Anaheim resident Benjamin Pelayo says he does his best to spend time with his daughter, 18-month-old Winter. Pelayo works full time as an architectural drafter, and makes sure to be home after work and on the weekends. But Pelayo also acknowledged that it’s not always easy. Even holidays like Father’s Day don’t always make it on his radar.
“I’m not the kind of guy who makes plans to celebrate himself,” Pelayo said. “But my wife almost certainly has plans I don’t know about yet.”
Father’s Day is coming up, and with it comes $12.7 billion in sales, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2015 Father’s Day Spending Survey. On average, most of that money will be spent by millennials, the same generation currently wrestling with fatherhood in a quickly-changing world.
Parenthood, and fatherhood in particular, is changing. USC researcher Morley Winograd said that millennials are more likely to have egalitarian ideas about child-rearing than previous generations, but they are also likely to suffer from higher stress, due to their age and economic prospects. According to a 2017 report by Boston College, 75 percent of millennial fathers say they wish they could spend more time with their children.
But millennials dads are responding to these challenges by carving out their own paths, embracing technology and bucking old-fashioned trends that might have ordinarily posed a problem.
According to Boston College, 66 percent of millennial fathers felt that both partners should take on equal amounts of caregiving for their children. Unfortunately for those parents, the same report found that few couples get there. Only 29 percent of millennials polled said an equal housework split was achieved in their homes. Instead, 65 percent of millennial fathers said that their partner performed more caregiving duties than they did.
“It seems that what these conflicted fathers are experiencing is exactly analogous to the dilemma that working women have faced for years,” the report concluded. “The struggle to have a professional career while also being an engaged caregiver is one that many if not most mothers would easily relate to. What is new is this struggle is being amplified far more for today’s working dads.”
Former Los Angeles resident Liam McAloon, 27, said egalitarian parenting is certainly possible but not without some serious sacrifices along the way. McAloon, now raising a 9-month-old son in Springfield, Ore. alongside his wife, said that he moved away from Los Angeles so that he could afford to work from home.
“Being able to work from home enables me to help out around the house, and not just put it all on her,” McAloon said. “Being able to keep the load even between us keeps us both sane.”
McAloon said that staying at home also enables him to take a greater part in his son’s life, something many fathers struggle with. Although it’s often careers keeping them away, personal issues can also take a toll.
Technology can help stay connected
When Whittier resident David Mendizabal, 23, found out he would be a father, he says he panicked. Only 20 at the time, his alienation from family only deepened Mendizabal was sent to prison.
Now two years later, Mendizabal said being present in his son’s life is a top priority.
“I didn’t really man up at the time,” Mendizabal said. “But things progressed really well. Being in his life means a lot to me.”
According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, 2.7 million children in the United States had a parent in prison in 2014, and 92 percent of parents in prison are fathers.
Now on a work-release program, Mendizabal said that he uses technology to bridge the gap between himself and his two-year-old, Joshua. Winograd said that’s common, with millennials being the generation most likely to use technology to lessen the burden of parenthood. Mendizabal said video-chats with his son regularly, and trades text messages with the mother of his son whenever he has a spare moment.
“I’m still not too sure about the future, but we’re in constant communication,” Mendizabal said.
But Pelayo warned that technology can just as often prove another challenge to navigate.
“Deluge of Information”
“Being a millennial father is like being a millennial in general,” Pelayo said. “Everyone has a better idea on how to do it.”
With greater access to information than ever before, Pelayo said it’s easy for modern fathers to get lost. Older parents in particular tend to recommend child psychology theories Pelayo called potentially problematic.
“Parenting is an ongoing process,” Pelayo said. “You can’t treat the kid like you’re building a car.”
That hands-off approach is something that distinguishes millennials from previous generations, according to author Ryan Jenkins. Jenkins, who writes about millennial trends both at home and in the workplace, told Verywell writer Amy Morin in a 2017 interview that if Baby Boomer parents could be likened to helicopters, millennial parenting styles were more like drones – quiet, hands-free and high-tech.
“Because they are digital natives, Millennials are better equipped to monitor and influence their children’s technology use,” Jenkins said. “But Millennials must also practice a healthy diet of connected and disconnected behaviors to serve as their children’s role model of how best to leverage tech to enrich life while still remaining human.”
Pelayo agreed. Technological solutions to old problems aside, ultimate authority on fatherhood rests squarely on millennial dads.
“It’s more about your own personal approach than anything,” Pelayo said. “You realize in this miasma that you’re trying to wade through that the best you can do is to do your best.”