Recent cultural expectations about fathers' involvement in childrearing may have changed more rapidly than fathers' behaviors, creating discrepancies between parenting ideals and realities that can generate tensions in family life. In this study, a 1999 national probability sample of 234 married parents, both mothers and fathers expressed strongly egalitarian ideals that fathers should be equally involved in child-rearing across five nurturant domains—discipline, emotional support, play, monitoring, and care-giving—as well as in financial support. In contrast, mothers perceived much less father involvement in actual parenting than fathers perceived—especially in disciplining and providing emotional support for their children. Ideal–actual discrepancies were related to well-being: if fathers were seen as less than ideally involved in nurturant parenting, parents reported more stress and fathers who perceived greater than ideal father involvement in financial support were more likely to say the division of household labor was unfair to the mother. Ideal–actual gaps differed for mothers and fathers and were sometimes differentially related to well-being. For example, less than ideal father involvement in disciplining children was associated with mothers' higher stress levels, and the discrepancy in expectations about father involvement in play and monitoring children was correlated with mothers' increased feelings of unfairness in the household division of labor. On the other hand, fathers who felt an ideal–actual gap in disciplining children almost always felt overly involved in discipline and were less likely to report that the division of labor in the household was unfair to their spouses.
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Milkie, M.A., Bianchi, S.M., Mattingly, M.J. et al. Gendered Division of Childrearing: Ideals, Realities, and the Relationship to Parental Well-Being. Sex Roles 47, 21–38 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1020627602889