Ep 17: Work-Life Balance for Dads

Episode Summary

Matt Schneider, an outspoken “dadvocate”, co-founder of City Dads Group, and host of the Modern Dads Podcast, talks to us about what it means to be a father to a teenager today, how to find work-life balance, and tips for a more fulfilling “parenting partnership”.

Show NotesInterview TranscriptGuest Bio

Full Show Notes

Being a working father today is not what it used to be. Women have been actively battling for equality in the workplace, at home, and in the public eye for decades, whereas men haven’t been as proactive to tear down their own gender role. While women are confronting gender prejudice in the office, men have not been doing the same at home.

Being a working father used to mean going to the office so you could provide for your family at home. Today, being a working father puts a greater emphasis on the domestic part of their responsibilities. This doesn’t mean just “babysitting” your kid when you are home from the office. It means having that healthy balance of competencies both in the workplace, and at home with your spouse and kids.

If you notice your role at home as a father is unbalanced from your spouse’s role, it can be hard to make the adjustments to create a better parent partnership. Research shows, though, that men do want to be better dads, and they’re stressed out about it! The good news is, the conversation around work-life balance is not as new as you might think. Women have been having this dialogue for decades! To take part in getting men more on board with discussing work-life balance, I spoke with the amazing Matt Schneider. 

Matt has been an at-home dad of his two boys for 12 years. When he became a father, Matt realized that there were not a lot of resources specifically tailored to helping men become better fathers (at least, not in New York City). There were “Mommy-and-Me” yoga classes, “Mom” shopping programs, and “Mothering” news segments that seemed to be dominating the parenting media. So, in 2008, Matt cofounded City Dads Group, a national network of meet-up groups for dads.

Since then, Matt has become a popular voice on parenting and, specifically, fatherhood. His views have been quoted in such noteworthy places as The New York Times, USA Today, and Bloomberg Businessweek. He now hosts the popular podcast, the Modern Dads Podcast. I was eager to sit down and talk to him about the struggles of being a working father.

Matt is very clear that his goal is not to have a “Daddy-and-Me” yoga class for every one geared towards moms. The world doesn’t necessarily need more parenting resources. What he advocates for is that the resources that already exist be rebranded to reach dads as well as moms. There is a lot of parenting advice available for men, it’s just largely not being marketed to them.

For Matt, this means more than being present at home. You can be present, but still unengaged, like when you’re carrying on a conversation while your spouse changes two diapers. Matt’s idea of a working father is being highly engaged with the family when at home.

Although, creating a parent partnership is hard, especially if your partner would rather change all the diapers because you don’t do it right. This unwillingness to share responsibilities is exactly where Matt takes issue. He calls this issue, “Gatekeeping.”

Gatekeeping

Gatekeeping is when your partner doesn’t allow you to perform certain tasks because of your present or perceived incompetencies. This is a problem because it prevents you from learning. (Be aware you could be doing this to your partner, too!)

Matt believes dads should be getting involved in parenting from day one. If the nurse in the hospital would rather change the diaper, dads have a right to insist, “Hey, this is my baby, I’m going to learn how to change a diaper!” He wants dads to be competent and comfortable with their kids. However, being competent doesn’t mean the balance of parenting responsibilities will be even.

If you are working at the office and your spouse is an at-home parent, then your partner is naturally going to change more diapers than you. But if you come home and a diaper needs to be changed, Matt doesn’t want you to ask if you should change it. A working father just does it. The same goes for grocery shopping, buying clothes, and taking the kids to the doctors.

The clothes might not be as neatly folded when you do the laundry, but the laundry still needs to get done. It can be frustrating when laundering incompetencies (etc.) show up, but Matt says building a parent partnership is more important than mastering the art of the fold.

So what do you do about those incompetencies, though?

“Dads” Groups

Dads Groups can be an amazing resource for learning how to strike a work-life balance. 

When Matt moved to New York, he had no family out there, and very few friends. Furthermore, when he would try to get time with another working father, he often found that other dads felt bad asking their partner if they could take the night off from cooking dinner to meet a friend for a beer. If these guys could reframe the meeting and say they are meeting up with other “dads,” their spouse would resonate with its significance.

Simply by changing the context of meeting from “the guys” to “dads” makes it easier for men to get together and have important conversations about fatherhood, masculinity, and family.

Matt doesn’t want these groups to be only for “dads,” though. It’s a working title, but not a requirement.

A working man might one day want to be a working father, but is scared because he doesn’t know what the work-life balance can look like. That’s where Dads Groups come in. Matt works with working fathers to make sure they can facilitate these groups so that a future working father can have some of his fears put to rest. This doesn’t just happen through conversation, though.

The most important factor of these Dads Groups is that the current dads bring their kids, too!

It can be so impactful for expecting dads to see another dad competently care for his kids for three hours in public. It’s amazing what humans can learn by observation! Giving an expecting dad a space to watch and learn can completely shift their perspective on what it looks like to be a working father.

That’s Called “PARENTING!”

Dads shouldn’t be congratulated (or con-dad-ulated!) for the simplest of tasks.

Matt sees this all the time in NYC! If a working father can get his kid crosstown on the subway alive, he’ll be smothered by looks of admiration from others in the cab. Matt says it doesn’t work for moms and dads to go along with stereotypes and gender roles. And Matt’s right! Plenty of research shows how the working father model is insanely entrenched in society today.

Being a working father is amazing! It might not be easy, but Matt can point to so many resources on such a wide variety of conversations on the topic. Other topics we discussed just in this one interview include:

  • Matt’s “2 Tips!” for a successful parent partnership
  • The “Stereotype Content Model” research from Harvard University
  • Having a variety of projects that provide fulfillment
  • A child’s need for change, and how to change with them
  • “Specializing” in parenting skills
  • The teenage years
  • Identifying as a “good father” vs the “idea of fatherhood”
  • What is the definition of a “Modern Dad”?

I had so much fun talking with Matt. He has so much experience from so many conversations with other working fathers, not to mention his own life. He’s got some sharp wit, and I love it. I hope you do, too!

Complete Interview Transcript

Andy: I’ve been listening to your podcast for a while here. From what I’ve gathered, you were a sixth grade teacher and have now been a stay-at-home dad for 12 years and have started this organization, that you’re the co-founder of, City Dads Group, which now is in cities all across the country. A lot of people are involved with. So, what propelled you into that?

Matt: As you said, I’ve been home with my now two boys for 12 years. For the first three years, I was home with my oldest, kind of on my own in New York City and a buddy that I was a teacher with decided he would stay home. He says he followed in my footsteps. He was a sixth grade teacher as well. Three years into it for me, he had his first son and we were having our second son right at the same time. His big question for me is, “What have you been doing in New York City this whole time? There’s nothing for dads. Everything is mommy and me play groups, mommy and me music class, art class, yoga class. Everything is written for moms. There’s nothing for dads.”

Matt: I hadn’t really thought that much about it. I hung out with moms. I hung out with nannies. Every now and then, I would see a dad, but didn’t think that much about it. For him, that wasn’t good enough. He wanted to start a dads group, similar to what mom’s groups were doing, actually getting together, meeting up. I said, “Sure. Why not?” That’s how it started, is two of us that were at-home dads wanting to hang out together. We thought there were some other dads out there that would want to join us.

Matt: So, we started meeting up and posting meetups in Central Park or the Whitney Museum, or just grabbing lunch. We recognized that it wasn’t just other at-home dads that wanted to meet up with other dads. There were dads of all stripes. Teachers that had summers off, guys that had flexible schedules, journalists, photographers that could work any time, and full-time working dads that still were great dads, but weren’t available during the day, but wanted to meet up for a beer at night. So, our group really opened up to any guy that wanted to join us.

Andy: It’s funny, because I think a big theme of your podcast and a topic that you tackle a lot on there, and I guess the question that you end every episode with is, “What’s the definition of a modern dad?” It’s interesting hearing all of the guests answers. It seems like a lot of them have to do with engagement and that modern dads more are sharing the role of parenthood more than they used to and are sharing more of the work. But, also just kind of being more engaged in the lives of their kids and in this role of being a father.

Andy: It’s funny that you mention that when you started this, there was all this stuff for moms. It seems like kind of, as there has been this shift towards dads getting more engaged at home, there is more like, “Well, hey. Wait a minute. Now that we’re doing this and we’re jumping into this, where’s all the stuff for dads?” There’s this niche that now needs to be filled, that you guys are doing and it’s really cool.

Matt: Yeah, it’s been fun. I think our approach has always been, we don’t necessarily need everything to be for dads, but let’s open up that yoga class to… Rather than calling it mommy and me yoga class, why don’t you call it baby and me yoga class and welcome anybody who might join.

Matt: We don’t need a special daddy and me yoga class. We can join in the existing classes. I think that’s been our approach, whether we’re looking at classes or companies. We don’t need a separate dad program from Amazon to buy cheaper diapers. But, why wouldn’t Amazon Moms program be Amazon Family or Amazon Parents? Why would the Today Show parenting segment be called Today Moms, rather than Today Family or Today Parents?

Andy: Ah.

Matt: Those are kind of the conversations we’ve been having over the years. Moms and dads are parenting together. We both are interested in how to talk to our teenager. We’re both interested in what is the best food to feed our kids. All this is important for both of us. Why not open the audience to moms and dads?

Andy: I think that’s so cool. It’s funny, because it’s like the opposite of this conversation that’s been happening in the workforce, right, which is, why is it mailman? Why do we have all these more masculine words in the job sector? And then, it’s funny that you mention it, but it’s like, yeah. In the parenting sector, everything is geared towards the feminine and just assuming.

Matt: Yeah.

Andy: It’s funny just thinking about it, that the walls are kind of needing to be broken down in both directions, right? So, it’s cool.

Matt: Absolutely. I think we’ve been talking about that a lot. Women have been kind of battling in the workplace to make workplaces more friendly to people that have lives outside of work, whether you’re a mom or dad, or whether you’re taking care of an elderly relative, or whether you just have a hobby. Workplaces were very oriented towards that fifties model of a guy who’s entirely devoted to his job with a partner at home that takes care of everything else.

Andy: Uh-huh (affirmative).

Matt: That’s not how the world looks anymore for moms or dads, or non moms and dads. We’d like to have a life outside of work. For too long, the workplaces kind of viewed us as entirely committed or not worth having. I think there’s a happy balance in-between that we’re all fighting for.

Andy: Hmm. I like that. Yeah, it’s almost like we want it all now.

Matt: Right. Men have a lot of catching up to do, as women have been adjusting to life in the workplace. Men have not been adjusting enough to their life at home. It’s not just men, men and women, moms and dads, the two partners together really need to adjust to a parenting partnership, is what we always call it. It’s hard. It’s different to have two people fully engaged in parenting. That is a big adjustment for a couple to make.

Andy: Speaking of that, you mentioned on one episode recently, that at a lot of your meetups that you hold, dads come and say, “Wow, I haven’t done anything without my wife for years since we had the baby.” Like, this need for community and for being able to do things like what you guys provide, just being able to get together without the significant other and network with other people who are kind of in the same boat. I wonder if you’ve found that that’s a common response from people who show up at your groups.

Matt: Yeah, no, I think it’s crazy. I don’t know where along the way it became kind of bizarre for men to gather among themselves.

Andy: Yeah.

Matt: I think it was maybe in the ’80s, when men’s groups started to take a tone of like sitting in the forest, beating a drum. I don’t know that much about that movement and I have nothing against that movement. I always use it as an example. But, people got turned off from the idea of men getting together, because there was something sinister about it or anti-women about it. Back in the day, our dads, maybe even our grandfathers, had bowling league or they had Elks club or they had something that was theirs, that they could connect with other people with a similar life, whether you are a dad stressed out at work or dad stressed out parenting, you had connection.

Matt: Men these days, we’ve moved away from home. We don’t live near family in so many cases and we don’t live near friends. I’ve moved to New York City. I had some friends, but not my closest friends. I grew up in Colorado and I have no family here. A lot of members of our groups across the country are kind of finding themselves in this new life as husband and dad. They are so focused on that role plus work plus kind of that little world that they have, that they don’t reach out beyond that. They feel bad about calling a friend up to go out for a beer or going out bowling with a bunch of friends.

Matt: But, they’re okay with, “I’m going to meet up with other dads.”

Andy: Yeah.

Matt: Their partners are okay with, “I’m going to meet up with other dads.” There’s something that has resonated for everybody. It’s good for men to gather in that context of we’re dads and we’re potentially going to even talk about something fatherhood related while we’re together.

Andy: Sure. Yeah, yeah, yeah. The theme that you talk about a lot on your podcast, life-work balance. I’ve heard you mention that you’ve been following some research that deals with life-work balance. I wonder if you could expand on that and what that research looks like and what am I suggest?

Matt: Yeah. It’s actually bust in college. They’ve actually been studying fatherhood in the workplace for a decade now. They have a series of reports that they’ve done about working fathers. They started with working fathers. They did a report about at-home fathers. They did a report recently about millennial fathers. All of this research, is demonstrating that men definitely want to be good at their job. They need to be good at their job. They need to have a career. They need to provide for their family.

Matt: But, they also need to be and want to be good dads. They’re really stressed out about it. I think the most striking piece of research over the decade that I’ve seen, is that men are actually more agitated, more stressed out about the idea that they’re not able to find the right balance between work and family, even than women are.

Matt: Women have been practicing this. Women have been urging for changes in the workplace and they’ve been fighting and getting some changes in the workplace for decades now. Men are just joining this conversation. But, I think the good news is that we’re part of the conversation. This is another kind of, we don’t need a special dads group in a company, but we do need dads joining the parenting conversation. When men and women are both going to the workplace saying, “Our babies are being born, we need to take time off.” Both moms and dads are saying, “We need paid time off when our children are born and we need paid time off if our children get sick.”

Matt: So, it kind of rectifies the imbalance also that women are facing. Women, when they become mothers, are seen as lesser employees in the workplace. According to this research, men are actually seen as better employees. Less likely to leave, more likely to work hard. The reports say that men work harder. They work three hours more per week when they become dads, than they did before they were dads.

Andy: Isn’t that interesting? I wonder if that’s just like trying to compensate for the stigma that they feel comes with it, because I have seen… I think I know what you’re talking about with this research. There’s this research at Harvard called the Stereotype Content Model. It basically says that, when we have a stereotype or an impression of somebody, it kind of consists of two parts, warmth and competence. Someone could be high in warmth and low in competence, or low in competence and high in warmth. Any kind of combination of these things.

Andy: So, they’ve actually done studies on it, of women versus men in the workplace and how they’re perceived if they do and don’t have kids. For some reason, they found exactly what you say, that when a woman has a kid, she suddenly is perceived as a lot higher in warmth, but lower in competence. Like, she’s not going to be spending as much time at the office. She’s not going to be working as hard. So, she’s not as valuable as an employee.

Andy: For some reason, for men, they get this huge boost in warmth because now, “Oh, now he’s approachable. He’s a dad.” But then, also their competence actually goes up a little bit because people assume, “Wow, he’s doing it all. He’s got this job and he’s got this kid.” I don’t know. Yeah, it’s like this double standard where we think that the woman, if she has a kid, now she’s going to be taking time off and focusing completely on that. Whereas if it’s a man, “Wow, that’s impressive that he’s doing both of those things so well.”

Matt: Well, I think there’s… Yeah, there’s a lot of research out there, I would guess, that there’s some level of stability that is perceived. Now that a man has had a child, he’s going to be more stable, more focused on his family and work. Again, he needs to, in many cases, keep his job has been… That stereotype perception over time as dad as breadwinner, needs to make sure to keep that job because he’s supporting not just his partner now. He’s supporting a larger family.

Matt: Obviously, in this day and age, very few families get to live like mine with one of us entirely focused on home life and one of us entirely focused on work life. Most couples, most families have two parents working.

Andy: Yeah.

Matt: So, it’s crazy to think that one job is more important than the other. Or, one parent is more committed at work and the other less committed just because they’re man or woman.

Andy: Sure. So, I’m curious, you used to be a sixth grade teacher. Are you now planning to go back and do that again when your kids get older? Or, you left that for good and new chapter in your life will kind of happen once the kids get older?

Matt: Well, when I took off 12 years ago, I thought it was going to be for a year.

Andy: Temporary. Ah, sure.

Matt: Yeah, and 12 years later… now, 12 and a half years later, it’ll be 13 years in July. This is the life that we found that that works for us. My wife has the type of job that she really wouldn’t be able to do it as well if she was getting a call from the nurse at 11:00 AM saying, “You need to pick Max up. He’s got a high temperature. He’s got a fever.” Or, she doesn’t have the type of job that she can’t make a decision to travel in collaboration with me. That happens a little bit more now than it used to.

Matt: But, it has also worked for me because I have found other things that provide fulfillment. Being Max and Sam’s dad is wonderful. But, it’s not been enough to, on a day-to-day basis, keep me going, especially as they started school. So, the great thing about what we’ve done with NYC Dads Group and now City Dads Group, is back in the day when I had a newborn and a three-year-old at home, I was able to devote 20, 30 minutes a week to planning meetups or writing a blog post.

Andy: Ah.

Matt: 10 years later, my kids are both at school all day. So, I can spend this time that they’re at school, really working on, whether it be opening up a new group in a new city, or a podcast, or working with our editor on all the blog posts that are getting posted, or anything else that happens to come up. I can spend that time and really feel fulfilled by it. So, I probably am closer to the definition of a work-at-home dad than I am the definition of a true at-home parent.

Matt: Obviously, your kids’ needs change over time. I don’t think it would be good for my kids at this point, for me to be entirely focused on their lives and making sure that every aspect of their lives is perfect and managed and parented. I think as they’ve grown up, they need to grow up and not have me watching every second of their lives.

About Matt Schneider

A leading dadvocate who has been quoted in places like The New York Times, USA Today, and Bloomberg Businessweek, Matt Schneider is the co-founder of City Dads Group, an influential organization that facilitates groups of dads to hold meet-ups all across the country.

Matt is also the host of the Modern Dads Podcast, an award-winning show that features interviews with important voices in the modern parenting conversation.

You can find Matt on Twitter and on LinkedIn.