My children have fantastic grandparents. They’re full of vitality and energy, have plenty of time to play and laugh, and give great cuddles.
So you can imagine my surprise one night when my father-in-law confessed that, in the midst of his grandparenting joy, there’s a certain place in his heart that feels sad for the days gone past and the things he missed out on with his own kids.
Like any breadwinning father of the 70s and 80s, he was what would be known today as a “hands-off” dad, leaving the childcare and housework to his wife and focusing on earning a living and being a good role model.
But was he a good role model, he wonders?
My father-in-law told me that night, in his typically dry fashion (he hails from northern England where any display of emotion would be described as “hysteria”) he is immensely proud of his son for the way he mucks in with the kid-wrangling, even the nappy-changing… Especially the nappy changing.
“He certainly didn’t learn that from me,” he says.
For my husband’s dad, who became a grandparent for the first time the day his son became a father, the journey has certainly been one of softening. As Granddad he is allowed to be silly, sad, happy and sensitive. It’s not a role he’s played before, and it certainly amuses my hubby, who remembers his dad as being quite tough.
His memory certainly matches the prevailing impression today’s fathers have of their dads, as research by a British childcare company has found.
According to the study, six out of 10 believe they enjoy a better, more supportive and hands-on relationship with their children than they themselves experienced, and that their fathers were too busy working to enjoy quality time with them.
One in five said their dad was “difficult to talk to” and 15 per cent said he had been a “disciplinarian” when they were growing up.
The survey also showed that today’s fathers are far more involved in the day-to-day running of the family, which is largely to do with the cultural shift of more women moving into the workplace.
70 per cent of the dads surveyed said they regularly cooked dinner, while six out of 10 prepared breakfast for the children. Around 45 per cent claimed they do the laundry, read bedtime stories, take the kids to school and get up in the night when the kids need it.
Most modern dads said they were making more of an effort because they felt the need to get right what previous generations of parents had got wrong.
Liz Fraser, Modern Family Expert for Care.com, said, “The shift demonstrates an overall move within gender roles as both men and women take on opportunities and commitments outside the household.
“It’s also clear that dads are taking the time to reflect on their own childhood, looking to learn from their experiences as they bond with their children”.
That said, there is a certain amount of external pressure placed on modern fathers, something their fathers didn’t have to deal with. A fifth believed there was a societal expectation for them to be more involved, while 26 per cent said they felt pressure from other dads to be seen as a good father.
Whatever the reason, children today are more likely to have a “hands-on” dad than one who parents from the armchair by the fire. And my husband, for one, knows that his modern style of parenting doesn’t mean he loves his kids any more than his dad loved him and his siblings. It’s just that, these days, it’s okay to say so.
And that’s perhaps the greatest benefit, certainly for my family. Seeing his son in a more “emotional” version of the role he played all those years ago, my father-in-law has become a great big softie and not just for his grandkids, but towards his grown-up children too.
Do you think fatherhood has changed? And does this mean grandfathers allowed to be more “emotional” these days, too?
Share your thoughts below!