Why Work-Life Balance Is Just As Hard for Dads

Why Work-Life Balance Is Just As Hard for Dads

Modern “working dads” struggle to be both devoted dads and engaged employees, requiring the same career-driven conversations as women.

In 2012, former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote a bold piece for The Atlantic magazine called “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” which became the most read article in the magazine’s history. It was really about mothers as she logged all the reasons women still struggle to attain top ranks in their professions.

But that conversation has sparked another: Where are the men — the dads — in all this? When no one labels men as “working dads,” the question on the docket is, why not?

Modern Expectations

The expectations from Mad Men-era work structures still act as gender police, impressing men to remain at work under the presumption that child-rearing is anything but a male job. The reality, however, is that 21st century fathers crave a lifestyle not yet named, a whole new way of parenting on a massive scale that absorbs both career and kids.

While women have carved a social and political space for paid leave and more flexible work-life expectations (scheduling leave time around school vacations, for example), men tend to find more stringent expectations to be “all in” during office hours. And despite general assumptions, research has debunked the notion that expectations and stress are heavily gendered.

A 2013 Pew Research Center study on modern parenthood found that reported work-life struggles were reasonably similar for women and men. Their study found that 56 percent of mothers found balancing home and work life difficult — just 6 percent more than fathers, 50 percent of whom said they struggled, too.

And when University of Georgia researchers examined 352 independent studies that sought to discover the link between gender and the work-life balance, they found a nearly non-existent connection. Some 250,000 captured responses from both men and women, parents and non-parents, produced a correlation of 0.017 between a work-life struggle and gender.

In many ways, modern fathers are experiencing what women have experienced for decades — expectations to be both a devoted parent and an engaged employee — raising the question whether they’re fulfilling anybody’s responsibilities or anybody’s expectations.

The answer seems two-fold. Fathers continue their march to demand family leave, more flexible hours, telecommuting, and innovative ways to accommodate this balance when feasible. Some advocates even call for a redefinition of the 9 to 5 workday as an inaccurate demonstration of their ability to do their jobs.

Re-Think the Balance

But perhaps the more practical and immediate advice for fathers is to re-think the balance altogether. To think of work-life balance as more of a journey than a destination. When the likelihood that equilibrium will be perfectly achieved is close to nil, it requires new perspective. Maybe there is no end-point. Instead, it’s more of a balancing act — simply shifting your weight back and forth between various responsibilities and priorities as they arise.

This also means accepting limitations as parents and workers and people, setting realistic expectations that attempt to overcome the guilt so prevalent among working parents. Today’s dads devote more time with their children than their fathers spent with them by a factor of three.

More engaged and more present than in previous generations, modern fathers are charting a new path and doing better, even when it feels as though they’re falling short.  

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