“Had to take this call. Can’t leave. Will meet you there. Sorry.”
It’s Tuesday night — soccer night in our house — and I’ve received yet another frantic text from Frank. The soccer season started four weeks ago, and every Tuesday since, Frank has sent a text not too dissimilar to this one.
Practice starts at 6 p.m. and Frank so very badly wants to cheer for his girls on the sidelines. Plus, he knows it’s not always possible, let alone fair, for me to carry the burden of getting them there on time.
But, like half of working dads, he’s struggling to balance the competing demands of work and family life. That’s because very few of us live in households where one parent works and the other cares for the children. Today, 60% of two-parent households, like ours, consists of a father and a mother that each work full time.
This has created a new family dynamic where fathers have doubled the time they spend doing household chores and nearly triple the amount of time caring for their children. And, as a result, it has placed new demands on parents to balance the load at home and at work.
Despite this evolution, the stigma surrounding fully engaged fathers remains.
Over the years, Frank has told me about the double takes he’s gotten from colleagues he’s passed on the street as he pushed our daughters in their tandem stroller to the daycare located a block from his office. Or how he left meetings at the bar to make it home in time for bedtime.
And, I’ve been there as he’s tried to deftly correct a colleague who’s made an assumption about his role as a dad and mine as a wife and mom.
I regularly watch him fret over his calendar, moving dinner meetings to the lunch hour so he doesn’t have to miss too many evenings home with his family. He takes the same care and attention in planning his business trips. Oftentimes, he’ll choose to fly in and out of his destination on the same day – even if that means spending 8 hours in the air – all so he minimizes the number of nights away.
And, after all that, his guilt weighs about as heavily as mine as he commiserates over the fact he didn’t get to spend enough time with his daughters that week.
With such pressures, what can a dad do?
Even as they take on more at home, working dads remain just as focused on their careers as past generations. And while they may want more flexibility in their schedules, half of working fathers feel that taking advantage of available flexible work arrangements could limit their career progression.
This pressure is leading many fathers who otherwise aspire to be more involved at home to choose work over family. With only 36% of two-parent households sharing parenting responsibility equally, the majority of fathers have relegated their role in the family as “mother’s helper” rather than co-parent.
It’s time to bring working dads out of the shadows.
This starts with dads themselves. The best way to normalize the modern day dual-role of fathers is for them to make their status known – at work and in social circles. Although Frank walks the tightrope between work and family, he openly and affectionately speaks about his daughters at work. I only know this because I’ve been surprised by a number of colleagues, both women and men, who recount a quirky anecdote he once shared with them.
Working dads also need to vocally advocate for their rights. Many are already doing this by asking more of their companies. That is, they are asking for equal benefits to mothers, including parental leave, flex time and more. Slowly, more progressive companies are meeting these demands. Yet, we need more to catch up with the times.
At home, fathers need to commit to take an active role in parenting from the start.
Mothers also play a role. They need to encourage and support their partners as dads, while neutralizing or circumventing public commentary that demeans their efforts. Moms also need to consciously opt out of maternal gatekeeping and look for ways to fully shift the mental and physical load of household and caregiving duties.
It’s a collective effort. And, if if we come together, we can help working dads, as well as their families thrive.
How do you support your partner as a parent? Tell us in the comments below.