I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to parent children in this unique time that we’re in, especially in households like mine where both parents work. It takes a lot of communication, determination, and negotiation to be able to maneuver things into a manageable workflow that supports healthy family relations and interactions. I think that while it’s important to celebrate the strides that women have made in recent decades, it’s also important to acknowledge the pivotal role that our partners play in our ability to reach our goals and attain work-life balance. The idea to write this follow-up blog came from a discussion I was having with a colleague of mine “Jim”, where he said what you said also applies to stay-at-home fathers. I realized both genders struggle with the societal expectations of what a mother or a father should do. Jim decided to take a break before he starts at Propel Bio Partners to support his wife and take care of their child. I think he has experienced some of the societal pressures that women face when they decide they want to be working moms.
According to Pew Research, the number of households where both parents work is at an all-time high of 46%. While there are economic benefits to the sharing of household and parenting responsibilities on top of working full time, there also needs to be a balance that can be achieved between both parents to be successful.
I think that division of labor and supporting one another is key to making co-parenting possible while both parents build successful careers. Being able to understand that things do not always remain the same and that you need flexibility is also important. After all, school schedules change, kids’ needs evolve, and work demands fluctuate.
Luckily, we live in an age and time where technology is bridging the gaps between genders and plays a role in equalizing disparities. A variety of reports, including this one by McKinsey, show the impact of technology that can open economic doors to women, and I’d argue, men as well. E-commerce, gig economies, and flexibility in hybrid working environments can give families — both parents included — the resources they need to juggle work and personal time.
Even the simplest technologies can help working parents manage their career and personal responsibilities. today there is literally an app for anything and everything, and these tools can give parents a much-needed boost whether keeping the grocery lists straight, synching schedules, tracking locations, or helping to stay connected with one another in ways that were never before possible. I remember on one of my trips to India while I was on the flight, I was able to connect on Wifi and I checked on my husband. One of the questions was “did you have dinner”, he answered “not yet I need to finish something at work, and then I will figure out what is for dinner”, I knew he will probably forgo dinner and just grab something quick. While I was on the plane crossing over Europe I ordered him dinner that was delivered to our door. Technology enabled me to be a supportive partner and for my husband to complete his project and have a healthy and complete dinner. He would do exactly the same for me. He supports my career and cares for my and our children’s well-being. This collaborative relationship did not happen overnight, it is based on communication, respect, and love.
Perhaps these technologies and shifting gender perspectives have been part of the solution when it comes to the concept of stay-at-home dads. I believe that men should never be shamed for being stay-at-home parents and, rather, should be lauded for their effort and sacrifices. While the number of these parents was on the rise pre-COVID, it has continued to soar to 1.75 million in 2022.
Any remaining stigmas and prejudices around the idea of the man staying at home while the woman goes to work to earn a living should be done away with. Caregiving is important regardless of who is able to provide it in a family, and a U.S. Census Report demonstrated that approximately 7 million dads are a regular source of care for their kids. I think that’s a fantastic figure, one that will hopefully, and likely, continue to increase.
Stereotypical gender roles are outdated, and I believe there shouldn’t be any social or career pressures for men or for women when they are deciding on how to distribute and manage their childcare. The fact that more fathers are staying home to care for their children is encouraging to me, especially when seeing these trends among Millennials. Dads are increasingly seeing their identities as more than just the breadwinner, with 57% of fathers saying parenting is important to their personal identity in a recent study.
There should never be a question of masculinity or work ethic when it comes to men who decide to stay home, however, these prejudices have been systemic in our society for generations. A 2013 study showed that only 8% of Americans thought a child was better off with a stay-at-home father. These views simply need to change. To do this, we need to be sure to provide the support and encouragement needed to these individuals to help them feel empowered in the roles they choose when it comes to parenting and their careers.
According to the Department of Labor, 70% of fathers take off less than 10 days from work when their children are born. Leaders and companies also need to take a stand to defend the American family and allow for more paid paternity leave measures that help families get the support and care they need during some of the most challenging days they will face as new parents.
What tips can I offer families that are looking to strike a balance while parents are working or sharing work and childcare responsibilities? For one thing, it can help to make sure that both partners in the marriage are communicating effectively and are clear on what the outstanding responsibilities are. This can help cut down on misunderstandings and enable each partner to be able to meet the other where they are needed most.
Another tip is to work to personally shed traditional expectations. Too often, we may find ourselves wanting to do something different than the norm, only to realize that we are projecting outdated standards on ourselves or our spouse throughout the process. The result can be unfair expectations and situations that put everyone at a disadvantage, rather than positioning them for success.
Consider what is most important to you, your partner, and your family, and create a framework that can support those outcomes. If that means the husband staying home to care for the kids while the wife goes to work full time, then so be it. If it means another sort of arrangement, that’s okay too. This is the time to leverage the flexibility that our careers and technology are offering to be able to pursue the best forms of ourselves.
I’ve written about my role as a mother and how being a working parent has helped enhance my parenting abilities by making me more productive and happier as a person. The same can be true of fathers whether in working or stay-at-home roles. The most important thing is to pursue the lifestyle that works best for you and your family’s needs.