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Can men "have it all" and balance work and family?

(MoneyWatch) From Sheryl Sandberg urging women to "lean in," to Anne-Marie Slaughter analyzing the concept of "having it all," to Marissa Mayer nixing telecommuting at Yahoo! but subsequently boosting their paid maternity leave policy, there has been no shortage of discussion and debate in the media about working women balancing family and jobs. This month, Esquire magazine dives into the topic from a male perspective, with "Why Men Still Can't Have It All." I spoke with Senior Editor Richard Dorment about what he uncovered while writing the piece.

What misconceptions did you uncover during your research for this piece?

For the past year, a common refrain in the work-life conversation has been that men aren't doing enough to help women succeed at home or at work. And the danger of this argument is that it assumes that men are part of the problem, when so much of the current data suggest otherwise: Men are spending much more time with their children and around the house than ever before. Men are working harder than ever before. And men are reporting more work-life stress in their lives than ever before (more than women, in fact). The importance, then, of the piece in Esquire is to emphasize that many Americans, men and women, are in the same boat as far as the work-life challenges they face, and to claim otherwise, or to say that men are somehow to blame, will only breed misunderstanding (and possibly even resentment) between spouses, partners, and co-workers.

The Pew study you cite found that working moms in two-income household are about 90 percent happy with their lives, but men in the same position are twice as likely to be unhappy. What else was surprising from the Pew stats?

I was most intrigued by the breakdown of how dual-income couples (i.e. men and women who both have jobs and are raising kids together) allocate their time. While women put in more time each week with their kids and their home, men put in more time at the office, and the end result is that men and women are effectively working the same number of hours a week, albeit in different spheres.

Esquire also commissioned it's own survey. What was most interesting about those results?

I was probably most surprised by how seldom men hear any sense of appreciation from their spouses. Three in 5 men say their spouse rarely, if ever, expresses any form of appreciation for the work they do around the house or with the kids. And it surprised me only because it differs so greatly from my own experience -- my wife often tells me how much she appreciates what I do (and vice versa), but we are apparently in the minority.

Paternity leave doesn't seem to be "catching on." Why do you think this is?

My own personal theory is simple: Men like to feel useful, and assuming an absence of health issues with mother and baby, there just isn't a lot for a man to do in the weeks immediately following a child's birth. Some men might fear repercussions at work, though I don't believe it's fear of being fired. Instead, they might think they're missing out on opportunities, or they're being shown up by a co-worker. The fear is that they're not getting ahead, and given that most men faced with paternity leave are in their 20s and 30s (i.e., the decades when so many men are focused on getting ahead), that's an understandable impulse.

What can companies do to help men "have it all?"

Well, I don't believe that anyone can have it all. The best that most of us can hope for is that we make the right choices and find the right balance between the competing demands for our time and energy (family, work, friends). To that end, technology can be key, and flex time,especially the ability to work from home at night after dinner and family time, can be a huge help.

About one-quarter of men said they do the same amount of housework as their partners. Do you expect to see this number rise?

All of the momentum over the past few decades has been toward a more equitable division of labor in the home -- taking care of the kids, doing chores around the house -- so I would expect the numbers of men doing housework to continue to rise. However, the problem with predicting that anything gender-related will ever break down along clean, even, 50/50 lines is that men and women don't always want (or care about) the same thing in equal numbers. In the article, I talk about this quite a bit in the context of housework: "...In trying to figure out why men don't do more around the house, we could discuss any number of factors - men generally spend more time at work, out of the home, than women do, so they don't have as much time for chores; women are inherently more fastidious; men are lazy and/or have a higher threshold for living in filth." But the most compelling argument comes from writer Jessica Grose in The New Republic: "Women are more driven to keep a clean house because they know they - before their male partners - will be judged for having a dirty one." There are lot of competing impulses going on here-mental, logistical, sociological-and it's not always as easy as divvying up chores and demanding a 50/50 split. Every marriage is different, and as with everything else in life, the key to success is finding the right balance for everyone involved. That means men will likely continue to do more, but I'm not so sure about 50/50.

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