Father on board

How has the role of the father changed?

Edna Katzenelson (photo credit: Courtesy)
Edna Katzenelson
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The role of the father in the modern family has undergone dramatic changes. Traditionally, the role of women in society was to take care of the home and children; everything else was left to the care of the male.
Today in Western societies, the hegemony of the male is a thing of the past. In Israel, the role of the father is evolving rapidly, but there are still large pockets where the change is being kept at bay. These pockets include religious communities both Jewish and Arab, as well as Jews from Arab countries who have maintained the customs of the old country.
Edna Katzenelson, a child psychologist and lecturer at Tel Aviv University, says, “One of the most important sociopsychological changes that have taken place in the last quarter of the 20th century is the change in the role of the father in the family. The typical father of old was the breadwinner who came home and was not easily approachable, the one who dispensed punishment when necessary, and was not involved in the day-to daymanagement of the home,” she says.
“The modern father is much more involved in the daily running of the home and is more involved with the children,” she says. “They usually take courses on childbirth, are present at the birth, and they help in putting the children to bed. They bring the children to school in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon. Fathers are more active in the social life of their children; they take part in school parties, are willing to take them to activities, etc.,” she elaborates.
“However,” she continues, “despite the big changes in how the modern father sees his role in the family, there is still not full equality between the sexes in all that pertains to raising children. This comes out most sharply in divorce cases. The fathers demand equal custody over the children. Although they are perfectly sincere when they make these demands, in practice they are rarely up to it, which is why I think the mother should be given custody.”
The reasons for the change in the role of the father in the family are both social and psychological. It has to do with the loosening of family ties and the economic needs of the family.
Today, most families want a relatively high standard of living. Because of the high costs involved, one salary is not enough. A family needs the income of both the husband and the wife.
The moment the wife starts working and bringing in money, the relationship between the couple changes. The wife is no longer dependent on the husband, and this creates an equality of sorts. If the wife is working and is not at home all the time, the chores must be shared because the wife also comes home late.
In these circumstances, the father not only helps look after the children but also washes the dishes and cooks when necessary.
There are other practical reasons why the husband is more involved. In the past, the extended family was a very close-knit unit. A mother could always count on help from her parents, siblings, aunts, cousins. Today this help is not so forthcoming, and some of the tasks which in the past were done by members of the extended family, such as taking care of the children when the mother was sick, are now being taken over by the father.
On the downside, the changing role of the father can have a damaging psychological effect on the children, especially in cases where the father is unemployed and the mother is the sole breadwinner.
Katzenelson believes that “the changing social attitudes can affect the child. In the past, a child with an unemployed father and a working mother would be made fun of at school. Nowadays, it is not considered abnormal,” she says.
“The damage to the child arises if the father does not willingly accept his role, is resentful and shows it. This state of affairs creates tension between the parents. It radiates to the children and may create complexes, insecurity, fear of the break-up of the family, seeing the father as the underdog, etc. When both partners accept the situation gracefully, then the children do not feel that the situation is abnormal, and it does not have a negative effect on them.”