07/23/2010 11:28 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Modern Dad's Dilemma: Mom the Breadwinner, Dad the...?

As women have moved into the workforce, many dads -- some by choice, others by necessity -- have begun to be more active at home. No longer able to rely on the traditional roles, 'man the breadwinner/woman the caretaker,' modern dads and moms have an unprecedented opportunity to redefine a more involved and healthier version of fatherhood for generations to come.

Whether it means leaving work early to make a performance, joining the parent organization at school, becoming a stay-at-home parent, many modern dads are determined to show up for our families in ways that our own fathers could not or did not. However, we're also just discovering what most mothers have known for years: doing it all ain't so easy.

Unfortunately, the emerging discussion about modern fatherhood -- as it relates to work-life balance, gender roles, parenting, and women's issues -- is already devolving into 'who's got it worse or who is less appreciated, mom or dad?' I was disheartened to see so many unproductive responses to both a recent Boston College study detailing the challenges men face in a mostly father-unfriendly workplace and the NY Times Magazine article, Now Dad Feels As Stressed as Mom.

If modern dads are going to step fully into parenting, we as a society must:

  • Take the challenges modern dads face more seriously -- whether that's a work-life conflict or an increase in stress due to the increasing demands of home life. Moms' challenges matter too; this is not a zero-sum game.

  • Acknowledge how radically and quickly the identity and expectations for men today are changing. For a man who grew up believing his self-worth is measured by his success at work, doing most of the childcare because his wife's earns more, could plausibly lead to his experiencing strong feelings of shame, anger, and failure. If not addressed, his health and the well-being of his family could suffer.
  • Show boys and men (girls, women too) what the potential payoff of being a fully involved dad actually looks like. Leading parenting workshops in schools over the last decade, I've heard dads become more vocal about their desire to have closer relationships at home; I wrote a very practical book, The Modern Dad's Dilemma: How To Stay Connected With Your Kids In A Rapidly Changing World (New World Library) to inspire men with stories of everyday dads who are successfully -- not without challenges -- building emotionally connected relationships with their kids and their wives/partners.
  • To put a human face on the real challenges of modern dads -- as well the potential payoff for more involved parenting - I give you LeWayne Jones. LeWayne, one of dads featured in my new book, is a great example of a modern dad stepping out of his comfort zone and more fully into fatherhood.

    What is there to learn from this short video clip of LeWayne Jones?

    1. How one dad deals with the new, initially uncomfortable reality that his wife earns more money than he does. LeWayne's identity, like millions of american men, appears to be more rooted in breadwinning than caretaking. Yet, despite having to shift in his seat during the converstion about his wife earning more than him, LeWayne describes how the "motherly things" he does benefit his family.

  • Why becoming a better dad and a better man requires stepping out of your comfort zone. Instead of resisting his changing role in family life, LeWayne views it as an opportunity to support his wife and show up for his kids in new, but unfamiliar ways. For instance, realizing that he needed better listening skills, he actively practices listening not fixing. It should be noted that many women have also stepped out of their comfort zones to become breadwinners or business owners.
  • What unforeseen benefits dads can discover by taking on the 'second shift,' or doing what has historically been referred to as 'women's work' -- housework and childcare; In LeWayne's case, he details how his involvement has led to him developing a much deeper emotional connection with his daughter ... the kind of relationship he wanted with his own dad. He has also developed a stronger partnership with his wife, Renea.