Happy Father's Day: Today's Dads Enjoy More Time with Kids

Happy Father's Day: Today's Dads Enjoy More Time with Kids

Camden psychology professor sees fathers accepting more active role than a generation ago

Still wondering what to get dear old Dad for Father’s Day?

Here’s a hint: It can’t be gift-wrapped.

Father's Day photo

So stop trolling the malls for another gadget or garish tie because what your father wants most of all on Sunday is more face time with you.

According to a 2012 poll from market-research firm Ipsos, most dads would prefer to either spend quality time with their families on Father’s Day (40 percent) or receive no gift at all (22 percent). Gift cards were a distant third, at 13 percent.

And extra family time is not just for Father’s Day. Fathers have nearly tripled the amount of time they spend with their children, from 2.5 hours in 1965 to 7.3 hours per week in 2011 a Pew Research report found.

Rutgers Today talked about how more time with Dad benefits children with Daniel Hart, a professor of psychology and childhood studies who directs the Rutgers Institute for Effective Education in Camden and has written or edited six books, including Becoming Men: The Development of Aspirations, Values, and Adaptational Styles.

Rutgers Today: Fathers used to be responsible for little more than supporting their families economically. How much more emotional support does the new generation of dads provide? 

Hart: I recall reading a statistic in the 1970s that the average father spent 30 seconds a day alone with his child. Most of the time they spent at home was in the evening during meal time, maybe everyone would be watching television. But very little of that time was spent in one-on-one communication between father and child. So when you think relative to where things were to where they are now, they’ve improved dramatically.

Rutgers Today: What impact does spending time with Dad – as opposed to Mom – have on a child’s self esteem?

Hart: Paternal attention is sometimes seen as more optional. In that sense, if you’re getting attention from your father it probably signals something good about yourself. Unlike your mom, your father’s doing it and he likes you, whereas moms are typically more the backbone of family.

Rutgers Today: What does this mean for single-parent families?

Hart: As single parent households increase and are headed by mothers, it makes the attention (of fathers) more important and more difficult to get.

Dan Hart

Daniel Hart

Rutgers Today: Based on a 2013 Pew Study on Modern Parenthood, a flexible work schedule is still more important to moms (70%) than dads (48%). When do you think more fathers will argue for and exercise their flexible work options?

 Hart: I thnk it’s happening more. The study shows working fathers spend more time engaged in child care (7 hours a week) than they did half a century ago, but that working mothers still devote considerable more time (12 hours a week) to child rearing. But considering the baseline was so low, I think it’s still not incredibly common. You can still hear fathers talk about how they have to babysit. It sounds awful these days when you hear a father say that. It is not even something you’d hear a mother say.

Rutgers Today:  Looking through the lens as psychologist at the relationships between you and your father, you and your sons and your son with his child, how has the role of the father shifted from one generation to the next?

Hart: Because I am a professor, when my oldest son was young and my ex-wife was going to school, I was home a lot. I think that was perceived as kind of strange. I know my ex-wife was asked, “Does he have a job?” Now, my youngest son who is 17 lives with me (instead of his mother). I just don’t think that’s seen as quite as strange. Over the course of my own lifetime I think those boundaries have become more permeable.