My Account

The Progressive Dad’s Dilemma

In the world I live in, a highly-educated community in the liberal San Francisco Bay Area, adults come into parenthood with egalitarian ideals. 

Dr. Jessica Michaelson

Share this post:

In the world I live in, a highly-educated community in the liberal San Francisco Bay Area, adults come into parenthood with egalitarian ideals. Before kids, both men and women worked, both cooked, cleaned, payed the bills.

But when conception and pregnancy come into the picture, this egalitarianism gets tested. It’s the woman who has to take her basal temperature, the woman who has to go to avoid salami and blue cheese, and the woman who gets the baby all to herself for now. 

The fathers I know are acutely aware that their wives are taking the lionshare of the responsibility from the beginning of parenthood, and feel guilty that they can’t do more. 

Slowly but surely, even for couples who are fiercely opposed to traditional gender roles in their relationship, we find ourselves in gender specific roles during the first few years of parenthood that can remain in place into adolescence. 

For many couples, this traditional division of labor – childcare and housework for women, income generation and home repair for men – feels comfortable and each partner is satisfied. 

However, in the progressive world in which I live, this division is rife with conflict for both partners. 

Mothers want their partners to help with the childcare and housework. Yet a recent study, cited in the controversial New York Times article, “The Egalitarian-Marriage Conundrum,” found that the more men did these traditionally feminine tasks, the less sexually attractive their wives found them

Fathers want to be connected with the baby and supportive of their wives, but often feel at a loss for how to do this. As the author Michael Lewis highlights in his memoir, Home Game,

In these putatively private matters, people constantly reference public standards. They don’t care if they’re getting a raw deal so long as everyone is getting the same deal. The problem with modern parenting is that there are no standards and it’s possible that there never again will be.

In addition to a lack of public standards to reference, there are many factors that get in the way of progressive dads being as involved as everyone would like, including:

  • Feeling incompetent with the baby or the household chores
  • Gaining a sense of competence and usefulness through being a provider
  • Inner conflict between wanting to be involved and cultural ideas about masculinity and men’s roles
  • A mother-focused parenting culture in which all the conversation and attention is placed on the mother and child
  • The mother acting as ‘gatekeeper’ by asserting too much control over the childcare and household decisions, therefore undermining the father’s participation
  • Not fully understanding the specific importance of fathers in their child’s development

The Gottmans are acutely aware of how challenging it can be for a father to be engaged in a satisfying way in our present culture. And they know just how important it is to support couples so they can overcome these obstacles. 

In their parent-education program, Bringing Baby Home, facilitators emphasize the unique contributions that fathers make to their children. Their research has found that fathers:

  • Give infants more freedom to explore and focus more on delighting in the child’s independence.
  • Are more tactile and high energy with their children. Children tend to play with their fathers more like they would another child. When given a choice of who to play with, two-thirds of toddlers choose dads over moms. 
  • Help children regulate, or deal with, more intense emotions through this style of play than the quiet, verbal and visual games that moms tend to play. 
  • In researching the effects on the Bringing Baby Home program, the Gottmans found that both fathers and mothers were surprised and thrilled to know these facts – it gave them a concrete reason to value and promote dad’s involvement.

    And the results of dad being involved are astonishing. Here is just a small sample of benefits that resulted from fathers participating the the BBH program as compared to the control group who didn’t receive this education:

    • Father-infant attachment was higher 
    • The quality of father-child interaction was more positive
    • Fathers felt more satisfied in their parenting contributions
    • Fathers felt more appreciated by their partners for their involvement
    • Greater marital satisfaction for both partners
    • Less hostility between parents
    • Babies responded more to father’s soothing attempts
    • Children showed fewer language delays at one year
    • Both parents showed fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety

    Knowing these benefits can make it far easier to combat the pressures that get in the way of father involvement. With each of my clients, they have a sense that their marriage is the only one struggling with this dilemma of modern, progressive parenthood. But to quote John Gottman’s words from And Baby Makes Three, “We are all in the same soup.” 

    Whether you are planning a family, expecting, or have young children, you and your partner can navigate the challenges of gender roles and parenthood gracefully when you prioritize your friendship and strive to manage inevitable conflict with kindness and curiosity.

    Share this post:

    Dr. Jessica Michaelson is a certified Bringing Baby Home facilitator and founder of Early Parenthood Support, Inc. She lives in Oakland, California with her husband and two sons. She provides education, coaching, and community for new and expecting parents around the world.

    Recommended products

    Original price was: $250.00.Current price is: $179.00.

    Transform Your Relationship

    The Gottman Relationship Adviser is a complete approach to relationship wellness. Measure your relationship health with the research-based Gottman Assessment, analyze five key areas of your partnership to identify your strengths and weaknesses, then start a tailored, step-by-step digital program proven to heal and strengthen your connection—all on your schedule and from anywhere.

    The Adviser uses the legendary scientific Gottman Method to help you understand what’s really going on in your relationship—and gives you exactly what you need to improve it.

    Original price was: $119.00.Current price is: $79.00.

    Research-based Foundations for a Lifetime of Love.  The Gottman Relationship Coach is an inspiring and educational multimedia experience designed to enhance the well-being of relationships. Participants will be guided through research-based tools and communication skills that can transform relationships—all based on the popular Gottman Method. The first program, “How to Make Your Relationship Work”, is now available and includes:

    • The Gottman Method and How to Make Your Relationship Work
    • How do we predict the future of a relationship?
    • How to build a Sound Relationship House
    • What to do when the destructive Four Horsemen enter your relationship

    “Buy Now” will take you to GOTTMAN CONNECT to purchase and view this product.


    Created by “the Einstein of Love” (Psychology Today), this two-day workshop is grounded on what actually works in relationships that are happy and stable. See for yourself why millions of couples worldwide have benefited from the Gottman Method.

    Quote from participant in most recent Live Virtual Workshop:

    The Art and Science of Love workshop- where do I begin? It was an absolute stellar workshop. We were looking forward to this for weeks, and it exceeded our expectations! It was well-structured, and well-organized, and provided a wealth of information with real-time demonstrations of how to work through specific scenarios. The outstanding support that was provided throughout the exercises with therapists on standby- WOW! Priceless!

    Includes the Art & Science of Love box set.  Please allow time for shipping.  Please Note: This is a live online event. To attend, you will need a reliable internet connection. Our staff will reach out to you with your personal registration and access information.

    Related posts

    How to Be Kind When You’re Upset With Your Partner

    Sanaa Hyder

    Kindness is not just important in the heat of an argument. ...

    Read More

    Inside Out 2 and Emotion Coaching

    Amy McMahan

    Gottman's emotion coaching is brought to life in the movie Inside Out 2. ...

    Read More

    Getting Parents on the Same Page

    Rebecca Eanes

    Dr. Gottman’s research has shown us that there are three steps to reaching a compromise. ...

    Read More

    What to Do During a Rough Patch

    Are Rough Patches in Relationships Normal?

    Dana McNeil

    What you can do when your relationship is on the rocks ...

    Read More

    Sad man feeling depressed and crying

    Men’s Tears: From Odysseus to Modern Day

    Alexander Elguren

    How men can learn to navigate the stormy seas of emotion ...

    Read More

    Improve your sex life by increasing you emotional intelligence and creating a plan for sex!

    5 Tips to Improve Sex (from a Sex Therapist)

    Kyle Benson

    Improving sexual intimacy requires developing emotional and sexual intelligence. It also requires planning (even if that doesn't sound sexy!) ...

    Read More

    Subscribe to Gottman Love Notes

    Sign up and start your relationship transformation. Subscribe and get the latest on relationships, therapy, and much more from the experts. Includes a free download and access to special pricing on Gottman products every month