Raising Successful Kids

What does it mean to be a 'good' dad? Here's what parenting experts say

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Only 5% of primary stay-at-home parents are men, according to U.S. Census data.

Why is that? A 2020 study by sociologist Isabelle Roskam suggests that mothers are more flexible in their expectations of what it means to be both a parent and a worker. In other words, they're prepared for the disruption their lives will inevitably experience from having children.

As two mothers and co-authors of "The Power Code," we've spent years studying how to prevent parental burnout and what it means to be a good parent.

Our research points to two ideas: Men need to feel as though spending more time on household work — or even being a full-time stay-at-home dad — is a good option; and women need to see men who do this as stronger, not weaker.

But making this happen is a joint effort.

1. Start at the beginning.

Before we even start with men, we need to start with boys. If you have sons, or boys in your life, make an inventory of what kind of role models you hold up for them.

Are you perpetuating stereotypes? Make a point of emphasizing to your son that not being the breadwinner isn't a bad thing. Explain that looking after children is a valuable and rewarding path in life.

If your son has younger siblings, include him in the nurturing routine. There is no reason your son can't mix a bottle, change a diaper or read bedtime stories.

2. Welcome dads.

A friend of ours recently moved to a new city where his wife had taken a very big job.

One morning, he took his daughter to the local park to meet some kids and parents from her school. Those parents were all moms, and although they had suggested he come along, he felt left out.

"It was like I was intruding on their comfortable social routine," he said. That story made us realize how important it is to make dads feel welcome.

If you're at a birthday party, parent-teacher event or just in the park, and you see a dad alone with their kids, go up and talk to them. Ask about their kids, their work or their hobbies. Then make a plan to include them in your next kid-focused social engagement.

3. Show dads what they're missing.

Eve Rodsky, a Harvard-trained organizational psychologist, gave us a terrific example of how she worked with one couple to help them foster a deeper, more meaningful change.

The wife handed over a parenting task to her hard-charging CEO husband. Her son had drawn a Secret Santa recipient who had been bullied at school, so she felt that an extra level of care was needed in crafting a gift.

The father and son spent a full day making a jewelry box. Because he'd committed to owning the task, her husband was invested in the outcome and willing to spend the day on the floor with glue and glitter, talking about what it would mean to the recipient.

This dad has now taken that experience into the workplace and actively tries to bring a more empathetic approach to his leadership. He also admits that, up until this event, he had pretty much been on autopilot at home — the exact opposite of the can-do attitude he'd taken at work.

Most importantly, his wife says, that day on the floor helped him feel the joy of spending time with his son — time that might have seemed tedious or unnecessary previously, but is the essential conduit for building connection.

Katty Kay and Claire Shipman are the co-authors of "The Power Code: More Joy. Less Ego. Maximum Impact for Women (and Everyone)." Katty is a U.S. correspondent for the BBC and a regular contributor on MSNBC. She juggles journalism with raising four children with her husband. Claire is a public speaker who spent almost three decades as an award-winning television journalist on ABC News, NBC News and CNN. Follow them on Twitter at @KattyKay_ and @ClaireShipman.

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*Adapted from "The Power Code: More Joy, Less Ego, Maximum Impact for Women (and Everyone)." Copyright © 2023 by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. Reprinted with permission of Harper Business, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.