Study shows fathers feel guilt trying to balance family priorities
Gerald McGrew of Dravosburg juggles many duties.
The Dravosburg resident teaches at the McKeesport School District, directs music at Beulah Park United Methodist Church, owns a construction company and performs as a musician in piano bars. He's also the father of two sons — Doc, 9, and Connor, 6 — and worries about spending enough time with them.
Those struggles to balance work and home demands are becoming more of an issue for dads, according to a recent study that says male and female parenting and household roles are converging at home in dual-income families, which form about 60 percent of households with children under 18.
In the Pew Research Center's “Modern Parenthood” study, released in March, researchers with the Washington, D.C., nonpartisan think tank found that almost as many working fathers (50 percent) as working mothers (56 percent) report that it's difficult to balance the demands of work with parenting and other home duties. Far more fathers in the report (46 percent) said they weren't spending enough time with their children than did mothers (23 percent).
Wendy Wang, a Pew research associate and co-author of “Modern Parenthood,” says that fathers doing more domestic duties, like caring for kids and doing housework, has been happening for a long time, so that finding was not surprising. But, Wang says, “I think it was a little surprising that fathers do feel as stressed as mothers ... and a similar share of fathers and mothers say they always feel rushed even to do the things that they have to do.”
Still, though, the report found that mothers spend an average of 14 hours a week doing things with their children — reading to them, physically caring for them, playing with them, and the like. That's twice as much as fathers, who average about seven hours.
McGrew, 37, may feel stressed with time demands, but he prioritizes and shuffles activities in order to spend time with the boys. And because he gets home from his teaching job in the afternoon, he greets the kids coming home from school and does most of the cooking. It's not unusual for him to skip evening activities, like his Masonic Lodge meeting, to go to a Boy Scout meeting.
“It's frustrating as far as trying to juggle it all,” McGrew says. He and his wife, Lynn, also make sure to have a date night once a week. “We try to keep it in perspective. ... You have to decide what's more important.”
Lynn McGrew, 36, says that working-parenting juggling affects both of them. “They always call it mommy guilt, but we both have parent guilt,” says the UPMC project manager. “We're Team McGrew, and there's four of us on that team.”
The stress of balancing work and family is well worth the effort if fathers end up spending enough precious time with their children, says Gary Kunath, the Atlanta-area author of “Life ... Don't Miss It. I Almost Did: How I Learned to Live Life to the Fullest.” He knows from experience: Kunath is the founder of The Summit Group, a major sales-training company from which he retired about five years ago. He co-owns several minor league baseball teams, and gives many speeches.
“At one point, I was very unbalanced, and I am one of the few guys who will say I was,” says Kunath, 55, father of three adult sons. “Life started circling the drain. At one point, I knew I had to get out. I knew I had to stop, but I couldn't — not because I had a high level of work addiction, but so much needed to get done.”
Yet, Kunath knew that, though he was making good money, his kids didn't want material things: “They just want you.”
“Give them time, give them memories and give them tradition,” he says. When childhood is gone, “You can't get that back.”
The key is to prioritize time with kids, Kunath says. “You always have time to do the things you do first.”
Finding time for his son, Benjamin, isn't stressful for David Sykut, 34, of the North Side, who calls the time he spends with his 2-year-old the best part of his day.
“I'm a sunshine, flowers and unicorns kind of dad,” he says. “I don't get stressed out the way a lot of dads do about these things.”
His wife, Alexis, is expecting the couple's second son in August.
“It's kind of about how you prioritize,” Sykut says. “I've met a lot of dads who are way into video games. If I'm not working, I probably am with my kid.
But with his job at the Seton Hill University Performing Arts Center in Greensburg sometimes involving night shows, “you have to be creative sometimes,” Sykut says. “All those little or not-so-little things ... have to take a back seat to making sure I'm a dad.”
For Ricardo Charity, a loan officer at a credit union, balancing his steady working hours — which include Wednesdays off — with home duties isn't difficult. His wife, Dianne, also works flexible hours as a physical therapist. With both spouses' schedules, he says, it's not a big challenge to make time for their two daughters: Taylor, 11, and Mayah, 10.
Still, regardless of working schedules, Charity, 47, of Shaler says that he needs to make fathering a top priority — whether it's taking the girls out somewhere, jumping rope with them at home, or just spending time with them.
He says it can be frustrating to get caught up in tasks at home that take away quality time with his daughters.
“Even at home with the kids ... I get caught up in something,” he says. “You need to be there for your kids.”
Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7824.