Confessions of a stressed-out dad about balancing work, home life

This morning I woke to CNN and post-Father's Day words of wisdom from New York Times reporter Tara Parker-Pope: These days, it seems, breadwinning dads are more stressed out than ever. Here's a bit of what Parker-Pope said in a Times blog that's been lighting up the Internet since she posted it Friday:

"[New] research highlights the unique challenges fathers face in balancing work and family life. Men still are typically a family's primary breadwinner, but they also increasingly report wanting to be more involved with their children. To do so, they must first navigate a workplace that often is not as receptive to fathers taking time from work for family. And a wife at home who may not always recognize his contributions."

The research she cites comes from a brand-new study by the Center for Work & Family at Boston College called "The New Dad." It reveals that fathers face subtle bias in the workplace, and should be able to perform their duties almost as if their kids didn't exist. Parker-Pope also points out that this supports the findings of a 2008 study by New York's Families and Work Institute on the changing workforce: "Fathers also seem more unhappy than mothers with the juggling act: In dual-earner couples, 59% of fathers report some level of 'work-life conflict,' compared with about 45% of women."

Amen to Parker-Pope's observations -- well, all except the "wife not recognizing the contributions" part in my case. My spouse Amy happens to be a Presbyterian minister, and as such "empathy" happens to be part of her job description. She knows how hard it is for me to spend all day wrestling the demons of deadline, putting out fires, settling breaking personnel disputes -- then head home to begin what I refer to as "Job Two," taking care of our 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter.

Do dads have it tougher nowadays? Parker-Pope brings up some fabulous points in her piece, particularly that many employers just don't get that dads want to be more involved in the lives of their kids. I know this first-hand. For example: One boss I had at The Chicago Tribune was a parent, and when I had to leave early to pick up a kid from school on emergency, she got it. Her successor, who had no kids, was far less understanding. I remember bringing my son into the office one day, and he actually grunted at him: not a figurative grunt, but a real, sounds-like-a-gorilla grunt.

The message behind his simian-like snort was all too clear: "This is no way for a working guy to behave." And as such, men who work and want to be involved with their kids face prejudices that are akin to some of the wrongheaded notions that have dogged women in the workplace for years.

My situation today is much better; I work flexible hours and it's understood that the time I put in on the job revolves around getting the job done -- with midday breaks built in if Daddy Life demands it. But I understand that a lot of men in my position aren't nearly so fortunate. And so, the dilemma begins: How to be a responsible employee and not slack off -- or at least appear to -- while being a good dad and spouse at the same time.

And so, I have gentle messages of caution and comfort for men and women reading this. First, begin with the realization that if you both have jobs, and have kids, then in essence you both could be working "four jobs" -- the ones that earn the bread, and the ones that raise the kids.

Men: Remember that the laundry doesn't get done by itself. Someone has to get the kids dressed and out the door for school. If your wife is doing it, you have to pitch in -- and the number one complaint I hear from many women is that their guys don't even know how to pick up after themselves, or put dirty dishes in the sink, let alone help with the day-to-day chores that keep kids from devolving into zoo animals.

Women: Remember to notice the things your spouses do, not only at their jobs, but around the house. Parker-Pope points out -- and she's a woman, after all -- that some wives have this bias of vision where they tend not to notice the things their husbands do, but rather the things they miss. Or, women might be preoccupied with feeling under-appreciated themselves.

All of this, I believe, is an unwelcome outcome of the Great Recession. We have to work harder at jobs that pay less, or have stingier benefits, to keep food on the table and kids growing up right. And with summer here, kids are home, adding more stress and volatility to the mix.

I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I do have a starting point, to quote Steven Covey: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Stressed-out dads need for their wives to appreciate them, take a look at their struggles, and empathize with what they go through.

But remember guys, it's a two-way street. Our wives work hard too, in most instances, and if homemaker is the full-time job, it's one that never ends, in practical terms. See what they go though. Appreciate them for all they do. Hey, it might just bring some of the magic of those wedding vows back into the mundane struggle to hold on, and keep on keeping on.

Lou Carlozo is the editor of Money College.

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