Most of the time, my thoughts and writing revolve around motherhood and how being a mom affects me and other women – but in honor of Father’s Day this past weekend, I’ve been thinking a lot about dads.
I have one of the best dads on the planet (unbiased opinion 😉). When I was little, like most kids, I didn’t give much thought to his life outside of me. To be honest, I thought his sole purpose in life was to take care of me and my sister. Now that I’m a parent, my perspective on my own parents has changed entirely.
I often wonder how my dad felt when we were young, and they were in the thick of raising us. My parents started their family at the very young age of 21 years old, so they were going through this parenthood journey a full decade earlier than I am. Did that make it easier on them…or harder?
When I ask my dad about it (or whenever he sees me frustrated and struggling with my girls), he laughs and says something to the effect of “payback’s a bitch!”, which says it all. Being a parent is hard no matter what age you are, and if you’re as lucky as I am, your parents made it look easy to you, even on the days when they were surely struggling to just make it through.
Men and women are notoriously different creatures, so it makes sense that the effects of parenthood are a bit different for men. No one gets out of this parenthood gig unscathed, though; here’s a list of some of the top ways that being a dad affects men.
It affects their hormone levels.
We all know that women’s hormones are on a rollercoaster ride all throughout pregnancy and motherhood, but it turns out that men’s hormones are also impacted by babies. Multiple studies have been conducted on dads’ hormone levels, and the results consistently show a significant drop in testosterone levels compared to men who are still single or don’t have children.
Why the drop? Some speculate that it’s nature’s way of making men more nurturing and less aggressive during a time when that’s exactly what the mother and baby need. This effect is compounded for men who spend more time with their kids, as studies show further testosterone reductions for these dads than they do for fathers who don’t participate as actively in childcare.
In addition to a drop in testosterone, studies in both animals and people show that new fathers experience an increase in the hormones estrogen, oxytocin, prolactin and glucocorticoids. Contact with the mother and children seem to induce these hormonal changes in dads, and those who show more affection toward their kids tend to have higher levels of oxytocin.
It affects their pay and productivity.
Women tend to see their pay decrease when their children are young, but men get…a raise?!?! Yep, it’s true. “For most men the fact of fatherhood results in a wage bonus," research group Third Way's president Jonathan Cowan and resident scholar Dr. Elaine C. Kamarck write about "The Fatherhood Bonus and The Motherhood Penalty: Parenthood and the Gender Gap in Pay."
On average, men earn 6% more when they have and live with a child, while women earn 4% less for every child they have. Another study found that employers are willing to offer fathers the greatest salary compared to non-fathers, mothers, and non-mothers.
Not only do men earn more as fathers, but they’re also – surprisingly – a bit more productive than their childless counterparts, despite having home-life responsibilities taking up their time. Research has shown that fathers of at least two children are slightly more productive than fathers of one child and childless men, while fathers become 52% more productive after the birth of twins.
It affects their friendships.
Much like women, men’s friendships suffer when they become parents. In a survey of 1,000 parents, almost half of the dads surveyed said they had fewer friends after their children were born. And while 67% of men felt satisfied with their friendships before having kids, only 57% of men said they felt that way afterward.
Time is simply more limited when you have kids, which eats into the time that men used to spend with their friends. Before having kids, men report spending an average of 16 hours a week with friends, while that number drops to six hours after having kids.
It affects their health.
More bad news for dads: Men without children report leading healthier lifestyles than fathers.
According to poll results, non-parents are 75% more likely than parents to report an average of more than eight hours of sleep each night, while parents are 29% more likely to report less than six hours of sleep per night. Unsurprisingly, parents are 28% more likely to say they drink coffee "every day without fail" than non-parents.
Non-parents are also 73% more likely than parents to say they "never" eat at fast food restaurants and 38% more likely to exercise at a gym once a week or more; while parents are 17% more likely to say they never exercise, 10% more likely to consider themselves overweight, and 54% more likely to smoke cigarettes every day.
It affects their happiness.
And now, for some good news: Despite some of the negative effects of fatherhood, dads really are happy.
Parents in general report higher levels of life satisfaction, happiness, and thoughts about meaning in life than non-parents. What’s interesting, though, is that parenthood is associated with increased satisfaction and happiness MOST among fathers. This seems to be attributed to the fact that there are more loving moments for dads on a daily basis than not, which leads to more overall positive emotions and more meaning in life.
Surprisingly, the happiest dads are those who help with their kids the most. Millennial dads who split caregiving duties equally with their spouses say they are happiest and also report high levels of work-life satisfaction. These dads scored well above the other dads in a study on happiness, strongly agreeing with statements like, "If I had to live my life over, I would change almost nothing," that their life conditions were excellent, and that they were satisfied with their lives.
Dads just keep getting better, don’t they? The fact that dads who are the most helpful are also the ones who are the most fulfilled is truly heart-warming to me. I’m so grateful to have such a wonderful dad myself, and I’m equally grateful to be living in a time when men are equal partners in child care and are happy to be doing it.
Nate is not only an amazing father to my girls, but he’s also my rock and my 50-50 partner in this child-rearing venture. Although it’s a ton of work and is trying at times, I know he feels exactly the same way about fatherhood as the men in this study do: genuinely, deep-down-in-the-gut, no-regrets happy. And that positive effect is worth 100 times more than all the negatives ones combined.
About Katie Stansberry
Katie Stansberry is a work-remote mom of two sweet girls and the creator of Breastfeeding Bliss. After struggling at the beginning of her breastfeeding journey, she wanted to create a happy place where breastfeeding moms could find practical tips, positive inspiration, and the newest and best breastfeeding products. On her "Back to Bliss" breastfeeding blog, she shares her personal stories and tips for making breastfeeding and motherhood an easier and more enjoyable experience.