Millennial dads have ambitious goals—they want to be superdads. They want to bring home the bacon, cook it and wash the dishes after. They also want to tuck in the kids every night, then burn the midnight oil finishing up work for the office. As any mom can tell you, it is simply not possible to be all these things simultaneously without losing your mind.
Yes, you can get it all done. But it will be messy. Some days, it will feel as though you are slowly coming unhinged.
Maybe this is why, according to a new study, millennial men hold more egalitarian beliefs before they have children. Once they have children, their attitudes shift in favor of more traditional divisions of labor.
The study found, "Of millennial men who were already fathers, 53 percent said it was better for mothers and fathers to take on traditional roles." But before having children, only "35 percent of employed millennial men without children said they thought men should be breadwinners and women should be caregivers."
So, in theory, they want egalitarian partnerships. But once they figure out it is way too hard, they want their wives holding down the fort while they focus on career and earnings. At the heart of this is the fact that the demands of work and home are overwhelming for all young families.
While we all talk about having equal partnerships, in reality, there are few models for how to have an egalitarian relationship.
Researchers reasoned that when fathers try to take on a lot of the responsibility at home, their careers suffer (sound familiar, moms?). Indeed, I have written in the past about how our workplaces do not reflect the way of life desired by millennials. While many men may want a more egalitarian partnerships, they are confronted with antiquated cultural expectations of what fathers do and don't do. Whereas it is usual for women to take maternity leave after the birth of a child, men often report that they only take one or two weeks off after the birth of a child. Men who do try to take more leave are confronted with antiquated attitudes about what role men play in raising children. As reported in the Guardian, 96 percent of men are back at work within two weeks of the birth of a child.
I've experienced this in my own life. When my partner needs to take time off to care for our sick child, people have said things such as, "Can't his mom take him?" or "Too bad you have to babysit." Clearly, the expectation is that mom takes the lead on caregiving duties and dad is just "the helper"—not an equal partner in parenting.
Here is the issue: Society won't change until we change. We all need to recognize that men and women want to be a part of their children's life, and that under current conditions they are both struggling with meeting the demands of work and family. Our system packings support for families in terms of affordable childcare, paid family leave for all and, in some instances, a living wage. This is why many millennials are not having children at all, and why those who do report higher levels of dissatisfaction with their lives.
The answer shouldn't be to revert back to old gender stereotypes but to change the workplace to fit the needs of families.
While we all talk about having equal partnerships, in reality, there are few models for how to have an egalitarian relationship. Not everyone is enthusiastic that this type of relationship can actually exist. In a recent blog post, Penelope Trunk reminds Gen Y that our that attempts to divide duties 50/50 are futile because it's "impossible to have 50/50 breakdown of who sets the rules for parenting, and it's impossible to parent when you are negotiating every decision."
But what if it's not about finding a 50/50 balance rather about finding a balance that works for your own family. Maybe that balance will not be 50/50 every week—sometimes your partner will do 70 percent of the work and you'll do 30 percent, while other weeks it will shift. As my partner and I can attest, this requires constant communication about scheduling, priorities and making sure that we both feel there is space to pursue our careers while tending to our family's needs.
There is no single formula for how to raise a family and how to divide the many tasks that come with raising children. The answer shouldn't be to revert back to old gender stereotypes but to change the workplace to fit the needs of families. It seems millennials start off with the right idea but are faced with the brutal reality that even for men "leaning in" is easier said than done.