If you have a hard time believing that men struggle with balancing their career and family life, it’s not a surprise. According to the Today’s Professional Woman Report survey released by Citi and LinkedIn, 78% of women have never heard a successful man talk about this struggle; yet more than half (52%) of men say that they have.
Even though men have nearly tripled the amount of time they spend with their children since the 1960s, according to a study by Pew Research Center, many still feel it’s not enough. As a dad of twin boys, I can vouch for that. I quit my full-time job at one of the biggest marketing agencies in Hawaii so I could follow my two dreams. One was to become a freelance writer, and the other was to spend as much time as possible with my boys. I decided I needed to walk away from the 60-hour workweek and start working on my own, from home.
In the Citi/LinkedIn survey, when men were asked about their biggest career regrets, 17% said they wished they’d spent less time at work and more time with their families or on personal pursuits. Yet corporate America still seems to frown on men seeking flexible work arrangements to spend more time with their kids. Women speak with confidence about taking maternity leave or setting up a part-time schedule after a baby is born. By contrast, few men feel comfortable asking for paternity leave.
In general, men hesitate to speak up about the difficulties of being a working dad. And I have at least three theories why:
78% of women have never heard a successful man talk about this struggle.
1. The culture frequently disregards men as competent fathers. There’s a classic media stereotype of the fumbling, bumbling, clueless dad who, despite his good intentions, fails miserably at the easiest of parenting tasks. While the term “working mom” is seen as a merit badge, “working dad” is seen more as an oxymoron.
I think some moms feel entitled to sympathy for being the parent who’s always more tired and more hardworking. At many a social gathering, I’ve gotten eye-rolls from moms when I’ve complained about being tired from taking care of my boys. No matter how many bottles I feed, how many diapers I change, or how many loads of laundry I do, it appears I can’t meet a mom’s standard of what it means to feel tired.
2. Men feel less confident than women when asking their bosses for time off. According to the Citi/LinkedIn survey, while men feel more confident about asking for a raise or a promotion, women feel more confident about asking their bosses for time off. But the survey also shows that—for both men and women—one age group in particular has it the worst: Gen X respondents reported having the lowest levels of work-life balance of any generation.
I wanted to be as involved and supportive as possible to my wife before and throughout her pregnancy. It was a long journey, and we had several medical appointments. Before leaving my full-time job, I burned through my vacation and sick days. The system was not designed for dads taking time off for those kinds of things. Every time I had to explain that I was taking time off for a medical appointment with my wife, it felt unnecessarily awkward. Why is it that when dads ask, we’re made to feel as if companies are making a one-time exception or doing us a special favor? A paternity leave, in my case, would have been without pay, so leaving my full-time job was a move toward better work-life balance.
3. Men face stigmatization for seeking flexible work hours. A study in the Journal of Social Issues found that men with flexible work arrangements received lower evaluations than those with traditional ones. While both men and women seeking flexible hours received lower evaluations, women were seen as “warmer and more moral.” In other words, men were penalized at the character level.
When I told my friends that I was leaving my job so I could have flexibility, I could see that the guys were wondering if they could do that, too. In private conversations, married guys ask me for plenty of details about how I made it happen. I see a lot of curiosity, but also a lot of hesitation. As men, we’re wired to be the breadwinners, to be the providers for our families. We fear that burping babies after meals and supervising tummy time for most of the day will make us look to others like we’re not doing our main job.
There’s the old phrase, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I think it should be equally applicable to working moms and working dads. If we each start with our own circle and remove the stigma attached to working dads, men may have an easier time achieving work-life balance. Results like that will benefit both our families and our employers.
What will it take for this stigma to finally change for good?