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Chicken soup is on the stove, a roast and kugel are in the oven, the table is set, candles and challah are in place, the house in Elkins Park is reasonably tidy and the six children are reasonably clean. The Coe family is ready to welcome Shabbat — as soon as Mom Jennifer comes home from work. Preparing for Shabbat is the job of Dad David, who has arranged his work schedule to be home on Fridays so that he can cook, clean and care for his children.
Over in Willow Grove, at the Blitz house, it’s the same scene on a different day. Alan Blitz works Tuesday through Friday and spends Mondays at home, caring for his two daughters, while his wife, Stacey, is at work. And in North Wales, Paul Kaplan is home all day, every day with his 15-month old twin daughters while his wife, Elissa, is at her full-time job.
These men, all in their mid- to late 30s, are members of a generation who are parenting differently than their fathers. While this is not true of all people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, recent research is showing that men with young children are setting new sociological patterns. They are not their fathers’ fathers.
The Boston College Center for Work & Family released a report this past June titled “The New Dad,” which detailed the economic trends influencing the emergence of this shift in male-female gender roles. Included in the report is the fact that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 50 percent of the workforce is female, and the rising numbers of women with graduate degrees means their salaries are the same or close to those of their male counterparts. And there’s this: Of the 8 million jobs lost between 2008 and 2010, 70 percent had been held by men. That is largely because, the Work & Family study reports, the majority of those jobs lost were in financial services, real estate, construction, manufacturing and other male-dominated industries.
“The New Dad” also looked at the different values and beliefs of Baby Boomers and those who are part of Generations X and Y. “The men in our study were clearly rethinking and redefining traditional, gender-based roles,” the report stated. “Their own fathers worked full-time while their mothers, for the most part, stayed home and cared for them, at least while they were young children. The new dads in our study were working hard to better share both the childcare and home care duties with their spouses.”
What is it like to be one of the “new dads”? What does this mean for the kids — and their moms?
Not Working 9-to-5
Brett Cohen literally wrote the book on modern fatherhood. Stuff Every Dad Should Know is the title of his book, which was published in May 2012 by Philadelphia’s Quirk Books, where Cohen is the vice president. Cohen and his wife, both 37, are raising a 6-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son.
Cohen says that he is a more active co-parent than his father was, largely because his work schedule allows him to be. “Before my kids were born, I would get to the office at 8:15 a.m. or 8:30 a.m. and stay until 5:30 p.m., 6 p.m., sometimes 7 p.m.,” he explains. “Now, I get to work before 8 a.m. and leave at 4:30 p.m. I’m home for dinner, bath time and bedtime. Then, after the kids go to bed, I do more work. But at least I’m home.”
Flexibility in work schedules was one of the founding philosophies of David Borgenicht, who created Quirk 10 years ago. “He was the father of young children and wanted to be an involved dad,” Cohen says, “and he made that possible for all of our employees.”
Not all fathers have employers who are as sympathetic to their parenting goals. Coe, an architect, did not have the flex-time option until he moved to a firm in Norristown. He now works from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Thursday.
Blitz, a corporate accountant, spent two years petitioning and negotiating with his employer, Bank of New York Mellon in King of Prussia, for his compressed work schedule. He is now at his office from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.
Coe and Blitz arrive at their respective homes just before 7 p.m. on those four days. “I miss dinner, and Ava, my younger daughter, is already asleep by the time I get home,” Blitz says. “I’m usually there in time to do bedtime with Nyla, because she goes to sleep at 8 p.m. But I do miss a lot during the week.”
Coe also misses dinner with his family. “But I’m there in time for homework with the 8-year-old twins and the 7-year-old,” Coe says. “My 3-year-old usually joins us and I give her pictures to color, just so she has something to do while my wife is taking care of our 1-year-old twins. And I’m there for bath time, story time and bedtime.”
“My wife wakes up at 5:30 a.m., leaves for work at 6 a.m., drives an hour to her office, works all day, leaves her office at 3:30 p.m., gets home between 4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m., then takes care of our twin babies while I cook dinner,” Kaplan says. “We eat dinner together, do bedtime with the babies, then collapse and she gets up in the morning and does it all over again. I am in awe of her.”
But being awesome is exhausting, and these gruelling schedules are riddled with potential pitfalls. So says Wendy Mogel, the nationally renowned expert on parenting and author of the bestselling books, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee and The Blessing of a B Minus (Scribner). While dads love being more involved, Mogel isn’t so sure that it’s good for the moms.
In addition to her books, Mogel is a sought-after speaker and has a clinical practice. Through those venues, she has been monitoring the societal emergence of “new dads” and embarked on a yearlong project of interviewing middle schoolers about their parents.
“I asked them three questions,” Mogel explains. “ ‘What do your parents worry about that they don’t need to? What do you like to do with your parents? What do you parents do that are the sweetest things and they don’t know they are?’
“The overwhelming majority of the kids say, ‘My mother is crazy and my dad is AWESOME.’ I say, ‘I hear you. But, what would happen if all of the rules in your house were made by your dad? Homework, food, bedtime, etc.?’ They say, ‘That’d be AWESOME. My dad is AWESOME. And my mom is crazy.’ ”
“What’s happened, I think, is that the fathers, in making roles for themselves, are making friends with the children,” Mogel says. “What I hear clinically, on the ground, is that moms are becoming the disciplinarians, which could be because dads are now thought of as ‘awesome’ friends and it could be because moms are juggling work and childcare and she’s exhausted and cranky. Either way, it’s no fun for mom and not fair to her.
“On the other hand, men tell me that, when it comes to parenting, they feel like perpetual interns,” Mogel says. “They don’t have that much status or respect, but they are there to lend a hand.”
Where dads can lend a hand and display their superpowers is in the realm that brings fear into the hearts of many men: housework. “While dad is at the park with the kids, is mom stuck cleaning the house?” asks Fredda Satinsky, senior vice president of Federation Early Learning Service (FELS), which runs eight schools in the Delaware Valley. “Does dad like doing homework with the kids because it puts him in a position of authority? What puts mom in a position of authority? There should be a balance between work which is fun and not fun, between work that is thankless and that for which parents get accolades.”
Cooking is one example. Dad may get kudos for making a great meal, but mom may have done the grocery shopping and packed school lunches — and no one thanks her for either of those things. Laundry is another example. “No one puts on their clothes every day and says, ‘Thanks for cleaning my clothes, Mom,’ ” Satinsky says. “They only notice the laundry when it isn’t done. And we’re not making progress if dad does all the fun stuff and thinks he’s done. If dads don’t help in domestic management, then moms come home and have to do a second shift. That’s when moms, especially Jewish women, who tend to be educated overachievers, start to micromanage their husbands — and then real trouble begins.”
Neither Mogel nor Satinsky spoke to any of the couples interviewed for this article, all of whom help with cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping and other chores. But that adds to Mogel’s point. “Dad may be spending more time with the kids, but is he spending time with mom?” she asks. “Alone time for mom and dad is certainly necessary, but time together in front of the kids is also important. They should see the love, affection and respect that their parents have for one another. We have to model the behavior we want our kids to learn so that they will have happy, healthy adult relationships.”
Cohen completely agrees with this theory, so much so that one of the chapters in his book is titled, “Support Your Wife.” But he points to what may be a larger influence on “new dads” than post-feminist egalitarianism: economics.
Bringing Home the Kosher Bacon
“It would have been incredibly unlikely that our moms, even if they did work, made more money than our dads, but in many modern marriages, that is often the case,” Cohen says. “So when you look at the cost of day care, it might make sense for dads to stay home.”
Coe and Blitz say that saving money on day care was one large reason that they altered their work schedules. The Coes and Blitzes both send their kids to FELS Early Learning Centers because a Jewish education is a top priority for both families. But the Blitzes were paying for two kids and the Coes will be paying for three. “It adds up — and fast,” Coe says, “but we want to keep the kids at Jewish day care, so we found ways to make the money work.”
That’s also the case for Kaplan, the stay-at-home dad. While Kaplan has embraced his role and even blogs about it, this was not his Plan A. Before he had children, Kaplan had a business, the Mud Shack, a paint-your-own pottery studio in North Wales. “When we bought it, the business was kind of small, but in the 4 ½ years we owned it, I built it into a bigger, very nice business,” Kaplan says. “And then we found out that Elissa was having twins.”
The Kaplans, who recently moved out of the area, quickly formed a Plan B, or Plan T, for twins, which would be much more work than one child. Kaplan worked 20 hours a week at the Mud Shack and spent the rest of the time at home with the kids.
“This was last summer, and I tried to juggle everything, helping at home and running the studio,” Kaplan says. “Neither Elissa nor I had any idea how much work it would be to raise newborns. The staff was mad at me for not being there to run the business and my wife was mad because I wasn’t home to help with the babies. Something had to give. So, I prioritzed. I could be working 70 hours at the studio and paying for day care. Or I could be the day care. I want to be there for my kids’ first year of life more than I want to be a small business owner. And Elissa makes more money and health benefits, and all of that. So, I put the business up for sale and, luckily, it sold quickly. Are we rolling in dough? Not at all. But we scrimp and save, and use email coupons and our kids are raised at home.
“And I do get to see my wife, which is incredibly important,” Kaplan says. “That sounds like a dumb thing to say, but we have the twins on a schedule where we can put them to bed so that Elissa and I can have Shabbat dinner, even if it’s not a full-blown meal. And we also have a schedule where she is with the twins on Saturday mornings so that I can go to services at our local Chabad, which is a priority for me.
“Yes, we are often both exhausted, but this is working for us right now — although we may need to come up with a Plan C later,” Kaplan says. “These are the priorities and values that my wife and I set together, and this is how the pieces of the puzzle fit together for us.”
What does Kaplan’s father think of him being a stay-at-home dad? “He certainly doesn’t think I’m a superdad,” Kaplan says, laughing. “He did give me quite a bit of teasing about it at first, but then he and my mom spent some time with us and they saw everything that I do. And he stopped making jokes.”
Coe and Blitz also get positive feedback from their parents. “It’s really nice when my mom acknowledges the work I do as a father,” Coe says. Blitz recently took his youngest daughter to visit her great-grandmother, who expressed delight at how he handled her.
And Cohen says that the final judgment will, of course, come from their children. “We’ll see how this all turns out in about 20 years,” he says. “Even if we do everything perfectly — which there is absolutely no chance of — there will be something for which they will blame us. Maybe they’ll say, ‘Dad, why were you always around?’ ”
Melissa Jacobs is the senior editor of the Special Sections of the Jewish Exponent.