richard ended up staying at home with our daughter. This temporary arrangement became permanent, and Lily had the benefit of being raised by a parent full time. At times during these 2 years I struggled with this arrangement. Before becoming a parent I've always wanted to return to work full time as soon as possible, but once Lily was born my attitude towards motherhood changed fundamentally. Even though I am not a stay-at-home mom, I would have loved to work part-time and still have enough time to enjoy all the fun things one can do at this age, like play groups, baby swimming, etc. Unfortunately, it did not work out like that. Most of the time this was ok for me; at least I was too busy to really stop and think about it. At other times, I envied Richard for all the time he spent with Lily and the special bond they shared. Looking at families around us, however, I noticed, that we are not alone, but that there is definitely a shift in family structure all around us. An article in "babytalk", a magazine I find once a month in my mail box even featured an article on this new, 21st Century Father in its latest issue, proofing that the "traditional" family is outdated and vanishing.

The modern dad is involved in his children's lives. The number of stay-at-home dads, according to the article, has increased by one third from 105,000 in 2002 to 140,000 in 2008, not including those dads who would like to cut back on work to be with their children, dad's working from home or part-time, and same-sex couples with adopted children. New studies don't have exact numbers yet, but assume that the number of SAHDs even increased during the economic recession.

Even without these numbers I can say that I am very proud of Richard. When I see him interacting with Lily my heart just warms up. She has always been a Daddy's girl, and spending all this time with him has even strengthened their relationship. Shortly before the birth of our second daughter, he confessed that he was just terrified before Lily's birth, wondering whether he would make a decent dad, but felt much more self-confident this time around. I absolutely did not have any doubts that he would be a good dad, but even my highest expectations were exceeded. In these good 2 years since Lily's birth I watched his transformation to an amazing Dad; he's simply the perfect father to Lily, giving her the guidance and freedom she needs. I can't help but smiling thinking about their occasional Daddy-Daughter lunch dates during the week while I am at work, or Richard taking Lily out for a drive or to the playground. If he worked full-time, all these things would not be possible. Our evenings and weekends include besides family-time also a lot of mommy-time, in order to allow Daddy some time for himself and to catch up on playtime missed during the week.

The role as the father as financial provider is definitely outdated. The fathers who are actively involved in their children's upbringing are the future. Both parents are increasingly equally involved raising their kids as women are more and more seeking professional fulfillment themselves. In the long run, children who are raised in the "traditional" way with a mostly absent father are certainly missing out compared to their peers, who are raised by equally involved parents. However, this arrangement, that clearly presents a number of advantages to children is sometimes still seen as a threat by some people. In our own family we are criticized for our arrangement while other family members are praised for sticking to the model of a SAHM and a notoriously absent father, who mostly contributes financially to the family. Please, can anyone tell me how this is of any advantage to the children? Isn't it much better if they spend quality time with both their parents on a regular basis instead of being completely dependent on just one parent?

When we decided to move our family back to Germany as soon as Violet was born, we knew that this may completely change our family situation again. As of now we don't know how our job arrangement will work out in Germany; it would be nice if I could have a break, spend more time during the week with the girls and work as a translator, establishing a viable customer base while Richard works on post, but we'll definitely keep all options and our mind open to accept opportunities as they present themselves, not how tradition or people want our family to be.


  1. GREAT post. It struck me in a couple of ways. "Traditional" is such an elusive word, because a tradition is merely one thing that someone did, and it got repeated and repeated. But they change (ie. do we still use real candles on christmas trees?). I grew up with a mom who was single for many years. After re-married and having my younger sibs, she continued to work. During WWII, her mother began working (like many), and then mom did. A working mom was "my tradition." It's all relative (no pun intended).

    My husband is quite older than me (40 & 63). He semi-retired 2 years ago, and moved his office to the house. Now when the kids get home from school, he is there with them vs. me racing to aftercare at end of day. My bigger challenge has been "letting go." I have to understand that him not scrutinizing homework like I do is ok. And by 6th grade, he thinks my son should learn consequences of skipping assignments. Now, seeing the positive result I agree. I have to keep frustration in check when he takes them to QuikChek and they get Doritos as after school snack, because most days he gives them a healthy snack. He was a diff generation, and SAHM was def more common, but the older generations were not hover parents and I'm finding this a benefit. We're not wreckless with their safety, but he has helped me see that "exploring" the neighborhood together is a great thing for them to do for maturity and independence, and we agree better than video games!

    Good luck with the relocation!!!

  2. Thank you so much for this insightful perspective! I also had to learn to let go and accept that my husband's parenting style might differ from mine in certain aspects, even though we definitely are on the same page on the major points.

    I totally agree with you that traditions change, which is often a good thing.

    PS: my mom still uses real candles on her Christmas tree and always has :-)

  3. I think it's improtant to remember that every generation has it's norms and what is considered revolutionary in one generation is often commonplace in the next. Yea for those who look outside the box and find the best option for themselves and thier kids. Richard has always struck me as someone who has found his best and highest calling in being a father. His years as being a full time at home parent are building a fantastic foundation for his kids. I look forward to seeing the girls grow up to be happy, mature women with music and imagination never far from thier hearts,tempered with the rock solid ability to think for themselves. I only wish all kids could have a dad like him!