Changing families demand changing policies

Lasers beamed. Kids darted in and out of space-age obstacles. Beeps, clicks and high pitched “pew, pews!” bounced off of fluorescent backdrops. The smell of sweaty socks sat heavy.

Scott Behson, PhD, a Professor of Management at Fairleigh Dickinson University, creator of the Fathers, Work and Family (FWF) blog and dedicated and involved dad, spoke with me while his son attended a laser tag birthday party.

Behson recently attended the White House Summit on Working Families where economists, policy makers, advocates and citizens focused on creating “a 21st century workplace that works for all Americans.” This infographic highlights the changing face of the American workforce and the need for changing policies to support healthy families.

“In the last 25 years, the number of stay-at-home dads with a working mom has doubled… In the last 30 years, the number of father-only families has more than tripled- and they’re almost all working dads… Dads are doing nearly an hour more childcare and housework a day than in 1965,” it illustrates.

Behson writes about his experience at the summit on FWF. Mostly, he tells us that he left feeling encouraged and hopeful for the advancement of family support in our nation.

But Behson was discouraged by an overarching all-talk-no-action theme. He says many of the speakers “fired up” participants but refused to “put a marker” on their proposals.

“The fact that these conversations are happening is progress; I have to keep reminding myself of that,” Behson says. “We are in the awareness stage.”

Organizations like the United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) advocate for the needed change in work policies. On Father’s Day, the organization hosted a thunderclap where participants sent more than 4,200 messages to members of Congress about the importance of the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY ACT) which would enable new parents to take 12 weeks of partially paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child.

Knowing that change often takes time, it is noteworthy that Calif., N.J. and R.I. all have successful family leave programs instated.

What’s more is that California’s program has been “wildly successful and well received” with 90 percent of California businesses “for their experience,” according to Behson.

Behson adds that there are only four countries in the world that do not offer paid parental leave.

“The U.S. is among the hardest working in terms of number of hours worked,” Behson says. “Still, we have just about the highest percentage of mothers working despite the fact that we don’t have any policies. If Australia and the U.K. can have really good policies, there’s little reason we can’t.”

Behson calls the resistance to the implementation of the FAMILY ACT “somewhat irrational.”

He attributes the resistance to short term, specific costs even when long-term, big benefits and payoffs reside in the foreseeable future. This challenge is reminiscent of the initial cost of becoming Baby-Friendly with huge money-saving opportunities in the future.

“It’s hard to get people over this hump,” Behson says.

Secondly, Behson explains that it’s difficult to change “ingrained culture.” He cites the film Moneyball where “one team tries something very, very different, but it takes the industry ten to 15 years to catch on.”

Behson has published a generous number of peer-reviewed articles. Of his work includes research on working parents’ informal coping strategies, just one consequence of a society that does not respect the work-family balance.

“Instead of [employees] raising their hand and saying I’m going home because I have to go to little league, they pretend to go see a client, then go in early the next day to make up work,” Behson explains an example of informal coping.

He adds that employees often make informal arrangements with co-workers to cover for them or run their errands during lunch hours.

Despite little support for working families, Behson’s family’s timing proved just right and he was able to spend the summer his son was born at home with his new baby and wife.

“It gave me a lot of confidence and helped me become competent in parenting my son,” he says. “It also gave my wife and I a lot of confidence in each other.”

Research shows that when dads have more than two weeks paternity leave, they stay more involved going forward. Their children also perform better in school, get in less trouble and exhibit better problem solving skills because they are exposed to a wider range of coping behaviors, Behson continues.

When mothers and fathers are allowed the same transition into parenthood and the same level of involvement, women are less likely to drop out of the workforce, and mothers and fathers are better able to balance the pressure and challenges of parenthood.

Behson encourages Our Milky Way readers to make the scene more comfortable for men to get involved. He explains a phenomenon called “maternal gatekeeping”, when women prevent men from being involved with incessant criticism or overtaking.

He likens co-parenting to good management.

“Build up people’s confidence,” he explains. “Don’t micromanage.”

Behson acknowledges fathers’ shortcomings when it comes to actually breastfeeding, but he is confident in their ability to involve themselves in parenting in many other ways.

Below is a list of Behson’s recommended resources for more on work-family balance and ways to get involved with the cause:

CLASP: Policy Solutions That Work for Low-Income People

Families and Work Institute

Boston College Center for Work and Family offers a series of studies on the “New Dad”

MomsRising.org

Visit Behson at http://fathersworkandfamily.com/ and Like his page on Facebook.

Make paid leave a reality for American families with USBC’s easy action tool here.

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