Each morning, 33-year-old Chicagoan Chris Brusznicki spends the first hours of his day getting his three kids — all under 5 years old — ready for the day while his wife hits the gym. Brusznicki works seven days a week, putting in more than 80 hours a week as the founder and CEO of GamedayHousing.com and other real estate ventures — but he is also a dedicated dad. He makes time to not only spend these mornings with his kids, but he also sets aside a long weekend every month just for family. In June, they took a trip to Milwaukee — next month, they plan to explore Toronto.
Brusznicki, an Army veteran who served in Iraq, believes that managing the pressures of work and home life is all about planning and organization. Making it work means ensuring that time with his family is focused on them. "When I am home, I try to be in the moment," he said. "No iPhone, no work, no nothing. I used to bring work with me everywhere, and I have stopped that. Things can wait."
Brusznicki’s balancing act is part of a growing trend of fathers who want to spend more time with their families than prior generations of dads. Increasingly, dads are finding themselves struggling to figure out how to "have it all" — a career and time with their families.
"A small but growing minority of young men are just not interested in the old deal that was traditionally offered to ambitious men, which is basically that you throw yourself into your career and leave the daily care of children to your spouse and then show up for special occasions," said Joan Williams, founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law at UC Hastings.
According to a Pew Research Center study conducted earlier this year, only half of working fathers say they spend enough time with their kids. The same study reported that this is true even as fathers have nearly tripled their time spent with their children since 1965. While the pressure for men to be dedicated to their job above all else persists, many dads are working hard to make time with their family an essential and growing part of their lives.
A changing landscape
The traditional image of a dad out in the workforce and mom at home with the kids is not the reality of today’s labor market. According to a study conducted by the University of Maryland in 2005, the employment of American mothers with children under 18 increased from 45 to 78 percent between 1965 and 2000. In 2008, the United States Census reported that in 70 percent of two-parent households with children, both parents worked outside the home.
As the dual-worker household has become the new normal, parents are juggling to find balance between their roles in the economy and time with their families. According to a Pew Research Center study released in March, among parents with children under 18, 50 percent of working fathers and 56 percent of working mothers say that balancing the responsibilities of their job with the responsibilities of their family is very or somewhat difficult.
But perhaps given the recent discussions about women "leaning in" and “having it all," fathers seem to be struggling the most with finding the right tradeoffs between work and home. According to the Pew study, 46 percent of working dads say they are not spending enough time with their children, compared to 23 percent of working moms. Additionally, 68 percent of those moms say they spend the right amount of time with their children, while only half of dads say the same.
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."