New Ruminations on Work and Family Balance

April 10, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

It’s always interesting to read the ruminations of people who are trying to establish a workable balance between their work lives and their time with spouses and children. That’s particularly true when, as here, the writer is a man and apparently a young one (TechCrunch, 4/4/15). He’s utterly sincere about taking enough time to form and maintain a real, deep and lasting bond with his daughter Ava, who’s now two. And he’s equally sincere about contributing his share of the family income. His wife is employed full-time and of course also cares for Ava.

In short, they seem to have agreed on the course of their early parenthood, to which I say ‘good for them.’ He’s enthusiastic about parenting and about work; he wants everyone to do what he and his wife are doing.

The reality is that there are different expectations of working parents in the workplace. The more we can examine these assumptions and expectations, the more we can address them. And us (sic), working parents, need to proactively and preemptively address them in order to establish a work life balance.

And yet, the writer, Anand Iyer, misses a fair amount in his Brave New World of equal work and equal parenting.

For one thing, both he and his wife work in “Silicon Valley,” which makes their work/family balance easier to attain and adjust when necessary.

Brian Grey, ex-CEO of Bleacher Report, told me that he established the balance early between work and life. Brian would get up and work early, or spend early weekend mornings working when the kids were still asleep.

Ursheet Parikh, partner at Mayfield and co-founder of StorSimple, would recommend that his employees all head home at 6 p.m. so that they could be with their families – then many would come back online later at night. When I was at Threadflip, I would also come home and spend time with my daughter, and then get back online once she went to bed. I found this balance to really work for me as I got to spend more time with her while she was awake. My wife, who works at Splunk, does the same thing.

And what of the 90% of employees for whom going online isn’t the same as going to work? If you’re a construction worker, you work at the site; if you’re a nurse, you work at the hospital or clinic; if you’re a teacher, you work at the school. You can’t take off when it’s convenient for your kids and then go back to work when they’re in bed. If Iyer understands those simple facts, he doesn’t let on.

Interestingly, another fact Iyer doesn’t seem to grasp is that he’s not doing what he wants others to do. He did for a while, but not now.

I recently left my job primarily to spend more time with my two-year-old daughter. I didn’t want it to be too late before I realized that I had spent very little time with her; I was starting to establish some patterns that I wasn’t proud of, and it was stemming from my inability to balance work and family well.

So Iyer’s “work/family balance” is all family and no work. That’s not balance, it’s imbalance. Did his wife agree to be the sole income earner for the family? I hope so. But Iyer’s evangelical fervor for equality in everything seems to have blinded him to the fact that the life he and his wife are living is the opposite. Their life is an update of Leave it to Beaver with the spousal roles reversed. He’s June; she’s Ward.

Iyer seems to justify this, at least in his own mind, with the realization that the role he’s taken on is the opposite of the usual paternal role of full-time earner/part-time caregiver.

My neighbors and my relatives go out of their way to give me extra kudos when they see me spend time with my daughter, and I don’t understand why…

Since I’d recently left my job to spend more time with the little one, on some mornings I’d take her to parks and get odd looks from moms and nannies – invariably I was always (sic) the only adult male there.

But the fact remains that, much as he seems to enjoy his role as stay-at-home dad, his current arrangement with his wife isn’t equal. It may be exactly what they want, but he seems to think he’s established a work/family balance. He hasn’t.

Nor does he seem to realize the possible effects that could have on him in the future, i.e. the same ones that typically affect mothers when they take time off to be with little Andy or Jenny. It won’t be long before he’s behind the hiring curve; his resume will have a big gap in it and he’s demonstrated to a future prospective employer that he’s a risk to drop out of the workforce. Plus, he’ll earn less, have less seniority and, should he and his wife divorce, have less money saved for retirement.

And, since he’s a father, he runs the additional risk, again in the event of divorce, of being relegated to occasional visitor in his child’s life. We’ve see full-time fathers lose custody before and it can happen to Iyer as well as to any of them. If it does, it’ll be a double whammy for him. He’s sacrificed much of his working life for his child, only to lose her too. Not good. Iyer needs to take a long hard look at the potential consequences of what he’s doing.

He seems proud of breaking the mold – of being a stay-at-home father. But he might want to notice that that mold has been there a long, long time and for a reason. Humans are a bi-parental species, unlike some 90% of mammals, but our parental roles aren’t the same. Throughout history and long into pre-history, fathers have always tended to be the protectors and providers of resources, while mothers tended to be the more hands-on parent of the two. That even held true when, for the first time in human history, the Industrial Revolution demanded that one parent leave home to work. That it was the father comes as no surprise. Fathers were just doing what they’ve always done – provide for their families.

Importantly, both sexes always understood that each parent was providing valuable services for the family, particularly the child. In the distant past, no one would have dreamed of criticizing fathers for “only” earning the family’s daily bread while mothers changed and fed the baby. It’s been only recently that we’ve decided that, for some unknown reason, working hard and earning the money to buy food for the child isn’t parenting, but feeding the child is.

The point being that, however enthusiastic he is about his new all-parental role, Iyer is swimming against a very strong tide. After 50 years of legal, social and cultural efforts to shake us loose from our traditional sex roles, women still do far less paid work than do men and men do less childcare and domestic work than do women. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are about 10 million more men than women in paid work in the United States. That’s a 53:47 ratio. But when full-time workers are compared, it’s 63% male versus 37% female. And studies often find that many women would prefer to work even less than they do.

It’s not so much that sex roles die hard as that they don’t die at all.

But in this all work and no play society, Iyer backs one idea – parental leave. What fathers and mothers both need is time with a newborn, but that time is impossible to take if it’s paid at least to some extent. But any parental leave law must be scrupulously gender-neutral. We can’t do like the U.K. does and radically skew leave in favor of mothers. The simple fact is that both parents need time in which their new child can form the vital attachments to them that promote the good emotional health and sense of stability that every child requires. Allowing those attachments to form with mother but not with father is a terrible idea. It erodes the child’s sense of connection to one of the two most important people in his/her life, it demotes Dad to second-class citizen and virtually ensures that Mom will be saddled with the lion’s share of childcare whether she wants it or not.

Parental leave is a good idea, but only if its gender-neutral and paid well enough so fathers won’t need to plunge back into work at the earliest opportunity.


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#work/familybalance, #stay-at-homefather, #divorce

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