Working Dad Guilt: Why Fathers Are Failing at Work-Life Balance

Working Dad Guilt: Why Fathers Are Failing at Work-Life Balance

Before he had children, Marc Streisand thought he was working his dream job.

He endured an hour-and-a-half commute and 10-hour days to be the managing director at a custom clothing company in New York City, but it was a sacrifice he was willing to make for a career he loved and a six-figure salary.

But once he and his wife started a family, the seemingly perfect job started to show its cracks.

When his daughter was born in 2002, Streisand asked for two weeks of paternity leave to help out his wife, who'd had a C-section—only to have his boss balk at the idea. The long days continued after his son was born two years later, which meant that Streisand barely got to see his kids during the week.


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“I kept on saying to my boss, ‘You have children. Don’t you understand I want to be with them a little bit?’ ” says Streisand, 46.

His manager’s response? “ ‘Listen, you’re the man,’ “ Streisand recalls. “ ‘You’re providing the lifestyle your family is accustomed to living. You need to work.’ ”

This may sound more like something you’d expect to hear in the 1960s, but it’s an attitude that still shapes parental leave policies today. But now that more parents are splitting the moneymaking and child-rearing duties—40% of households with minor children have breadwinner moms—that attitude no longer reflects the reality of today’s families.

And this disconnect means fathers are starting to feel the impact of what's being coined as "working dad guilt." In fact, according to an April survey from Pew Research Center, 48% of employed fathers said they spent too little time with their kids.

Working dad guilt is what eventually prompted Streisand to move his family to Providence, R.I., so he could take ownership of a business that eventually became Marc Allen Fine Clothiers, a retailer of custom men’s attire located just four miles from his new home.

Although being a business owner still means a jam-packed schedule, Streisand can now more readily make time for his kids' lacrosse games and karate practices.

“I thought I was going to be in that New York job for the rest of my life, but it became apparent to me that I couldn’t live that life,” Streisand says. “I’m glad I made this change, because at least I can be present for the ancillary things. And if my kids are sick, I can actually be home [while my wife is at work].”

RELATED: Working Dad Guilt: Why Many Fathers Struggle With Work-Life Balance

A Look at Policies That Don't Favor Fathers

Streisand’s sentiment represents an emotional shift that likely began to surface around the 1970s and 1980s, when moms began joining the workforce in droves. According to 30-year trend data culled by the Families and Work Institute (FWI), 34% of men reported experiencing work-family conflict in 1977—by 2008 that number had jumped to 49%.

“As more women went to work, the conversation became ‘women need to be helped,’ because [taking] the first and second shift is a lot. The man was still primarily defined as a breadwinner, and he was ‘stepping in’ to support her and to prevent her from being overwhelmed,” says Kenneth Matos, FWI’s senior director of research.

“Now there’s more of a sense that on-site personal care is also a part of being a good father—whether or not [a mother] needs help," he adds. "[Men are thinking], ‘I’m supposed to be doing multiple things, and now I have to choose between them.’ ”

Despite this evolving attitude toward fatherhood, workplace policies simply haven’t kept up: In 2014 58% of companies offered some replacement pay for maternity leaves, but only 14% provided the same for paternity leaves, FWI findings show.

RELATED: How to Afford Not Working During Maternity Leave

And even among companies that do offer policies for new dads, the average leave time is just two weeks, according to research conducted by the Boston College Center for Work & Family.

“While [paternity leave] is technically getting better, it’s doing so far more slowly than the forms of leave that women get,” Matos says. The most progressive companies, however, are starting to embrace not only longer paternity leave but also flexible work arrangements.

“People complain about this country not having as much paid maternity leave. What you rarely hear is why we don't have paternity leave: Workplace policies didn’t grow up. They are totally out of touch with our egalitarian society.”

“Previously, if a man had a child, his boss would say, 'Great! We'll give you more assignments so you have more money.' Now, the conversation is ‘How will you bond with your child? How much telework time do you need?’ ” he says. “Usually, the company would bend rules for employees seen as the most indispensable. But after doing that enough times, they start to think, ‘Why are we bending the rules? Why don’t we just change them?’ ”

Changing the rules was what Josh Levs, 43, inadvertently did when he filed a sex-discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against his employer in 2013.

While the Atlanta-based CNN journalist was awaiting the birth of his third child, he put in a request to receive more than the two weeks’ paid paternity leave that was being offered at the time.

Levs’ rationale was that Time Warner, CNN’s parent company, offered 10 weeks of paid parental leave to adoptive parents of either gender, as well as any parent who used a surrogate, and he simply wanted his benefits to match.

After going through company channels, his request was finally answered—after his daughter was born prematurely. The answer? No.

That’s when Levs decided to file the EEOC complaint, saying that the policy was discriminatory. “[The attorneys] said, ‘They’re not allowed to fire you, but they might anyway,’ ” says Levs. “But I knew what the right thing to do was. I wanted the 10 paid weeks that any other guy gets.”

About a year later, Time Warner made big changes to its parental-leave policies. “When they announced the benefits for 2015—the same week my daughter turned one—it was much, much better,” Levs says. “Now anyone in my situation gets six paid weeks instead of two. And women who were getting 10 paid weeks now get 12, or 14 if they have a C-section.”

The one hitch is that adoptive and surrogate parents saw their leave reduced to six weeks. Still, Levs sees it as a step in the right direction—even if there’s still a long way to go.

“We hear a lot of people complain about how this country is an outlier in the industrialized world by not having as much paid maternity leave,” says Levs, who has even written a book on the topic, 'All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses—and How We Can Fix It Together.' “What you rarely hear about is why we don't have paternity leave: Workplace policies didn’t grow up. They are totally out of touch with our egalitarian society.”

RELATED: A Surrogate Mother Speaks: ‘I Got Paid $60K to Help Couples Become Parents’

3 Ways Dads Can Lobby for Better Work-Life Balance

Of course, having more face time with the family doesn’t end at birth, and fathers are increasingly seeing the value in—and advocating for—flexible work policies.

A 2014 study from Boston College Center for Work & Family found that 79% of dads believe it's extremely important that an employer provide—and actively support—flexible working arrangements.

However, broaching the topic with management can be tricky, particularly if your company doesn’t have formal policies in place.

If you're hoping to make the case for a flexible arrangement—whether it's to change up your work schedule or request extended paternity leave—here are some tips to help get a productive conversation going:

1. Don’t be antagonistic. It’s better not to begin the discussion with a negative tone, especially if you want the company to make exceptions to the rule on your behalf.

“Start off with the presumption of best intentions,” Levs suggests. “Imagine that your company would be willing to hear you out, then find out what the protocol is where you work [to request a change].” You may find, for instance, that you can bypass direct managers and go straight to HR with your request.

Strengthen your POV for the powers-that-be by backing up your request with research on what other companies in similar fields are doing.

And be sure to investigate what you’re already entitled to before trying to change anything—you might uncover some lesser-known flex-time policy, for example, that simply flies under the radar because no one uses it.

In fact, in one 2013 study by the Society for Human Resource Management, only 14% of companies said employees were very knowledgeable about their benefits.

RELATED: 6 Ingenious Work Perks That Save Employees Serious Cash

2. Do a competitive analysis. Strengthen your POV for the powers-that-be by backing up your request with research on what other companies in similar fields are doing when it comes to parental leave or flex time.

Why does this help?

“Companies want to stay competitive,” Levs says. “It helps to show your employer that there are other companies out there with different policies”—which could potentially be more attractive to working dads.

3. Put together your own proposal. If you don’t believe your existing policies provide enough balance, then come to the table with your own proposal, whether that’s setting new office hours, working from home one day a week, or telecommuting on a more regular basis.

“There’s no reason not to try,” Levs says. “Some statistics show that there are more companies willing to allow flexible work schedules than people assume.”

Levs cautions, however, that filing a complaint with the EEOC is not a decision to be taken lightly if you don’t end up getting what you want.

“It’s not a place to go if you just don’t like a policy,” he says. “But if you are a victim of illegal discrimination under Title VII, work with great attorneys who understand these issues. Consider your options, and know that an EEOC filing is [just] one of them.”

RELATED: Money Mic: I ‘Leaned Out’ of Corporate America for My Kids—the Man’s Take


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