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Nanette Fondas's picture

A friend recently gave birth to twins. When I visited them today, she sat feeding one baby a bottle, while dad was bathing the other baby—classically—in the kitchen sink.

Does this scene surprise you? Probably not, if you’re under age twenty-nine. According to a recent study by the Families and Work Institute, today many men and women are chucking traditional parenting roles—as in, the mom takes care of both those babies while the dad goes to work to earn money. Only 41% of the people surveyed held that view, down from 64 percent in 1977. Men’s attitudes have changed even more than women’s: 74 percent ascribed to traditional roles for parents in 1977 while today only 42 percent do.

So hats off to dads, especially Millennials (under age 29) who are taking on their share of the second shift and not even making a fuss. According to the survey, about one third of these dads are taking as much or more responsibility for caring for their kids as mothers do. Their households look like the egalitarian scene I witnessed at the twins’ home.

Now here’s the rest of the story. For decades we’ve been hearing that working women often experience feelings of conflict between work and family when they become mothers. They may opt-out, off-ramp, down-shift, mommy-track, or become “mompreneurs.” But now moms are not alone. Men who are bending the old-fashioned, rigid, gender roles of parenting are feeling more conflict now too. According to the study, men’s work-life conflict increased drastically from 34 percent in 1977 to 45 percent in 2008.

This sounds bad and, for any individual dad, it might be: more stress is not something he’s looking for, especially if he’s just welcomed more than one newborn into his family! But for society and the country as a whole, if dads are increasingly feeling the need for solutions to work/family conflict, then the demand for creative solutions will only grow—solutions such as flexible work schedules, taking children to work, modified career tracks, job sharing, and telecommuting—to name just a few. Dad may even come up with another solution while the baby’s bath water hums. He knows that family-friendly workplaces and policies are not just for moms anymore: they really are for families.

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