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The Truth About Millennial Dads

There's a new crop of parents taking over the baby world (we're known as millennials, meaning we were born sometime in the '80s to the mid-'90s), and marketers are tripping over themselves to reach us.

Cue the research studies and marketing campaigns—the most recent being the "Millennial Moms" report from Goldman Sachs—as well as plenty of articles describing our habits and traits. We're laid-back, optimistic, entrepreneurial, tech-savvy ... the adjectives go on and on.

But all this talk about millennial moms has some wondering: Why isn't anyone trying to reach or engage the millennial dads?

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When you sift through the data collection on this generation, it's obvious that millennial spouses and partners are far more likely to share in the household responsibilities than Gen Xers or baby boomers ever were. We idealize equality on both sides of the gender line. So why are we still marketing to these young parents as if they fit into the 1950s housewife mold? I mean, c'mon, this is a new generation! New rules! Equality!

Except, how much have things really changed?

The New Republic recently ran an article titled "Goldman Sachs Is Right: Millennial Moms Still Run Households," arguing that millennial parents have a much more traditional division of home/work responsibilities than expected. Using data from a Young Invincibles report, millennial moms spent twice as much time on household maintenance and caretaking than millennial dads. So what does this mean?

Just because we were raised in an era of girl power doesn't mean we grew up in an entirely different reality. What's changed is our awareness.

Of course, brands see this as an indication that women are still reigning queens of the domestic sphere, just as it's always been. But in our homes, in our lives, do millennial moms feel the inequity? Is full equality even the goal? And what does this mean about our feminist progress?

So I took the question to the streets (… of Facebook) to ask actual millennial moms for their experiences and opinions. (Most, if not all, of my early mama readers fall into the millennial category.) Enough with the static data and blanket conclusions—we're humans, not statistics. Within this new generation of parents, are moms still expected to carry the brunt of household responsibilities, paycheck or not? Are we unhappy with this? Stifled by it? Trapped, like our foremothers?

For some, sure. We fall into the patterns set in our childhoods, fall for the societal expectations that we're quickly outgrowing.

"I was raised so traditionally. My dad worked 75+ hours and my mom stayed at home," said mom.me blogger Mary Justina Sauer, a 26-year-old mom of two. "I think I perpetuated the problem by setting a standard that I would [take care of the home] when we were first married. Now with two kids, a job outside the home and a freelance career, something needs to give."

I relate to what Sauer said. Even though so many of us younger moms are contributing financially—be it via full-time jobs or side gigs—I've heard that conditioned voice in my own head, telling me it's my responsibility to keep a tidy house, make the meals and tackle all of the doctor's appointments and daily life tasks.

"I think we've come so far, but it's only been a generation since gender roles were so ingrained. We can't expect it to be perfect yet," said Kelly Burch, a 25-year-old editor who works from home while raising a 1-year-old daughter. "Yesterday I mowed the lawn while my husband had the baby, and as ridiculous as it sounds, it was a little awkward because we were doing the opposite of what's 'normal.' I also have to catch myself when I find myself waiting for him to take out the trash/rake/nail something up, just because it's a 'man's' job."

Burch is right; just because we were raised in an era of girl power doesn't mean we grew up in an entirely different reality. What's changed is our awareness. Our perspectives. We can recognize when something doesn't fit into our culture's view of normal, but also recognize that it doesn't have to be that way.

Just because a woman finds herself taking a more domestic role for a specific season in life doesn't mean it diminishes her feminist views.

And almost all of the women who claimed to carry the majority of housework said it's because they're the ones home all day. Making the choice to stay home and raise their kids—whether they're working from home or not—is still a choice. Just because a woman finds herself taking a more domestic role for a specific season in life doesn't mean it diminishes her feminist views. Sometimes it's just reality.

"I never thought I'd tolerate being in a relationship where household and childcare duties were not 50/50. Straight up, I would never have accepted anything less than equal duties. I don't even for one second consider it 'my domain,'" said Hailey S., a 28-year-old mother of two. "For a long time, my husband did more household duties than me because my school/work demands were much greater. Now my work schedule is a bit more lax, so I do more around the house, and that flexibility is important to me. That is how the real world works. No one keeps score, but we contribute equally across all aspects of our relationship."

Exactly. Just because things don't map out to a 50/50 split doesn't mean it's unfair or unbalanced. It just means we're living in the real world.

One young mom told me that she and her boyfriend make the same amount of money and split childcare duties pretty evenly, but household chores falls more on her—and she's cool with that. Another mom told me that she's taken on more household responsibilities after quitting her job, but her husband never says that housework is her job. "We've just naturally found a division of chores that works for us," she said.

Contrary to what the black-and-white data might lead us to believe, I found that the vast majority of millennial moms have supportive and hands-on millennial dads.

Kristel Acevedo, a 30-year-old mom of two and mom.me contributor, echoed that flexible we-make-it-work perspective. "We really just roll with the day and whatever comes up. No one is keeping score or anything. We used to be horrible about having petty fights—'I did it last time, it's your turn!'—but now if we see it needs to get done, we just do it. So much less stress."

Maybe millennials simply understand that a partnership doesn't need to be equal to be balanced. And contrary to what the black-and-white data might lead us to believe, I found that the vast majority of millennial moms have supportive and hands-on millennial dads.

In fact, we have a lot of nice things to say about them:

"My boyfriend is really good about splitting up childcare with me and I'm so grateful for him! He works all day and when he gets home he takes over so I can go study at the library." — Lauren Toner

"In our house, it's pretty 50/50. We both work (I make a tiny bit more) and we both do chores and take care of the kids. My husband is awesome; since I'm pregnant and sick, he's been picking up a lot of the load with cleaning and cooking." — Nicole L.

"We split it pretty evenly. If one of us is having a heavier work load week, we pick up the slack for the other. It ends up evening out overall." — Tenley Horton

"Any time [my boyfriend] is home, he is usually the one playing with/taking care of our son, simply because those are the only times he gets to see him." — Jessica L.

"My husband was raised by a single mother who taught him well. Ever since we've been together, and even after we had kids, we naturally split all the duties. I don't ever have to nag him to do things. He's amazing." — Amy Napier

"Sometimes I feel guilty about how much he does! He works (finishing his PhD and teaching, in addition to research), whereas I stay home with our son. This spring we've spent months in the hospital with our son, and he's been going back and forth between the hospital and work, and missing time off work, so I don't have to be alone with the baby. Even now, when we are home, he often cooks dinner or does dishes, and cleans things up after our baby has gone to bed, and always gives the baby his bath. He also takes time off for nearly all of the pediatrician and doctor visits. I know he has a bit more flexibility at the moment and when he finishes school he might be slightly less flexible, but I am SO ridiculously lucky." — Lucy H.

We're all trying to do the best we can, equal or not, a little better than in the past.

Comments like that went on and on. Very few women said they felt trapped and unfairly weighed down—and if they did, they recognized that they had changes they needed to make in their lives. Changes that we can make, which is more than our foremothers could say.

Even the study that the New Republic used to claim our home/life division is "at odds with millennials' opinions of domestic equality," stated that:

"While we know that millennial mothers are still more likely to take on the primary caregiving and household responsibilities for their children, our interviews gave us reason to be optimistic that many millennial fathers are taking on a significant share of the responsibility."

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Progress, not perfection.

Just because there's been a passing of the torch from one generation to the next, one thing has stayed the same: We're all trying to do the best we can, equal or not, a little better than in the past. And with that in mind, the millennials seem to be doing just fine.

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