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Recognizing the New Facets of Fatherhood

Today’s dads are involved, not hapless
  • May 24 2012

With Father’s Day approaching, it’s a good time to look at how the role of fatherhood is changing, and how dads are becoming more active in maintaining the home and raising children. But according to research presented at the Annual Dad 2.0 Blogger Summit by The Parenting Group and Edelman PR firm, many dads—especially those with young children—don’t feel that they are being recognized for this change

Evidence of the strength of this conviction—and a willingness from dads to make their voices heard—is the recent backlash to Huggies’ “The Dad Test” Facebook campaign, which some claimed simply stereotyped men as clueless and deficient parents. The responses also revealed much about the kinds of new, engaged roles fathers are playing today—and for which they want to be recognized.

The Parenting Group/Edelman research indicated that dads are assuming responsibility for a number of household tasks, especially those related to feeding their families. About one quarter (26 percent) of dads surveyed say they do all the grocery shopping for their families, and almost as many (22 percent) say they do all of the cooking. When asked which job title most accurately describes their role in the family, 31 percent said “short-order cook.”

Supermarket guru Phil Lempert has pointed out that many men are cooking to connect with their children. Or, if they are victims of the “mancession,” to help provide for their families even when they aren’t bringing in a paycheck.

The changing roles of dads should be thought of not so much as “chore wars,” but as “divide and conquer,” where dads and working moms actively share home duties. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, among fathers with a wife in the workforce, 32 percent were a regular source of care for their children under age 15, up from 26 percent in 2002. In households with working wives and preschool-age children, one in five fathers was the primary caregiver—meaning their child spent more time in their care than any other type of arrangement.

Men are also becoming the family “curator/archivist,” a role women typically have filled. The Parenting-Edelman study indicated that 42 percent of fathers with children under two regularly post updates about their families on social media sites. Moreover, 56 percent post photos and 21 percent post videos.

This evolved behavior has emerged quickly, within a single generation. Only about one third of the fathers who report shopping for their families say their fathers also did the shopping. Today's dads also are more likely to bee buying groceries (70 percent vs. 32 percent), taking care of children (70 percent vs. 33 percent), cooking (67 percent vs. 22 percent) and cleaning (70 percent vs. 10 percent).

There are several key reality checks recognizable from these emerging behaviors that are defining the new roles of fatherhood:

The male shopper appears to represent an opportunity beyond the “man aisles.” Marketers must be more sensitive to how men shop and make decisions and to how they are portrayed.

Communications need not be gender-specific, but should be sensitive to the “divide and conquer” nature of how families divvy up work today. Marketers need to focus on providing improved shop-ability, guided-choice and solutions geared to the family or household, rather than gender-specific efforts.

Given fathers, especially those with young children, are so involved in social media, it represents a new opportunity for engaging in dialogue. Marketers will need to understand how dads are using social media to facilitate such dialogues.

Recognition of the responsibility now being taken by young fathers seems like a good start.  Any portrayal of hapless, bumbling dads in marketing communications is alienating. But more importantly, it shows a lack of understanding of how today’s families work.

Perhaps recognition of the evolving nature of fatherhood is appreciation enough as a first step.


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