Modern dad’s day has become longer, more hectic

Carl Poff attends a tea party with his daughter Joselyn, 4, in their playroom. The girls love to have tea parties about once a week, Poff said.
Carl Poff attends a tea party with his daughter Joselyn, 4, in their playroom. The girls love to have tea parties about once a week, Poff said.Brandon Goodwin / Today

If there’s one word we might use to describe modern fatherhood, it would be: busy.

In an average week, modern dads are spending nearly triple the time on direct child care, and more than double the time on housework, than their fathers or grandfathers did in the 1960s, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of the Census Bureau data on how Americans spend their time.

They're no slouches at the home, office, farm or factory, either. If they are employed, chances are they are putting in more than 40 hours at work, too.

“Fathers are much more involved today in their children’s lives than they were five decades ago,” said Wendy Wang, a research associate at Pew Research Center who co-authored the comprehensive report on parenting.

The shift has come as more moms have started working, but that doesn’t mean dads feel like they are obligated to take on more child-rearing duties.

Instead, Fred Van Deusen, senior research associate at the Boston College Center for Work and Family, said his research has shown that many dads want very much to be involved in their kids’ lives. They’d like to spend more time with their kids, but they also feel the pressure to succeed at work.

“There’s still a lot of societal pressure on dads to be breadwinners,” Van Deusen said.

The Pew analysis found that in an average week in 2011, dads with children under 18 in the home spent 7.3 hours a week on direct child care, which would include things like changing diapers to helping with homework. That compares to 2.5 hours on average in 1965.

Meanwhile, they spent an average of 9.8 hours a week on housework in 2011, up from about four hours a week in 1965.

Dads also worked an average of 37.1 hours a week in 2011, compared with around 42 hours in 1965.

Wang said the drop is mainly coming from a decline in the number of dads who were working as compared to 1965, because of the weak job market and other factors. Employed dads worked 41.4 hours a week on average in 2011, down slightly from 43 hours in 2007.

Taken together, dads on average are now spending about five hours more per week on child care, housework and paid work than they did in the 1960s.

Nevertheless, moms still are doing much more child care and housework than dads, and dads are still doing much more paid work than moms.

“There is still a significant gap … even though we see the roles of moms and dads are converging,” Wang said.

Carl Poff takes the kids out for ice cream in Easton, Pa.Brandon Goodwin / Today

All this comes as no surprise to Carl Poff.

Poff, 42, jokes that he has about 40 minutes of free time a day -- which would be his round-trip commute to and from his job as a corrections officer.

One recent afternoon, he finished up his shift at the jail and immediately hopped in his car to go pick up his 7-year-old stepdaughter from the bus stop.

From there, it was off to his in-laws to gather his 4-year-old daughter, followed by a quick stop at the grocery store before getting homework done, making dinner and getting the girls to T-ball.

His wife typically gets home between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m., after a day that includes at least two hours commuting to and from her job at the corporate offices of a major telecommunications company. Together, they have dinner and get some quality time with the kids before they go to bed.

After the kids are asleep, the Easton, Pa., couple turns to other chores, like dishes and laundry.

“It’s just how our schedule works,” Carl Poff said.

His wife, Jennifer, 34, said the household wouldn’t function if they didn’t have a partnership in which Carl regularly did things like laundry, making lunches and ferrying the kids to sports practices.

“It’s just part of him being a dad. That’s what he does,” she said.

Carl Poff of Easton, Pa., makes beds as part of his daily routine.Brandon Goodwin / Today

Still, Jennifer said her husband’s daily involvement still seems unusual in their neighborhood, where other moms often compliment her for finding such a helpful husband.

“A lot of dads don’t do that, and I, like, absolutely love him for it,” she said.

Chances are, Jennifer also is busier than moms were in 1965.

In an average week in 2011, modern moms spent more time on child care than they did in 1965: 13.5 hours a week, on average, compared with about 10 hours a week in 1965.

Modern moms also spent about 21 hours a week at paid work, on average, up from about eight hours a week in 1965. But the amount of time moms spent on housework fell by nearly half, from an average of 31 hours per week in 1965 to 18 hours per week in 2011.

Even as dads are taking on more responsibility around the house, Van Deusen, the Boston College researcher, said societal expectations about mom and dad’s roles have been slow to change. That could explain why, even now, relatively few dads stay home full time.

There were about 189,000 stay-at-home dads to kids under age 15 in 2012, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau. That compares with more than 5 million stay-at-home moms with kids under 15.

Van Deusen, who has studied stay-at-home dads extensively, said many couples decide the husband should stay home because he makes less money, and were happy with the arrangement.

“It turned out it was working pretty well for them, but the people around them had a lot more difficulties than they did,” Van Deusen said.

Carl Poff is like many modern dads, juggling his job as a corrections officer with cleaning bedrooms, cooking dinner and picking up the kids. Experts say modern dads want to be more involved in their kids’ lives than their fathers and grandfathers, and that’s showing in the increased amount of time they spend on child care and housework.