Quickly! Who do you think has faster rising numbers of work life balance dissatisfaction—men or women?
Well, if the research from Jeremy Adam Smith’s terrific book, The Daddy Shift, can be trusted (and I know it can), men represent the fastest growing demographic of those who feel work life and family life are out of whack.
How could that be? I think there are two basic reasons.
Number one: lack of work life balance couldn’t get worse for women. You could argue that working women have never really known work life balance. When women entered the work force en masse several generations ago they were still expected to keep things running on the home front. “You want to work?” asked many a Ward Cleaver. “Go ahead. But I still expect my shirts to be pressed, dinner on the table and the Beaver to have his cookies and milk.”
Number two: Ward Cleaver is dead. Though Ward was actually a fairly caring soul, he’s nothing compared to today’s father. Most men today want to be more involved with their children than ever before. They crave time with their kids, whereas Ward was content with a fatherly lecture from behind the newspaper. Herein lies the challenge for many men as they seek work life balance.
While we can intellectually condemn antiquated restrictions on gender roles, the truth remains: men are expected to be financial providers. From pop culture, to the work place, to social policy—men are still groomed to believe we are ultimately measured by the thickness of our wallet. As much as dad longs to be at the Little League game or the piano recital, he is still conditioned that he is of most use to his family at the office. As one therapist describes it, “If we are going to acknowledge that we still depict women as sex objects, we have to be aware that we portray men as success objects.”
Even couples who think they have evolved beyond traditional gender roles can still be slaves to them. A young couple with a baby, for example, might be philosophically opposed to daycare and choose to have one parent stay at home. However, with women generally earning seventy-five cents for every dollar a man earns, that decision is most likely made for them. The end result for the overwhelming majority in the above scenario is mom stays home and dad goes to work. It would take a lot of courage, regardless of gender, for a family to have the bigger wage earner at home and the lower money maker financially supporting the family.
Of course there are marvelous examples of the opposite as witnessed by the growing number of at home dads (though I would wager that the moms were out-earning the dads in most of those scenarios) and they should be celebrated. Likewise, we shouldn’t condemn ourselves or previous generations of men for financially providing. We can take great pride in what sacrifices men have made to keep the family afloat. But we do need to acknowledge that those outdated, traditional gender lines may have faded but they still exist — for both men and women.
Ironically, many men don’t even recognize the profundity of these forces. We just know we are putting in long hours away from our families. Many of us just feel that is our lot in life. That’s what dads do, right?
Not unlike step-one of the twelve step program, if you are having work life balance issues, you need to acknowledge the problem. You have to be aware of what you are fighting if you want to improve things. The point here isn’t to place blame or exonerate you from taking responsibility for your life. Nor is it to start a futile battle of the sexes and whine that men have it tougher than women. The point is to acknowledge that society’s depiction of what dads are supposed to do could be a significant reason why your work life and your home life are out of balance.
In the coming weeks, I will address what I see as other unique challenges faced by men trying to achieve some level of work life balance. Work life balance isn’t simply about working less—it encompasses a myriad of issues, including your relationship with your partner, your children, your job and yourself.
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