Tag Archives: work

Working Parents Have It Tough

wheresdadWill, who will be six years old in April, was asked by his kindergarten teacher to draw a picture of his family. The picture to the left is the result.

When I saw it, I mistakenly thought he forgot about Sam, our newest addition. “Hey buddy, there I am with mom and we’re holding your hand, but I think you forgot about Sam, silly,” I said with a grin. His face immediately turned pale and his eyes darted furiously from me to his mother to the picture. His face contorted into a panicked look, leaving little doubt tears would be following closely behind.

“Sorry dad, I forgot to draw you in our family…because you’re always working.”

He would go on to tell me that while he loves me, he just loves his mom more. Ouch. Cue Cat’s in the Cradle with a side of massive working parent guilt.

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Paternity Leave is Essential (And It’s Not a Vacation)

paternity“So, how was your vacation?”

I can’t tell you how many people have asked me that recently. I know they probably don’t mean anything by it and I’m certain they gave very little thought to their words, but it still irks me something fierce. Because if you’ve ever done it, you’d know that paternity leave is most assuredly NOT a vacation.

I took two weeks of paternity leave after Sam was born. Luckily for me, they were two PAID weeks. I’m one of the fortunate few who works for a company that actually offers new dads two weeks of fully paid paternity leave. But even if my company didn’t offer the two weeks, I would’ve taken time anyway — either via vacation time or unpaid FMLA. Because I think it’s very important — hell, I’ll go so far as to say it should be mandatory — for both moms and dads to be home with the baby in the weeks following birth.

Mainly because those weeks are 1) really important and 2) really damn difficult.

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Many Women Don’t Support Stay-at-Home Dads

moms_dadsHow many times have we heard that men need to do more at home?

I know I’ve heard it. A lot. Online parenting sites and message boards are filled with frustrated moms lamenting the fact that their husbands spend too much time at the office and not enough on household and childcare chores. If only they’d focus more on family, change some diapers, clean the house, and cook a few meals. Hell, if only they’d pick up their socks off the living room floor, right? Whatever the case, these guys need to do SOMETHING to take the burden off poor mom who is stuck at home with the kids all day, because Lord knows she needs the support.

Well, it turns out a new survey just released by Salary.com shows a potentially ugly flip side to that argument.

Salary.com (where I work as the content manager, for full disclosure) surveyed more than 2,100 people about work and shifting gender roles in April, and a couple of the questions were about stay-at-home parenting. The results of two questions in particular raised some eyebrows, dispelling some myths regarding the attitudes of men and women toward full-time parenting and gender roles in general.

The survey asked people “If it were financially feasible, would you give up your own career to be a stay-at-home parent?” The long-held belief is that women are natural born caregivers who are automatic nurturers, while men are predisposed providers who bring home the bacon and leave the child-rearing to the lady folk.

Yet when asked if they’d give up their careers to be a stay-at-home parent, just as many men as women answered in the affirmative.

Yup, that’s right. The survey showed 57% of both men AND women expressed a desire to give up their careers to stay at home full time. Some might argue that number is high because more men are out of work these days after the recent recession, but I disagree. A study called The New Dad from the Boston College Center for Work and Family showed men are placing an increased importance on work/life balance, and making a concerted effort to be more involved at home than their fathers were. That shift in attitude is probably why the number of stay-at-home dads has doubled in the past decade, according to U.S. Census statistics, and now sits at close to 200,000.

But as staggering as that number is, this next stat startled me even more.

When asked if they’d financially and emotionally support a spouse who expressed a desire to stay home and take care of the kids and house full time, 91% of men answered yes. That shouldn’t surprise too many people as the arrangement of a working dad and a stay-at-home mom has been the status quo forever and a day. But what about women? What about the moms who have been calling for men to pick up the slack on the home front? Surely they must be thrilled to hear that 91% of men seek to support a woman’s choice to stay at home AND  just as many of them want to stay home with the kids as women. It’s a no-brainer they’d be just as supportive, right?

Not exactly.

More than one-quarter of women surveyed (26%) said they fundamentally refuse to support a spouse’s decision to be a stay-at-home parent. So even though the men in this survey are just as open to sacrificing their careers as women, women are more than three times as likely not to support the same decision for men.

Why is this the case? I’m not sure, and the survey didn’t ask. But here’s what I do know:

Men are facing a similar battle attempting to make home life a priority as women did when leaving the home and entering the workforce. There’s no doubt women faced (and still face) obstacles and obstructions from a good old boys network who didn’t want to see things change in the workplace, and they made progress by being relentless and eventually gaining support from men and women already in positions of power who became allies to working women.

And just like that old boys network, I absolutely believe there are women who look at parenting and the home front as “their turf,” and don’t want to give up control. Any dad who has gone to the playground with his kid sans wife, or tried to join a real-life or online parenting community can attest to the sideways glances and disapproving stares from many of the mothers present. Sometimes it’s the very same women complaining about a lack of help who end up being opposed to the idea of stay-at-home dads. And that has to change if progress is to be made.

This survey tells me men have realized they need to make family a priority. But it also seems some women have a scorching case of “be careful what you wish for.”

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The Husband, the Wife and the Wardrobe

suits_closetI didn’t know much when I was younger, but I did have a few fundamental rules on which I based my life:

  1. I will never “sell out”
  2. I will never “go corporate”
  3. I’ll never have a job that requires me to dress in anything other than jeans and a t-shirt

I held true to #1 for a long time. Working as a print journalist is about as far from glamorous as you can get, with long and unpredictable hours, a crazy amount of stress, all for absolute peanuts when it comes to pay. But despite the lack of zeros in my paycheck, I held fast to the knowledge that I was educating the public everyday, tracking down leads and serving as a conduit between public officials and the citizenry.

MJ was the one who lived in the corporate world.

As a bank manager she was sharply dressed day in and day out with a seemingly never-ending supply of professional power suits that I termed “Business Sexy.” Working for several large banks means she definitely sold out and was unequivocally corporate. I would listen to her at home taking these foreign things called “conference calls” and speaking in some sort of corporate language rife with unintelligible acronyms and buzzwords that made me want to light myself on fire.

At the paper we didn’t have conference calls and we didn’t mask all our speech. We yelled at each other across the newsroom and usually argued with each other right out in the open about our stories as deadline approached. No scheduling meetings to talk about scheduling meetings to “noodle on some cross-platform synergy.” She had her world and I had mine — and I liked it that way.

Two years ago, with my family in financial ruin and our situation on Cape Cod untenable, I took a deep breath and realized at least a couple of my cardinal rules had to change.

I sold out and got a new job outside of journalism. I was still writing, but I couldn’t pretend I was making the world a better place and uncovering corruption like I was before. And I knew on my first day I had gone corporate. I received an email from the guy sitting next to me who invited me to a meeting later in the day. That just didn’t happen at the paper and I never once used Outlook to schedule anything. So I stood up, leaned over my cubicle wall and said “Did you just send me this email? Why didn’t you just ask me? I’m sitting right here.” He looked at me like I was an escaped mental patient, and I knew right then and there I was a corporate sellout.

But I still had #3 — not dressing up. The office dress code is fairly relaxed so I was still getting away with jeans, which kept me sane.

You have to understand something — I never dressed up. I mean EVER. I had one suit jacket, one pair of dress pants, one tie and one pair of black socks. The suit and dress pants didn’t even match each other, and the tie was one I stole from a wedding after someone left it at the reception. “Dressing up” meant wearing my jeans with no rips or fraying, and my shirt with a collar. I couldn’t stand all the pretentious fashion-conscious ninnies who made sure their socks matched their shirts which matched their expensive watches.

MJ tried to tell me about the importance of looking professional and how it truly does benefit your career, but I wasn’t having it. Whenever she talked about that stuff all I heard was “you’re trying to change me,” and the minute I know someone is trying to change me is the minute I become more obstinate than ever and vow to NEVER change. Because while I sold out and went corporate, I would never cave in on the dress stuff. Never!!

I had to go to a wake for a family friend’s mom earlier this week, so I needed a suit and tie. I went into my closet, grabbed the suit — and stopped dead in my tracks. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Four suit jackets.

It’s not like they were all new. MJ didn’t go out and buy me a bunch of suits that day or anything. They had just slowly made their way into my wardrobe over the course of several years without me even realizing it. Taken aback, I then grabbed a pair of dress pants. But in doing so, I was suddenly hit with a terrifying truth — there were about eight pairs of them. Glancing up towards the top shelf where my jeans are kept, a quick count revealed I have more dress pants than jeans.

Panic started setting in and a grim realization settled around me like a thick fog. There was one more test — the ties. With great trepidation, I moved to the left side of my closet and then — fingers trembling — grabbed the hanger holding my ties. In my head I had 2-3 ties, tops. Surely that’s all I’d find there…right? Wrong.

Fourteen. I have 14 different ties.

I won’t lie, I was mad at first. Mad at MJ. Because it’s obvious I didn’t go out and purchase these fancy clothes myself. I’m not allowed to buy my own clothes without a competent person accompanying me, so I knew it was her. I had a brief bout of “HOW COULD SHE?!” but I couldn’t maintain that level of outrage. Mainly because I was too impressed with MJ’s efforts.

For two years MJ has slowly and painstakingly been infusing my wardrobe with dress clothes. A suit jacket here, a dress shirt there, black socks for Christmas, etc. She’s been smuggling in ties and dress slacks like inmates trafficking contraband into prison. And in a fit of genius, she had the presence of mind not to throw out my old stuff because I would’ve noticed and her entire operation would’ve been blown. All the old jeans, ripped sweatshirts, comfortable boxers with “natural cooling” (or in other words, holes) — instead of throwing them out like many wives would’ve, she put them on the top shelf where I could see them and take comfort in the fact they were still there. But in the meantime, she was funneling in dress clothes on the sly, subjecting me to tiny increments of maturity.

I love MJ. She not only knows what I need, she knows me well enough to realize I’m my own worst enemy. So instead of throwing down the hammer like a lot of wives, she allows me to think I’m still in charge while silently and thanklessly helping me improve.

Good wives change you for the better. Great wives make you better yourself without you even realizing it.

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“Daddy, Why Do You Have to Go to Work?”

“Dada, I don’t want you to go back to work. I want you to be here with me.”

That’s what Will said to me last week in the middle of a rare 11-day vacation during which I got to spend a bunch of time with him. It was really fun being there when he wakes up in the morning, cuddling with him, sleeping in and then watching movies and playing games all day. For more than a week we didn’t have a care in the world as we went out to breakfast, took the train into Boston and had ourselves a great time.

But justifiably, a 3.5-year-old’s mind wants to know why it can’t be like that all the time.

“I miss you Dada, you never take me anywhere.”

Nothing pulls at a working parent’s heartstrings like the feeling you’re not spending enough time with your kids. And with my extended commute and long hours of late, I certainly fall into that camp. So while I was on vacation I tried to make up for lost time. We visited relatives, saw Disney on Ice and took far too many trips to Friendly’s for ice cream sundaes.

But he continued to basically tell me he felt neglected and that we don’t do enough.

I was really stressing about it and feeling like a dick. Meanwhile MJ just stood there with a smirk on her face, wearing the all-too-familiar look that tells me she knows something I don’t. As you can imagine, it’s a look I’m well accustomed to at this point. When I asked her what her deal was, she hit me with something completely unexpected.

“He’s playing you,” she said.

What? My sweet boy? My angelic little man?? No way. No friggin way. The kid missed me. He missed his dad and he’s craving some father/son time. I promptly told my wife she doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about, because I know my son and I’d be able to tell if he’s screwing with me.

Then I marched into Will’s room with my chest puffed out and decided I was going to make a late bid for Best Father Ever. I asked him if he wanted to go to the library, one of his favorite places. He said no. I offered to take him to the playground. He declined. I told him we could go for a walk. No dice. Disappointed but undaunted, I asked him what I could do for him to make him happy and feel loved.

“Can you take me to the toy store and buy me a toy?”

Honestly, I would’ve. But I couldn’t because I was financially tapped from buying Christmas presents and paying bills, and I wasn’t getting paid til the next week. So I told Will I couldn’t take him right now because I didn’t have the money.

“Oh,” he said with a look of contempt. “Then you should go back to work so they can pay you and you can buy me a toy.”

Dammit.

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