Mark Dolliver’s Takes: A Tough Job

Americans think well of motherhood, but this doesn’t mean they think well of mothers—or, for that matter, of fathers. A Pew Research Center poll finds people unimpressed with how well today’s mothers and fathers are playing their roles.

The respondents grant that modern parenthood is a tough task. Seventy percent said it’s more difficult to be a mother today than was the case 20 or 30 years ago, while just 11 percent said it’s easier and 17 percent said it’s about the same. The pattern for fathers was similar, with 60 percent of respondents saying that role is harder now, 12 percent saying it’s easier and 26 percent saying it’s about the same. What makes it so hard to raise kids these days? In an open-ended query on that topic, a plurality of respondents cited “societal factors,” ranging from the all-purpose “outside influences” to drugs to television and the Internet. Surprisingly few mentioned scarcity of time or work/life balance (10 percent). Fewer still pointed to the financial burden (8 percent).

While duly noting the degree of difficulty in raising kids these days, Americans don’t believe parents are rising to the occasion. Just 9 percent said current mothers do a better a job of parenting than did the mothers of a generation ago; 56 percent said they’re doing a worse job; and 29 percent said they’re doing about the same. Women age 50-64 were even more critical, with 66 percent saying mothers now do a worse job.

Fathers came off slightly better, but still quite badly: 21 percent of respondents rated them as better, 47 percent as worse and 28 percent as about the same as the fathers of 20 or 30 years ago. Men were significantly more critical than women in their judgment of today’s fathers: 55 percent of men said fathers are doing a poorer job now, while 40 percent of women said the same. Men without kids and those whose children are grown were especially negative, with 60 percent saying today’s fathers do a worse job of parenting than the fathers of yore. While the Involved Dad has become a stock figure in commercials in recent years, it’s a fair guess that this character doesn’t ring true with lots of viewers—especially male viewers. After all, the father who’s gazing raptly at his laptop as Junior scampers out into traffic has become a stock figure in real life.

The Pew findings contrast sharply with polls that ask parents of minor children to rate their own performance as parents. Such surveys routinely find respondents claiming they do a much, much better job of child-rearing than their own parents did. While working to foster self-esteem in their kids, these parents may have developed an unwarranted amount of it themselves.