Tom Watson, a consultant and father in British Columbia, waged a daily battle with his BlackBerry and preoccupations with work — until he decided to shift the emphasis in his life from being a consultant to being a father. He didn’t change who he was by selling his home and camping out under the stars, but rather, by readjusting his life’s focus.
“Yes, my work was important, but surely it was not more important than spending time with my children and my wife. It was obvious I needed to find a better balance,” Tom Watson writes in his book, Man Shoes: The Journey to Becoming a Better Man, Husband and Father.
Watson contends that women come to motherhood more well-prepared than men do, because of the double-barreled circumstances of societal pressures and biology. The expectations of parenthood are placed more heavily on women than they are on men, whether by virtue of the fact of our intimate relationship with the fetus over 40 weeks or that we’ve been taught to play with dolls from an early age.
Well, I certainly know a lot of women who are just as clueless about parenting as men, regardless of usually being born with a uterus, but that’s not the point. Men, Watson states, base their identity more in their occupations than in their families, and they may feel lost when it comes to the art of how to be a father and a husband.
To me, these ideas don’t feel so fresh. The art of being a parent generally isn’t so easy to master, whether you’re a girl or a guy. That’s why I keep having kids, so I can keep learning by doing. Kidding. Kind of.
But it is true that in some ways, it’s harder for men to try to find a balance between work and family, due to antiquated attitudes. Guys may get more crap for leaving the office to get home to see the kids than women would on occasion–although I have to say that in my own workplace experience, any sign of a personal life was seen as a liability rather than an asset, whether you were a man or a woman.
I’ve often said that in order for attitudes toward parenting to really change in American society, there would have to be actual paradigm shifts within the American workplace. For example, in the law firms in which I worked once upon a less-happy time, women could opt for paid maternity leave ranging from six weeks to a few months. In contrast, men had the opportunity to have a week of paid parental leave, which was to be taken immediately around the birth of the child. What more clear message could be sent than that? “As soon as you get that kid home from the hospital and settled, we expect you back at your desk working as usual, mister.” Got it.
People often sing the praises of Scandinavian countries like Sweden in terms of their attitudes toward parenting (conveniently forgetting their attitudes toward things like taxation and individualism). And yes, in Sweden, all working parents–male and female–are entitled to 16 months paid leave per child, the cost shared between the employer and the state. Two of those months are supposed to be taken by the “minority parent,” usually the father.
But if fathers want to step up their parenting time, they will have to take an active stand for paternity leave, or more shared jobs, or more work-related day care options.
And sure, we’ll help you out. Because that’s what we do.