"When does a joke become a dad joke? When it's full groan." -Anonymous
In last week's post I asked two questions concerning the increase in fatherlessness that has occurred over the last 50 years: 1) where are the fathers going and 2) how do we get them back? This week I'd like to take a crack at answering those.
There is a somewhat easy answer to question one--over half of single mothers have never been married and the other half is divorced. Interestingly, 40% of single mothers had their children later in life after they had established careers. Nowadays, men are less motivated than ever to be fathers and mothers (especially older ones) are less keen on going through the effort of starting a relationship with a potential father. One in ten single moms are 'single by choice' and can do so now through the use of modern fertility technologies like IUI and IVF.
Furthermore, birth rates in the US have been declining since 1970, despite a few small booms in the 1990s and early 2000s. Culturally, waiting until the third decade of life (and beyond) to settle down with someone has become the norm. Increased financial pressure on young people has also reduced the available resources for potential children as well as the desire. Since the 1970s the median household income of the US has pretty well flatlined (once adjusted for inflation) and for the first time ever the current generation is poorer than the former.
Unless there is wealth in the family, most couples must both work to stay afloat. This puts immense pressure on parents, especially if there is a kid in the equation. Multiply this by the fact that 80% of Americans live two hours or more from their parents and we have a perfect storm of life stressors.
Many men that are having children young are in no place to support them and the ones that choose to wait are usually married to careers instead of wives, causing them to either abandon their children after divorce (if they even have them in the first place). Thus we get two distinct waves of absent fathers and the result is mothers who are not interested in dealing with them.
So how do we get dads back into the family? A large part of this has to do with re-establishing the importance of fatherhood and the necessity of a strong marital bond. It takes a mother and a father to raise a complete child. They won't always do things the same, nor should they. The commonplace idea that men are not capable of caring for children is a destructive myth and extremely demoralizing to fathers.
Father's must be supported and encouraged to make at least half of the difficult decisions in the family. All too often those decisions are piled onto the mother and it is no wonder when she gets overloaded. A twofold paradigm shift is in order: fathers getting more involved and mothers giving away control. They must happen in tandem. Yin and Yang. The family that walks that line usually lasts. The one that masters it, thrives.
The presence of grandparents, other family members, and good friends is also crucial to offset the pressure on parents and allow them to look after themselves and their relationship. Parents must safeguard the bond that created the child in the first place. Without it they are just two single people butting heads. Something is bound to get broken in the process.
Fathers, strive to spend every free moment playing with and teaching your children. They look to you for guidance and encouragement. Sometimes this will come in the form of rebellion, but that is just a test of your dedication and patience. Mothers, intentionally find ways to give fathers more responsibility and room to parent. This will come with a fair share of disappointment, but the only way to learn is by doing. Trust fathers. They are our way back to something resembling balance.
Parenthood is arguably one of the most rewarding journeys that a human can go through. Like most things with a big payoff, it isn't easy. I am sad that the cultural norm has shifted to singleness and/or childlessness, but I believe that change is upon us and that it must come from within. If we can return fathers to a respectable position (not just the bearer of bad jokes and the less mature co-parent) then we stand a chance of encouraging more men to step up to the challenge. Lord knows we need them to.