Chris Duchesne is the Vice President of Global Workplace Solutions for Care.com, a company that connects families with caregivers and helps companies develop work-life balance policies. He’s also a father of three young kids and knows first-hand what it’s like to negotiate a two-income household and still fit in quality family time. Duchesne says in his work, he sees today’s fathers wanting more time with their kids. "Young dads are making different decisions and saying, 'Look, it’s important for me to have a different level of involvement than my dad did,'" he said. "Younger dads today are reacting to what they didn’t think was the right trade off."
Brusznicki, whose wife works part time, says that while he’s happy with the balance he’s created in his life, there’s still one time of day he’d like to see his children more. "I really do want to help my wife out with putting our kids to bed at night. I want to see them and read books," he said. "In an ideal world, we'd figure something out where I can get to work earlier and leave earlier. We're still working that out."
Overcoming the stigma
While fathers say they wish they could share in parental duties more equally, that arrangement hasn’t yet come to fruition. The Pew study found that fathers devote about half as much time to childcare as mothers, an average of seven hours per week compared with mom’s 14 hours per week. A 2011 study from the Boston College Center for Work and Family found that fathers generally take off less than one week of work when their children are born, even when formal workplace policies provide more time.
One reason men are less likely to ask for family time is because of what is called the "flexibility stigma" by Williams and other experts. That is, workers who seek time off, or more flexible arrangements to spend time with their families, are stigmatized by their employers as not dedicated to their firms. While both men and women suffer when they seek family leave, a recent Rutgers University study found that men suffer more negative reactions from their employers when they ask for a family leave than women.
"The flexibility stigma is fueled by gender bias," Williams said. The study found that when men ask for leave they "are feminized for 'acting like a woman' and economically punished as a result."
Duchesne has observed this trend in his work. "There’s still that sense that it’s not necessarily okay. Although today’s dads are saying they want to spend more time with their kids, they don’t feel like that’s available to them."
But what he is seeing are men making informal arrangements with their supervisors or managers to take time off with their families — in a less visible way than taking formal leave. "Increasingly what we’re seeing is dads are doing it, it’s just not recognizable," he said.
The future of the new dad
Even though fathers are clearly interested in being more involved in their children’s lives, the way to make that happen is still being negotiated. In a 2011 study, sociologist Suzanne Bianchi concluded that "(t)he 'work and family' problem has no one solution because it is not one problem." Some parents need more money and more work, she said, while others need time off or flexible work arrangements. According to Bianchi, "Understanding how best to meet this multiplicity of needs — what makes up the best mix of support from employers, the unpaid care of the (extended) family, and incentives from the public sector — is the challenge of the coming decade."
Like Bianchi, Duchesne thinks an emerging trend for young people will be managing the needs of aging parents in addition to being there for their kids. Duchesne believes the next five years will be instructive and telling on the issue of work-life balance for dads. "It will be interesting to see if the paradigm holds, or whether this generation really is going to implement change," he said.
Duchesne also believes that while companies are responding to demand for family-friendly policies, young dads will have to be the impetus for a shift in how work and family life are balanced in the in the future. "A big part of it comes down to personal commitment and personal perseverance," he remarked. "An individual also has to take a chance or work against the norm. It comes down to someone willing to say, 'I'm leaving work early and going to be there for my kids' game.'"
Brusznicki agrees it’s up to dads like him to figure out how to make work-life balance work for them. Really "being there" with his kids is important not only for his own well-being but for their sake as well. "We're a generation dealing with rapid access to information. We’re the ones who are going to have to figure out what the good habits are," he said. "If I'm constantly checking (my) phone in front of my kids, in five years, they're going to be doing that to me."