A newly released Boston College study called "The New Dad: Exploring Fatherhood Within a Career Context" points out that career-minded fathers may be facing an issue similar to that which working mothers know all too well: the difficulties of balancing career and parenthood.
“Men are facing the same clash of social ideals that women have faced since the 1970s -- how do you be a good parent and a good worker?” Joan C. Williams, the director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the Hastings College of the Law at the University of California, told the New York Times on Sunday. “This is a pretty sensitive indicator of the rise of the new ideal of the good father as a nurturing father, not just a provider father.”
But there's a twist: Part of what's making it harder for modern men to be good fathers is the fact that their wives often discount the work these dads do at home (check out the discussion going on about this at my In the Parenthood blog at Boston.com).
I'll admit it: I know I do this sometimes. In spite of the growing acceptance of fathers in the workplace who put their families first, the overwhelming assumption is that dad can work late because mom's there to pick up the slack at home. And that breeds resentment. It's easy to fall into bed after a long day of juggling work and parenthood and housework and start thinking of all the things you did that he didn't have to do -- without considering the things he does that you don't.
In my household, I tend to do all of those treading-water chores that have to be done so you don't drown in them -- things like laundry and vacuuming and decluttering and cooking. But in all of the years we've lived in our home, I've never once mowed the lawn or fixed a clapboard -- my husband takes care of all of those things. So doesn't that mean our "housework" chores even out in the end? And wouldn't that be the case for most families where both parents work?
The numbers don't work out that way. The National Survey of Families and Households from the University of Wisconsin found that when both husband and wife work outside the home (which is the case more than 70 percent of two-parent households with kids, according to 2008 US Census data), the woman spends about 28 hours a week on housework while the husband spends about 16 hours.
Even if those numbers do even out in the long run -- and in my case, I think they do -- according to the 2008 Families and Work report, more than 50 percent of men say they do most or at least half of the housework, while 70 percent of women say they do all of it. Another survey, just released by online organization company Cozi, shows similar numbers: While men say the do about half the cooking, laundry, and grocery shopping, women say they are responsible for about 75 percent of those chores. When it comes to taking care of the kids, 49 percent of men surveyed for the Families and Work report felt that they handled half of the childcare responsibilities or more, but only 31 percent of women agreed with them.
According to the Boston College study, "In many ways, the struggle to legitimize being a family-focused worker is more difficult for men. While organizations may have policies in place to assist parents of both genders, a true family friendly culture that supports their use, especially by fathers, often lags behind." The women's movement brought legitimacy to both stay-at-home moms and moms who work outside of the home, whereas men are still struggling to be accepted as something other than the main breadwinner. Until employers and, yes, spouses are willing to give dads equal respect as nurturing fathers and career-minded men, work-life balance is going to be hard to come by.
Amy and Marc Vachon of Equally Shared Parenting think that there's another issue at play as well. "Men may be expanding their definition of fatherhood beyond simply 'provider,' but they are still holding onto their primary breadwinner role," they told me in an email. "As long as this is still true, they will have a hard time entertaining the idea of scaling back their hours or their earning potential in order to make room for time at home on par with their wives’. Hence, their stress in balancing it all. As the study shows, they are slowly experimenting with flexible work, albeit mostly in a ‘stealth’ fashion rather than in clear-cut reduced hours or work-from-home/flexible shifts. But over time, we think we’ll see men get bolder in their requests for the work schedules and jobs that allow them to make a ‘good enough’ living but be home with their kids too.
For Dana H. Glazer, a stay-at-home dad and the filmmaker behind the documentary The Evolution of Dad, that's what the modern father is working toward: "...a time when there will be no real distinction between Stay-At-Home Dads and Working Dads. They will all just be… Dad." Kind of the way all moms are really working moms.