The supermom myth? Dads more stressed by work-life balance than moms

Carolyn Morris
Shine On
May 9, 2012

As men are taking on a bigger role at home, they're feeling more stressed about a work-life balance, typically thought of as a woman's problem.

"Fathers are feeling the pressure that mothers did a few decades ago," Brock sociology professor and Canada's new research chair in gender, work, and care, Andrea Doucet, tells the Toronto Star.

While they are trying to spend more time with their kids, and pitch in more around the house, they are also attempting to keep up their professional lives.

"Fathers are still viewed as secondary caregivers, even when they may be the child's daytime primary caregivers," says Doucet.

Also see: British bride gives birth on wedding day, still makes it to evening reception

Her research reflects the findings of the American 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce, produced by the Families and Work Institute. The study discovered that in dual-earning couples, men were feeling the brunt of work-life conflict.

"Men are 40 years behind women in this battle for work-life balance," argues Cameron Phillips, the founder of Vancouver-based Bettermen Solutions, a company advocating for better father-friendly workplace policies.

"The underlying message that men still receive is that their primary identity is that of breadwinner."

In Canada, the proportion of dads taking parental leave is on the rise — at least according to the latest Statistics Canada report on the matter. While only three per cent of fathers claimed parental benefits in 2000, that went up to 20 per cent in 2006.

And beyond taking time off during the first year with their newborns, fathers are increasingly wanting to be around more for their kids. A recent survey out of the University of Nebraska found that 75 per cent of men reported that being a parent was very important, but only 48 per cent thought a successful career was equally important.

Also see: U.S. teen pregnancy rate down, but Canada's is still lower

Yet their employers and colleagues might not be so understanding of these values.

"Men have expanded what they do as far as their fatherhood duties," says Phillips, "but in the workplace, we've never celebrated the man who puts family before career."

"We've emasculated him," Phillips says. "We've made fun of him in pop culture and at the water-cooler. But we've never made that the cultural, acceptable norm."

He explains that men are caught between these two paradigms — of the loving father and the successful breadwinner. And that's leading to increasing stress over finding the right work-life balance.

And he also thinks this impasse has important consequences for women's careers. He believes that the acceptance of the working father is the secret to smashing the glass ceiling once and for all.

"Until we get to a point in society where a man can say, 'I'll work part-time so my spouse can climb the corporate ladder,'" he says, "and not feel that he's letting his family down, or that he's going to be emasculated. That's when gender equity will really move towards fifty-fifty."

So maybe it's time to recognize the efforts of all those working dads out there who've been stressing over juggling parenting and their careers. That balancing act seems to have crossed the gender line.

Watch the video below about the new season of the television show "Sister Wives".

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