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Millennial Minded

Cut those millennial dads some slack — their careers matter, too

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I was recently sent this op-ed piece on millennial fathers written by Steven I. Weiss — a news anchor and managing editor at The Jewish Channel — that was published by the Los Angeles Times.

After having researched and written “The Gen(d)erational Gap, Part 3: The New Dad,” I found myself agreeing with half of the things he had to say — and raising my eyebrows at the other half.

I do applaud Weiss for his “tag-team approach to parenting” and self-expectation to take early morning and evening shifts watching his children while supporting his wife’s career and dreams.

That is exactly how it’s supposed to be, and I’m also glad that Weiss felt the need to address the unnecessary “Daddy Bias” when others would “go out of their way” to tell him what a good job they thought he was doing.

“I was spending roughly the same amount of time parenting as my wife — and they thought that made me special,” Weiss wrote. “The millennials … were supposed to make engaged fatherhood seem totally unexceptional.”

According to Weiss, nearly three-quarters of millennial men told Pew in 2011 that they wanted egalitarian marriages.

Four years later, that feeling — on paper — has only intensified. According to Boston College’s Center for Work and Family, 93 percent of millennial men said it was important for employers to provide paid paternity or parental leave, compared with 88 percent of Generation X fathers and 77 percent of baby boomers.

Even further, more than three out of four fathers wanted to spend more time with their children; more than two out of three believed they should evenly split child care with their partners; and more than half said they’d seriously consider becoming a stay-at-home father.

But now that millennials are accounting for more than 80 percent of births each year, Weiss said, the research isn’t quite adding up.

According to Weiss, 40 percent of millennial women have reduced their work hours or have taken significant amount of time off to care for children or family members, while only 25 percent of millennial men have done the same.

And when Pew asked millennials in 2013 whether “being a working parent makes it harder to advance in a job or career,” only 19 percent of men said yes, compared with more than 60 percent of women.

Sure — that’s an issue.

But here is where Weiss and my viewpoints begin to differ: In order to close the gender gap and be truly equal parents and members of the workforce and society, Weiss believes men should “lean out.”

“Like our fathers and grandfathers before us, when forced to choose between career and family, millennial men are choosing their careers, leaving their wives overburdened with children and household responsibilities. We’re hypocrites,” he wrote. “If men take on an equal share of the parenting load, and accept a corresponding reduction in pay, we can shrink the pay gap from both ends.

“Don’t go for that promotion. Don’t worry about making vice president by 30. … Sheryl Sandberg told women to ‘lean in’; I’m telling men to ‘lean out.’”

I’m not about that. Why should men have to (or get to, depending on how you look at it) “lean out” while women are constantly being pressured to “lean in”? Why should men be asked to give up their career goals just as we are telling women to insist on attaining theirs?

Yes, according to a Boston College study, more than three out of four fathers said they were looking for job with greater responsibility — but why should that be counted against them? If the same were said about women, wouldn’t that simply be applauded?  

I find it rather unfair to call millennial men “hypocrites” and “lazy” simply because they want to work hard; I believe it’s rather narrow minded to ask one gender to give things up so that the other can achieve more; and I know that there are better ways to go about equalizing the playing field.

Even Weiss himself mentioned a New York Times piece by Claire Cain Miller in which she summarized a range of recent studies on millennials, marriage and parenting: “When faced with a lack of family-friendly policies, most fell back on traditional roles.”

The problem isn’t “men”: It’s just that instead of placing such high expectations on ourselves or our spouses (as women are often forced to resort to), perhaps we should all start demanding more of the companies we work for.

Back in April, I wrote, “Instead of the issue always being about women fighting for the opportunities (and pay) routinely given to men, why can’t it be men fighting for more of the opportunities and lifestyle choices usually associated with women? ... You can, after all, close a gap from either side.”

It makes complete sense that a drastically low number of men agreed that “being a working parent makes it harder to advance in a job or career” compared with a startlingly high amount of women: Back in April, I came across a study published by the American Sociological Association last year that found women who requested flex time or remote work arrangements were not viewed as favorably as men who made the same requests — thus making men 13 percent more likely to receive flexible arrangements than women.

Yes, more men should take the parental leave allotted to them. Yes, more men should think and act as Weiss does when balancing family and work. And yes, more men should speak up for greater egalitarian policies in the workplace.

But I don’t believe anyone should be made to feel bad for taking a promotion, or bad for stopping working altogether. I think it’s best to simply refrain from saying millennial men are dropping the ball just yet.

After all — as I wrote in April — “expecting couples simply aren’t financially prepared to take a pay cut, let alone two. And while a mother is recovering, it’s only natural that she would want to stay home and care for her newborn, often leaving a father with no other choice but to return to work.”

Sometimes, we don’t know the whole story. Sometimes people are just living by whatever means necessary. 

So let’s not make it a gender war (whether it be women vs. men, or in this case, men vs. men): Let’s truly work together to find balance by creating more corporate means to allow both genders to lean in as much as they’d like, both personally and professionally, while continuing to raise their families equally.

More Millennial Minded

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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