Fathers feeling same work-life stresses as mothers

With Father's Day looming, retailers are bombarding people with traditional pitches for things like shirts and ties. But life for modern dads is becoming as much about child-rearing as their career.
Experts say men are struggling with increasing responsibilities at home and at work. (iStock)

Men are under rising pressure as they struggle to balance increasingly demanding work schedules with a growing role in everyday parenting, experts say.

"What some of the research is showing is that men are becoming as work-life stressed as women have been historically," says Jennifer Tipper, publications editor for the Vanier Institute for the Family in Ottawa.

With Father's Day looming, retailers are bombarding people with traditional pitches for things like shirts and ties, but life for modern dads is becoming as much about child-rearing as their careers.

A 2010 report from Statistics Canada shows that the percentage of men outside Quebec accessing parental benefits has increased, from nine per cent in 2004 to 13 per cent in 2009.

The increase is even more dramatic in Quebec — rising from 22 per cent in 2004 to 79 per cent in 2009.

The percentage jump in la belle province can be largely attributed to the Parental Insurance Program, a piece of legislation introduced in 2006 that includes a five-week leave for fathers.

Less time with the kids

Yet while Canadian men are becoming more active in the early lives of their children, statistics suggest that overall, they’re spending less time with them.

According to a 2007 Statscan report, fathers spent an average of 250 minutes a day with their children in 1985; in 2005, that number had shrunk to 205.

This is leading to a "work-life conflict," something that men are reporting across North America. A 2008 report by the Families and Work Institute in New York says that the work-life conflict of American men increased from 34 per cent in 1977 to 49 per cent in 2008.

Karen Messing, an ergonomist and professor of workplace trends at the Université du Québec à Montréal, says that nowadays, men and women are both putting in longer hours. But she says that men in particular "are working extreme schedules."

She says the expanding information technology sector is particularly taxing. Because clients and collaborators can be located anywhere in the world, Messing says companies look at their employees with "a presumption of permanent availability," regardless of their domestic commitments.

Messing says the retail sector presents its own problems for families – namely "unpredictable and variable schedules."

Not only are men logging more overtime — often unpaid — but workplace experts say there is still strong cultural reinforcement of the idea that fathers are the breadwinners and mothers are largely responsible for the smooth running of the household.

The result is that fathers are being torn between work and family responsibilities, without the scheduling flexibility that some employers extend to mothers.

Men still seen as providers

"There’s a persistent expectation that men continue to be the provider," says Kerry Daly, dean of the college of social and applied human sciences at the University of Guelph and former co-chair of the Father Involvement Research Initiative (FIRA).

Daly says that bias can still be felt at the office. Although employers generally expect that a working woman may at some point ask for maternity leave, Daly says companies are generally less accepting when men request similar leave.

"When men ask for parental leave, they’re more likely to get ridiculed or get questioned about taking time off," he says. "There’s an underlying skepticism around it, coupled with a greater sense of interrogation or at least implicit questioning of their loyalty to the organization."

Nora Spinks, executive director at the Vanier Institute of the Family, reveals a little-known trend that illustrates the changes in modern parenting. Men are taking greater advantage of parental leave, but they are increasingly taking it concurrently with their spouses.

Spinks says it’s partly because fathers want to have a more active role in the early life of their children, but it's also because helping care for a newborn is a role traditionally held by grandmothers, who are increasingly unable to fill it.

"Now, grandmothers are in the paid labour force," Spinks says, because they can’t afford to retire as early as they might have a generation ago. "So dads are taking concurrent parental leave by default and by design."

As a result of both cultural expectations and financial considerations, experts say many fathers are feeling overwhelmed.

"Today’s dads are still expected to earn a pay cheque, but they are also expected to be helping with homework, changing diapers, making cookies, driving to soccer," says Tipper.

"The ‘double day’ is no longer something that only women experience."