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Mom vs. Dad: Who's Doing the Work?

Are dads leaving most of the babycare to moms? Or are they equal partners in parenting? The 26,500 mothers and fathers who answered our exclusive national survey couldn't wait to give us the scoop. And the story they tell about what's happening in American homes today is full of love, frustration, and hope.

C'mon, let's admit it: When you get a few moms together in a room, the talk can quickly degenerate into husband-bashing. Every mom's got a story  -- like the one about the dad who can cook a gourmet meal for 12 but can't remember to warm a bottle of formula. Or the father who loves to read his toddler bedtime stories but isn't quite clear when bedtime is.

But the fact is, dads today are dramatically more involved than their fathers were. From their presence in the delivery room to their role as baby-bathers, they're doing things the past generation never would have done  -- and they're loving it. So we at BabyTalk wondered: Is moms' view of fathers fair? What do dads have to say about who's doing what? Just how much have old gender roles changed?

We decided to run "his-and-hers" surveys in our March 2002 issue  -- one poll for mothers and one for fathers. It was a gamble, because literally 98 percent of BabyTalk's readers are women. Well, the gamble paid off. We heard from 15,000 moms  -- and an astonishing 11,500 dads. As it turns out, nobody had really asked the men about their views on parenting before. Once we did, the floodgates opened, and the dads had a lot to say (as did the moms). So first, the good news...

Sally S. Tusa is the articles editor for BabyTalk magazine. Additional reporting by Alison Damast.

Parents are Confident

Both moms and dads are extremely confident in their parenting skills.
At a time when a woman can easily be nervous and insecure about becoming a new parent  -- especially with conflicting advice coming at her from every which way and often without her own mother nearby to help sort it all out  -- 98 percent of today's moms actually feel great about raising a child. "I absolutely love being a mom!" writes Mindi Henderson of Logan, UT. "It's totally challenging but extremely rewarding and fulfilling."

But the really amazing news comes from the dads: 95 percent say they, too, are confident in their parenting skills. "I rule and all the other daddies drool!" boasts Lewis Snellenberger II, of Muskegon, MI. For lots of the dads, their self-satisfaction grew over time. "When my daughter was born, I treated her like glass," says Richard Eldridge, of Asheville, NC. "But now I feel much more comfortable with her. I've really gotten the hang of it."

This self-assurance is all the more notable when you consider that many of these men had no role models on which to base their parenting style and skills. Two-thirds of the dads surveyed tell us that they are, simply, better parents than their own fathers were. "I am the best dad," says Brian Swanson of Warwick, RI. "I did not have an active dad, so I pour my heart and soul into my son. When I come home from work and on the weekends, I take over and do all the baby stuff." Says Scott Gilchrist, a father of two in Chester, VA, "My dad had fun with us, but he didn't know a lot about parenting and development. I know how to have fun, but I also know the importance of showing affection and emotions to my kids."

The moms totally concur, with two-thirds saying they see in their husband a giant improvement over the parenting their own father did. "My husband changes diapers and makes bottles and sometimes gets up in the night with the baby," says Stephanie Lohmar, a mother of one in St. Charles, MO. "I don't know if my dad ever changed diapers, and if we were crying, he probably handed us off to our mom."

Sounds great, but that doesn't exactly mean that the moms have complete faith in their spouses' skills. So now for a little bad news...

Wives Lack Confidence in Husbands

The wives have dramatically less confidence in their husband's parenting skills than the dads themselves.
Yes, it's true: While almost all the dads say that they are swell parents, not even half the moms would agree. Only 48 percent say they feel good about their husband's abilities when it comes to caring for their infant. "I would have more confidence in my husband if he would change diapers and offer to feed and dress our daughter more often," says Dunbar, PA, mom Michelle Soberdash, "Seeing is believing."

Why do moms feel they're better at babycare than the dads? Because they are doing more of it, say 60 percent of them. Almost the same number say they definitely want Dad to pitch in more when it comes to the baby. On Mom's wish list:

  • More than half of the moms (51%) say Dad needs to change more diapers. "My husband never changes diapers, ever," writes Renee Zola of Brunswick, OH. "He goes on with life as it was before."

  • Almost as many moms say Dad needs to help out more with feeding (51%) and bathing (50%).

  • And although we have no hard numbers on this, reams of letters from moms tell us they wish Dad would get up with the baby at night. "Why is it okay for a mom to get no sleep but it is forbidden for the dad?" laments Amy Rowland, who lives on Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.

Although a huge number of dads (71%) admit that their wife would like them to do more babycare, it seems the men just aren't taking action. Here, according to the moms, is why they're still doing the first and second shift:

  • Dad doesn't volunteer. More than half the moms say that Dad only cares for the baby when asked. "I wish my husband looked forward to taking care of our son rather than considering it a favor to me," says Liz Geller of Atlantic Beach, NY. Almost as many of the dads agree that they aren't stepping up: "I don't do as much as I could be doing," writes Justin Francis of Palestine, TX. "I only do things when I feel like it."

  • Work gets in the way. More than a third of the moms say their husband's job is so demanding that he doesn't have the time or energy to help out at home. "It's not that my husband doesn't enjoy our daughter," writes Baton Rouge, LA, mom Elizabeth Lawrence, "but he works more hours than I do, and he thinks he is too tired in the evenings to lend a hand." Dads, too, in big numbers (43%), cite work demands as a major reason they aren't helping out with the kids. "Let's face reality," writes Ed Wild of Niceville, FL. "I work 11 hours a day between working, commuting, and getting ready for work, so my wife does the lion's share of the babycare."

  • It's how responsibilities are arranged, say 34 percent of the moms. Even with more dual-income parents in the workforce than ever before, Dad is still bringing home more of the bacon, and mom is still the one who's tapped to stay home with the baby more often. Traditional gender roles definitely exist today in large numbers: A mere 4 percent of our male respondents are stay-at-home dads, while 46 percent of the women are stay-at-home moms. "I wish my husband would volunteer more to help," says Brandi Landers of Hartselle, AL. "He believes it is all my responsibility since I stay home and he works. I believe it should be 50/50."

Sounds like an open-and-shut case in favor of the moms, doesn't it? Wait  -- there's another side to the story.

Dads Want to Do More

The dads say they'd love to do more  -- if their wife only trusted them more!
A significant number of dads  -- nearly a third  -- said their wife needs to step back and allow them to parent more on their own. When we probed, we tapped into a wellspring of emotion regarding this issue, showing us that dads often feel shut out of caring for their child. Whether out of a sense of superiority or a subconscious feeling of "mother knows best," lots of moms take over, butt in, or are so critical of their husband that Dad just learns to stop offering. "We share responsibility when I'm home," says Big Lake, MN, father Glenn Henry, "but it seems like I can't do anything right by my wife's standards."

"This is our first girl and some things are new to me," says Paul Elmore, a father of three in Pensacola, FL. "My wife sometimes says to me, 'You don't know what you're doing.' I get upset, but I try to brush it off."

Dads say part of the problem is that Mom needs to realize that her way isn't the only way to parent. "My wife has always taken charge in the first place when it comes to having anything to do with the baby," says Anthony Davis of Latham, IL. Even dads who've got experience and expertise are sometimes overruled: "As a nurse in the ER, I have more insight when the baby is sick, but my wife is overanxious and ignores my opinion," says Damon Legault of San Antonio, TX.

And some guys are really feeling bashed: A full third of dads say that their wife teases them outright about their skills as a parent. "I try to protect my baby in every possible way, like keeping him from putting something in his mouth, but sometimes these things happen anyway," says Marstons Mills, MA, father of two Robert Gauthier. "And my wife always makes comments like, 'Well, gee, you won't do that again.'"

But take heart, dads: There are moms out there who are trying to change their ways. In fact, four in ten moms admit they really need to trust Dad more with the baby. "My husband does a great job, but sometimes I expect him to think like me, which I know isn't right," says first-time mom Jessica Zimmet of Cortland, OH.

Moms are More Stressed

Who's more stressed out? Moms, by a mile, according to both groups.
"I'm stressed!" was all that Boonsboro, MD, mom Cathy Peck wrote on her survey, and she's not alone. Seventy percent of the moms and 64 percent of the dads say that Mom is the more frazzled parent. This is not at all surprising since moms are doing more of the babycare. "I absolutely never stop moving," writes Foxboro, MA, mom Stacy Murray. "I don't think my husband understands how stressful my day is."

What moms really need is a break: Eighty percent say they're desperate for some time off. "I'm a stay-at-home mom who does it all," says Rachel McGee, first-time mom of a 7-month-old in McAlester, OK. "I have no time for me. All I wish for is to be able to take a nap when I'm tired and a shower when I please!"

But one important caveat here: Many moms realize that they are putting the childcare burden on themselves and might feel less pressured if they voiced their need for help. "My husband would probably be willing to take on more baby chores if I relinquished the power," writes Austin, TX, mom Lisl McDonald. "I guess it's my fault that I have the majority of the work."

Things Are Changing

The best news of all: Today's moms and dads are crazy about each other.
Let's look at the flip side of the numbers. Many moms and dads tell us that babycare isn't split evenly, but look at how many are saying that it is: 40 percent of moms and 50 percent of dads! That sea change happened in one generation, which is astonishing. So how do these equal partners make it happen in their household?

  • Eileen and Marc Camporeale, of Pompton Lakes, NJ, are working parents of an 16-month-old son. While Eileen does a lot of the babycare, Marc takes on the housework. "He does the laundry, up to and including ironing, he cleans the house, and on occasion, will cook," writes Eileen. "I am very lucky to have both of my 'men.'"

  • Lynne Jantzen, of Potosi, WI, says her husband Keith's willingness to take a two-week paternity leave when their 19-month-old daughter was born helped them immensely. "Without that leave, I probably would have thought I had to do it all," says Lynne. Since both parents work full-time, they've made an effort to take turns doing many of the household chores and to share their time with their baby as much as possible.

    Today's moms and dads also cherish their time with each other, as we could see from the huge outpouring of love evident in the letters we received. Rather than kvetching, many of our respondents, like Christine Hulin, of New Iberia, LA, jotted down a loving line about their spouse: "My husband is a one-of-a-kind man." We also heard this lament a number of times: "My wife is a great mom," writes White Plains, New York, dad Keith Wynne, "but we don't have time for each other."

    In fact, 90 percent of both moms and dads say there are never enough hours in the day for couple-time. "My husband does as much as he can and doesn't complain at all," writes Indianola, IA, mom Jennifer Neal. "I wish we had more time together, just me and him."

    There are two major issues apparent in this survey: Women are stressed out because they are still carrying much of the babycare burden, and men want and need to feel more trusted with their child. But despite these problems, the sentiment that shines throughout the survey is love and joy. "My wife and I work well together and love each other endlessly," writes Beecher, IL, father of four Steve Reilly, "even though we probably haven't had a full night's sleep in five years!"

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