Children's Voice Mar/Apr 2008

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The Down to Earth Dad

The Balancing Act: Getting It Right for Children's Sake

By Patrick Mitchell

"I have never had a kid tell me, 'I spend too much time with my parents,'" says Arthur Schneider, University of Missouri Extension Human Development and Family Studies Specialist. Dads, he says, are torn between work and family--things they see as vitally important--and unless they can find a balance, they're in for a stressful existence. That stress can, of course, trickle down to children.

Schneider goes on to explain, "For men, work tends to interfere with family. If there's an opportunity to make more money by working overtime, men are usually eager to take advantage of that. Men are largely measured by society by how much of a breadwinner they are. So, men will sacrifice family time for work."

Many moms do the same thing, of course. Approximately 2 million stay-at-home dads in the United States have spouses who are the primary family breadwinner, thus allowing the men to stay home with the kids. More generally, moms know all about the stress of balancing work and family. They've been doing it just about forever and deserve more accolades for that balancing act than this space can provide. Is it possible, however, that we overlook or downplay the work-home stress tightrope dads walk, and in so doing overlook potential stressors on our children?

One Day at a Time

Ty Jackson, a Dorchester, Massachusetts, father of two--a preschooler and a 4-year-old who attend Head Start--says balancing work and family is indeed stressful. "Time is a challenge," he says, "but I do my best to just take one day at a time and not beat myself up over it.

"It's really hard balancing work with family. Since I do construction, my work hours vary a lot. A lot of days, I come home completely exhausted and ready to sleep. And my daughter has all the energy in the world, so I do my best to gather up some of that same energy and devote it to her when I come in. I try not to disappoint my daughters too much."

Jackson adds that sometimes he works overtime to be a better breadwinner, and the stress of doing so--missing dinner with his family in particular--accumulates over time.

Strategies for the Future

Schneider sees the future global economy being driven by people working harder and longer to produce more: "I think there's going to be greater challenges [for dads] in the future. I think the [work] pressures are going to be more intense."

He shares two strategies he has used to help dads clarify and reduce their work-home stress, thereby reducing trickle-down stress on their children. I recommend child- and family-serving programs, educators, and practitioners who operate father involvement programs give these strategies a try.

Schneider says, "Part of stress is that you have competing demands on limited time. Work has value, children have value, and time with one's spouse has value. Dads need to ask themselves, 'How important is it to work overtime today?' and if I do it, is that going to be remembered in 10 years? Or if I spend that time with my kids instead, how will that impact my children?' I often ask fathers, 'If your child were to write a one-page article about you, what would they say?' Fathers really think about their answer to that question. They think, 'Yeah, what would my child say?'"

Schneider provides the following additional activity suggestion: "Dads should make two lists, side by side-- an 'I Should Do This' list and an 'I Do This' list. I ask the dads, 'Do your lists of what you feel you should be doing [for your children] match up with what you are actually doing?'"

These are important questions, the answers to which have ramifications for our children, and I believe we need to help dads answer them.

A regular contributor to Children's Voice, Patrick Mitchell publishes a monthly newsletter, The Down to Earth Dad, from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and facilitates the Dads Matter!™ Project for early childhood programs, schools, and child- and family-serving organizations. He conducts keynote addresses, workshops, and inservice and preservice trainings. To reserve Patrick Mitchell for speaking engagements, or to implement the Dads Matter!™ Project for your families and community partners, call him toll-free at 877/282-DADS, or e-mail him at Website:

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