Achieving work life balance; dads feel the pressure too

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Work life balance
Oh yeah, I know how this guy feels.

Over recent weeks I’ve read a few articles about the pressures of being a working mother. Regrettably I’ve seen very little balance in what I’ve read. I’ve found myself wanting to scream “dads feel exactly the same pressures too ya know.”

Yesterday I read this post from Katherine Zaleski who is president of a company called Power to Fly. I don’t mean to single out what Katherine has written. Her post is just one of many I’ve read that have failed to acknowledge the pressure felt by working fathers as they try and acheive a good work life balance.

For me, however, the post stands out because I could relate to so much of it. It was very relevant to my former working life and the experiences I’d had with various managers…and yet I am a dad.

These days I am a stay at home father. There are various reasons for this, but a major one was the pressure of having two full-time working parents in the house. It just didn’t work.

During my time as a father I’ve had three employers (one where I worked full time and two part time). The irony is that all have generally been incredibly flexible and understanding to my needs as a father. Even so, the pressures were just too much. I just about managed to hold it together as a part-time employee when we had the one child but when Elizabeth came along it was game over.

In Zaleski’s post, she mentions organising meetings late in the afternoon and questioning the commitment of anyone who failed to attend. I clearly recall having a discussion with one of my managers about this subject. It was one of those awkward meetings that took place behind closed doors.

Things were not going too well and it had been noted I wasn’t always available for meetings after 4pm because I was doing the nursery run. Conversely, it hadn’t been noted I was generally in the office an hour or so earlier on those days to compensate for the fact I wasn’t available in the afternoon. I eventually had to concede things weren’t working out and I resigned.

Dealing with the children when they fell ill was another massive stress. There was one time when I had to drop everything and bolt out of the office because the nursery thought our child was possibly presenting a meningitis rash (thankfully a false alarm).

On another occasion I had to stay away from work because my eldest had been exposed to a minor and easily treatable childhood illness. This in itself wasn’t the problem. The real issue was that there were two pregnant women in my office and I had to stay away from them. As I’d been exposed to the bug, I was a theoretical risk to their unborn children.

Time and again I had to either work from home or take an emergency day’s holiday. This, in turn, made me feel like a bad employee. I genuinely felt guilty. Eventually my wife and I decided part time work wasn’t tenable and so I gave this up. Now I am a stay at home parent my wife says she’s glad I’m here and that I can pick up the reigns when one of these unexpected scenarios crops up. She doesn’t have to get stressed about it.

I often speak to involved fathers who feel these pressures. They are not the sole preserve of mums. I’m realistic to the fact that in most households mum fulfils the main childcare role. Even so, trust me when I say men also feel huge pressure as they try to strike the balance between work and family life. Keeping a career on the go isn’t necessarily straightforward when you’re a dad.

The Dad Network

19 thoughts on “Achieving work life balance; dads feel the pressure too”

  1. Fantastic post! It’s true. Parenting provides pressure for both genders. As you said it is generally mums who take on the role of a sahp but one thing I have realised through blogging o’s how many sahds there are too! Very comforting. Before I took on that role I worked in a primary school. Teaching is notorious for long hours or extra work that needs to be taken home ie marking etc but I was also in a management role so I had added duties and added meetings. To actually have a family life was nearly non existent. The pressure to come home after working 10+ hours to be fully engaged to support the wife and be a family man was hard enough. But like you there were moments where there was a choice between work and someone looking after my children. (Not that there was ever really a choice but the guilt was definitely there) the decision potentially was easier than expected to be a sahp but it does make me cross to see that men and dads are often sidelined in the pressures of parenthood.

    1. I thought we might be inm agreement on this one Martyn! Katherine Sazelski and I have had a bit of banter on Twitter and there has been talk of “connecting” in the future so I hope to stick with this one and hope I can shed further light on the dad’s perspective.

      1. Definitely in agreement! Sounds like you will achieve this and get it more noticed too. It’s great to a: see posts like this being brought to the public forum and b: to see the perspective of Dads being publicly spoken about. Keep it up. Thanks for linking up with us on the #bigfatlinky it’s something that definitely needs to be seen by a wider audience.

  2. Fiona @ Free Range Chick

    It must be incredibly frustrating to be continuously bombarded with the woman’s perspective on this, John. Yes, you’re right, the majority of households with SAH parents are usually SAHMs, but society should get it into it’s head that there are dads taking on this role too.

    It is a shame that more men don’t/can’t take on a more involved day-to-day parenting role like you did. Perhaps if more men did, the act of parenting children wouldn’t result in awkward meetings behind closed doors with managers.

    We live in a society that makes it incredibly difficult for parents to balance employment and parenting. I had similar experiences in my last job. They could have found solutions (make my role job-share), but they just wanted a childless person to do the job (this was a nursing role in a big London hospital).

    We need to think about ‘parents’ as opposed to just mums. You’re doing everything that I was/am doing. Equal. It isn’t rocket science.

    1. One comment you make there really stands out Fiona. Despite much talk of being an inclusive employer, I looked round my office one day. I did a quick head count. Out of about 80 people I realised I could count the number of married people on the fingers of two hands, the number with kids on one hand.


    Really interesting to hear your perspective on this. This is a hot topic for me at the moment as I am due to return to work next month and wondering how I’m perceived by my colleagues and management has definitely affected some of my decisions. I’m already anxious about the ‘what ifs’ – having to get called out from work, days off due to illness. It’s horrible!! x

  4. I agree 100% with you John, it is just as hard for dads as mums to create a healthy work life balance, actually I may go further and say it is often harder for dads. A lot of employers expect mums to be the one to take time off to look after poorly kids so when men ask for time off there can be anything from shock to ridicule to point blank refusal (I’ve heard in the past people ask things like “why isn’t their mum taking the time off?” although never to me, as I have been lucky).

    I wouldn’t want to take anything away from mums who struggle with work life balance though, but like you all too often we read about their struggle and guilt at not being at home but are not treated to the same from the dads side.

    1. Quite right, I wouldn’t want to take anything away from mums who also struggle with work life balance, but us dads rarely get mentioned in this debate and that’s wrong.

  5. Great article John!

    I couldn’t agree more with what you say about feeling the pressures when working. I’ve just become a father recently and while my wife is still off on maternity it’s fairly easy to manage but I’m wondering what will happen if and when she decides to go back to work.

    I think it can be very difficult to plan for this and, as with most things in life, it’s only with hindsight that we will know if it’s worked or not!

    We actually wrote a similar post to this on Dawn of the Dads last month – come over and check it out if you have the time!

  6. Good point well made. I’ve recently negotiated a four day week and it’s working ok so far but my wife is struggling to juggle work on the day she is looking after our toddler. I am also worried about a new boss starting soon and whether she is going to be as understanding as, ironically, my previous male boss was (she doesn’t have kids).

  7. Thanks for a thought provoking post. I’m the working parent in our household and it is tough. Probably a bit less for me than it would be for a man. Actually what really irritates me is being asked ‘what days do you work again?’ Clearly nobody can believe that a mother might actually work full time!

    1. Yes, I can imagine that does infuriate you. My wife has to tolerate the occasional comment but at her level of management it’s not unheard of amongst her colleagues for the guy toi stay at home while his partner works.

  8. I’m struggling to work full time as a teacher, run the website, be a husband and a dad! Its bloody hard work! But a great article. Thanks for linking John!

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