By Tina Vasquez (Los Angeles)
A recent report by A Better Balance: The Work and Family Legal Center, a national legal advocacy organization, revealed that nearly 85 percent of fathers feel pressure to be both a financial provider and an engaged parent, and three out of four fathers worry that their jobs do not allow them to be the kind of dads that want to be.
The report, entitled Beyond the Breadwinner: Professional Dads Speak Out on Work and Family, also found that more than half of the 250 working fathers surveyed identify work-family balance as a source of frequent stress. A larger study by The Boston College Center for Work & Family surveyed 1,000 white collar fathers from large corporations and came to similar findings: Dads are struggling to juggle their dual roles as caregiver and breadwinner.
Now we must ask ourselves: will companies be more receptive to offering flexible work options now that working fathers are struggling to balance it all? And if so, why did it take men feeling the pinch to get the attention of corporate America when women have been struggling with the same issue for years?
Flexibility No Longer a “Mommy Perk”
According to Dina Bakst, co-founder/co-president of A Better Balance, the Beyond the Breadwinner survey was initially commissioned to see the extent to which professional fathers support changes in workplace policy. What was revealed was more of a reflection of the changing demographics and cultural shifts of today’s workforce.
“Most children today are growing up in families that do not include a full-time, stay-at-home parent and these changing demographics have influenced the values of working fathers,” Bakst said. “Businesses and public officials are increasingly recognizing that workplace flexibility is good for all workers – men and women alike.”
Bakst contends that working moms suffer when workplace flexibility is viewed as a “mommy perk,” which is why the more workplace flexibility is recognized as good for all workers – as well as a strategic business imperative in today’s globally competitive economy – the better off we all are. “Public officials across the country are recognizing that paid leave and other policies that support working families benefit workers, families, businesses, and the health of our economy,” Bakst said.
The Working Dads Network
Two years ago Wall Street Journal blogger John J. Edwards wrote a piece about why working dads don’t need a support group, quoting a stay-at-home father/blogger who wrote, “Dads don’t always seek support for the simple reason they don’t feel the same parenting pressure as moms. While moms may feel a societal push to be perfect, dads often are praised for whatever they do.”
Even three years later, it seems as if opinions haven’t changed much, as there are still very few working fathers groups online or otherwise, whereas Googling “working mothers groups” will result in well over 23 million hits.
As rare as they seem to be, Matt Schneider, co-founder of NYC Dads Group, a 400-member community of working and stay-at-home dads, argues that support groups for working dads are absolutely necessary. In light of the Boston College study and a 2008 Families and Work Institute study that found that fathers in dual-earner couples feel significantly greater work/life conflict than mothers, Schneider says it is “ridiculous” to say that men don’t need support.
“The fathers in our group come from diverse backgrounds and life situations, but the common thread that binds our group of dads is this idea that we take our role as fathers very seriously,” Schneider said. “I hope that our group can demonstrate what is possible for fathers, so we can build a reality that matches our desire. Studies show that fathers want to be involved, we want to be nurturing, and we want to be competent. For some working dads, the barrier might be at home. Couples can fall into a pattern where the primary caregiver – often mom – develops skills and confidence, while the other parent – often dad – becomes an assistant.”
For Frank Benavides, a stay-at-home dad who works from home as an architect, becoming an “assistant” is not an option. His wife maintains a fulltime job away from home, so Benavides is the primary caregiver to his two young children. Like Schneider, he feels that support groups for working dads are necessary.
“I actually think fathers need support groups more than mothers just to feel normal. In my town, there weren’t any fathers doing what I was doing on a regular basis and breaking into the mommy circles was tough,” Benavides said. “I have to be honest, though. If I didn’t have to work, being the primary caregiver wouldn’t be as difficult. Adding the work to the mix is the killer, but the rewards far outweigh any sacrifices.”
Benavides really began to struggle with work/life balance when his wife had their first child. The new father was unhappy about only getting to spend an hour with his daughter before she went to bed each night, so he asked his employer if he could spend two days a week working from home. When the employer denied his request, Benavides suggested only coming in three days a week and taking a pay cut. The firm agreed, but four months later he was let go. As a result, Benavides doesn’t believe that the changes that need to be made to assist working parents will come from large companies.
“I personally think that small businesses are the nexus of where change will begin. There is a lot more flexibility at the small business level that can be used as a platform for this kind of change,” Benavides said.
With more fathers ready and willing to take on caregiving responsibilities, it’s up to companies –large and small – to offer the benefits and flexible work options that will provide the support necessary for working parents to succeed. Bakst is quick to point out that the need for these types of policies is more prevalent than ever and it’s her hope that reports such as the one released by her organization convey that message to employers.
“Progressive companies in the U.S. are already leading the way and showing that flexibility benefits their bottom line by lowering turnover, increasing productivity, and reducing absenteeism,” Bakst said. “We hope this report inspires more employers to take proactive steps to develop flexible work policies and practices, ensuring that employees who take advantage of flexible work arrangements feel supported by management and senior leadership.”