Balancing Work and Family: A Challenge for Women AND Men
Dr. Dale V. Atkins, June 2007
Until recently, women were the focus of the on going discussion about balancing family and work. And, add to that, community involvements, self care, and the various other aspects that define our lives. Lately, men are involving themselves more in the day to day lives of the family, making choices to stay at home, or spend more time at home where they are more actively participating in and contributing to child care as well as housework.
Their desire to be a part of the family instead of apart from the family factors into men’s considerations regarding career and job opportunities, expectations and financial rewards and benefits and overall life satisfaction. Couples are opting to stay in a city instead of moving to a suburb to reduce long commutes so they can maximize time with children and partners before and after work. Men are sharing responsibilities for meal preparation, overseeing homework, school visitations, and side line cheering at their kids’ sports events.
The stay at home dad is finding our more about himself as well as his children and community while he works from home or relies on his partner to be the primary breadwinner. When the majority of the income comes from the man, he feels pressure not to "fail." And failure may be interpreted as not being attentive enough at work; not putting in the extra hours to get a leg up on the competition (or the worker in the next cubicle). Many companies are not yet appreciative of the value of having workers who are balanced in their home/work lives and have yet to send a message that someone whose family life is in good shape is a much better worker. And then there is the consideration about taking care of oneself in order to have the energy and good health to do all that is expected in this delicate balancing act. Knowing how important it is to take care of yourself and your health makes some choices a bit more difficult to make such as "should I go to the gym after work or have dinner with the family?" Create time to take care of yourself and encouraging your partner to do the same takes some creative scheduling and a lot of cooperation. It doesn’t work well if one person takes care of him or herself at the expense of the other.
Whatever prompts the wake up call men are discovering the undeniable satisfaction and joy when they become more fully involved and more fully committed to their families. Not every man is going to become a stay at home dad but more and more men are deciding not to accept after work assignments or are choosing work where they will have the opportunities to spend time with their families.
We are in a transition time. We are not yet where we need to be so that men and women can benefit from the support and empathy they can offer each other as they both share in the creation of their family lives. The women’s movement of the 1960s encouraged women to pursue their desires, enter the work force, design and forge careers and roles began to change. There was more shared parenting. There was, however, not a comparable men’s movement to articulate the desires of men in the same way.
We are now asking new questions about life, satisfaction, contribution, meaning, values and roles. We are questioning and debating old answers that may have worked for previous generations but no longer apply. Social customs evolve slowly and then become part of a person’s identity. It may take time to adapt to and accept the belief that time and energy invested with family is as important as time and energy with work. The culture in which the person has grown up may not look at this role as valuable or may consider family work to be "women’s work" and make it difficult for a man to enter a world and try on new roles that may not be respected in his family of origin. Even in the face of resistance, men (and women) have only to benefit if they truly examine what works for them as they pursue their own path in uncharted territory.