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The Perpetual Time Crunch for Working Fathers

The Perpetual Time Crunch for Working Fathers

"It's constant pressure from every direction. I have to carve out time for each of the buckets," says Jay Burke, a senior product manager at a high tech firm, part-time MBA student and father of a 2-year-old girl. Work, family, school and a household keep Burke in constant motion and, at times, painfully busy.

Burke and millions of other men could comfortably meet the multifarious demands of careers, children and wives -- if only our planet took 36 hours to rotate about its axis. But in terrestrial reality, working fathers feel they often fall short on the multiple to-do lists they live by.

What can men devoted to both career and family do about their dilemma? For starters, they need to understand how they got where they are.

Time Starvation

"Men feel less permission to adjust their work/life fit; they don't want to work less," says Cali Yost, a Madison, New Jersey, work/life consultant to individuals and businesses.

Burke doesn't feel he has much of a choice, with a work schedule that virtually spans his toddler's waking hours during the week.

"I get up, fetch the bottle for my daughter, jump in the shower, and I'm out the door at about 7:15" for the 25-mile drive to work, says Burke, who works at JumpTap, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, startup that makes search technology for mobile devices. After a frenetic day of work, he typically arrives home between 7:30 and 8:15 -- at least on nights when he doesn't have classes at Babson College. "I try to at least see my daughter and play with her before I go to sleep."

Like many ambitious young couples, Burke and his wife Teresa are both key players on several family-and-work fronts. She runs a business, holds down a part-time job, is finishing a second master's degree and provides some of the weekday child care. "She's probably busier than I am," he says.

While the mutual chaotic schedules of husband and wife may boost both partners' understanding and earnings, it doesn't solve one of Burke's fundamental problems: "I don't see my wife or daughter enough. I get horribly depressed if I have to leave on Sunday for business travel."

Burke, 35, has struggled to achieve that balance between work and family that is so important to many working fathers.

"For men in their 20s and 30s…the most important job characteristic is having a work schedule that allows them to spend time with their families," according to a Radcliffe Public Policy Center study cited by the Sloan Work and Family Research Network.

How We End Up in a Time Bind

Many experts say professionals of both sexes set themselves up to shortchange their families. "Most workers take for granted what their jobs require, and they mold their lives around that," says Stephen Sweet, an assistant professor of sociology at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York.

And men are much less likely than women to avail themselves of employer policies and benefits designed to ease the work/family time crunch, at least by the lights of one study. While 58 percent of mothers have used their employers' work/family programs, only 34 percent of fathers have done so, according to research reported in the journal Fathering.

"Men want to be players in the workplace, so they're reluctant to take advantage of family policies," says Sweet. "Men put themselves into that trap."

How Fathers Can Work Toward a Balance

Working fathers must begin by asking their employers for the reasonable work/life accommodations they want, experts say. "Men want to know, ‘Why isn't my manager offering flex to me?'" says Yost. "But you need to start with what you want, and present a plan."

Men can also question sexist assumptions that may work against them in the workplace. "When your workgroup meets to plan travel, men shouldn't accept that the women are the ones who don't travel," says Yost.

Finally, men need to learn that they can't say yes to everyone all the time.

"I'm pounding through a week with multiple major projects on deadline, but I'm not going to give up my half-days off with my daughter," says James Chung, president of Reach Advisors, a marketing strategy and research firm in Belmont, Massachusetts. "So I have to be ruthless about shutting out everything except for a handful of client priorities and family commitments."

Indeed, making time for both work and the family requires that we figure out which things are priorities -- and which things aren't.

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