The first thing Shawn McAskill does when he arrives at his Pompano Beach home after an hour’s commute from Miami is take a deep breath and prepare for the chaos about to ensue. A 29-year-old father of two young boys and the family’s sole income earner, McAskill says it’s expected that he will help his wife with dinner, bath time and getting his sons to bed. “I don’t have a chance to blow off steam because when I get home, I’m still on the clock,” he says.
Today’s young fathers want and expect to equally share the job of caring for their children and earning a living, more so than the generations before them. But whether they actually are pulling off that balancing act, and are satisfied with their career and home lives, may depend on how much their partners earn.
A report released shortly before Father’s Day shows that only 30 percent of fathers ages 18 to 34 share care-giving equally with their spouse or significant other — even though the majority of men said they want to be equal partners and engaged dads. (The study did not ask fathers about their sexual orientation.) Millennial dads like McAskill who are in the traditional breadwinner role, and those whose spouses or partners earn half or more of the household income, are comfortable with the care-giving split and have relatively high levels of satisfaction, according to the report.
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However, those fathers who were “conflicted” about their roles at home and are least satisfied with their lives had wives who earned 30 to 50 percent of the household income (with an average of 36.2 percent). “These dads are stuck in the middle. Their wife earns a significant amount of the family income, but they earn more than she does and feel if anyone should make compromises, it should be her,” says Brad Harrington, co-author of the report “The New Millennial Dad: Understanding the Paradox of Today’s Father.” These also are the fathers who are struggling most with what comes first: their job or their family. “Their desire is to be equal partners in care-giving, yet they may also feel pressure to earn greater income and ensure their job security in the workplace.”
Harrington says millennial dads who fall into this conflicted category — about one-third of fathers in the survey — have highly educated wives with career potential, and the men struggle most with outdated workplace views of a father’s role at home and workplaces that have become more demanding.
As the nation celebrates fathers this month, Harrington, who is executive director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family, says his survey of 1,100 working professionals, 330 of them parents, reveals that not all young fathers face the same level of conflict or stress when it comes to career-life challenges. But most encounter some conflict in trying to be engaged fathers while wanting to advance at work, he says. Harrington also found it revealing that today’s young fathers are less willing to pursue career success at a significant personal or family cost than their single counterparts.
“Young fathers are less willing to relocate for a job, less interested in international assignments, less interested in advancement — if it means less time with their kids. They made that loud and clear,” he says. “There is a tendency for women to make trade-offs for family, but now we see that young men are not going to compromise time with their families to advance.” Harrington also notes that young fathers are more likely than their female counterparts to say they are expected to work 50 hours or more, be available 24/7 and leave their personal issues outside the workplace: “We see that young men are caught in the trap of wanting to have it all and starting to realize how difficult that can be.”
McAskill, a digital marketing executive and blogger with Travelingdad.com, suggests that work/life balance is difficult for millennial dads because the pressure to be a super-involved parent is fierce. Although McAskill’s stay-at-home wife does about 80 percent of the care-giving, he would like both the household earnings and care-giving to be shared equally, he says. “The financial stressors of being the sole earner is an extreme wear on any relationship, and couple that with the expectations of sharing the care-giving … It’s hard to manage that. I would feel more comfortable with 50/50 in earnings and home life.” McAskill, father to Xander, 7, and Ethan, 4, says he has had to learn to value his family time and set work boundaries: “If it’s not between 8 a.m. and 6:30, it has to wait until tomorrow.”
It may be hard to believe, but millennials, portrayed as being immature and entitled, are more involved with their children as fathers than any generation before them. They are not rushing into parenthood, but when these men get there, they are planning play dates, shuttling their children to sports practice, supervising homework, using their smartphones to look up parenting information and post their “cute baby” photos on social media.
As reported by Time Magazine, millennial parents number more than 22 million in the U.S., with about 9,000 babies born to them each day. Victor Franco, 33, for one, is by every measure an engaged father. He is the room parent for his 3-year-old daughter’s pre-school, a role traditionally held by mothers. A third-grade Miami-Dade public school teacher, he earns more than his wife, who is in banking. And yet, he says he wants to be an involved parent. By the time his wife arrives home, Franco has picked up, fed and bathed his daughter, Valentina. Based on his wife’s earnings, Franco would be expected to fall into the “conflicted” category of fathers. However, Franco says he feels satisfied with his home life and that he is anything but conflicted: “With New Age parents, I think who does more care-giving is about who works more hours and who has more flexibility than who makes more money.”
Research shows that millennial women want spouses who think like Franco: 91 percent of millennial women told Pew Research in a 2011 study of millennials’ attitudes toward marriage that a “very important” quality in a good husband is being a good father. Almost as many women said a good husband is someone who will “put his family before anything else.” Only about a third said a good husband “provides a good income.” Franco says such is the case with his wife: “She told me one of the things she was looking for was someone who would be there for the children, not someone who makes more money.” It is that thinking that weighs on millennial dads, he says. “I do the best I can.”