Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) shocked the world when … wait. No he didn’t. It’s not really shocking anymore to hear a parent say they want to still see their family, despite career demands. Paul Ryan is far from the first man (or woman) who is trying to find a balance that allows him to have a career and a family.
In fact, it’s spoken about so often, this whole piece could be packed full of cliches. (Editor, beware.)
Ryan said yesterday that he’d only run for House speaker on a few conditions. The one that resonated with many: “I cannot and will not give up my family time.”
Sound familiar? Or at least feel familiar?
“Working Mother Magazine has been around for 36 years and we’ve been talking about this for longer than that,” said Jennifer Owens, editorial director. “You have men wanting to have more of a role as a dad in their children’s lives.”
But not all men, or women, can have that sort of flexibility.
“On the one hand, we’re delighted to see a male elected official talk about spending time with children,” said Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work, a coalition in 21 states working for family-friendly policies. “This is just what we want and we know about the double standard. Female candidates are being asked how will they manage the job and family. It’s great to see [Paul Ryan address] that.”
On the other hand, she said, “it’s hard to stomach the hypocrisy of someone demanding family time for himself and blocking it for the American people.”
There it is.
Ryan’s party has stopped attempts to pass any sort of bill that would allow paid leave. He himself voted against paid family leave for federal workers in 2009. And let’s face it: Republicans aren’t going to change their mind on this anytime soon, no matter who the Speaker is.
And yet something needs to happen. Right? Right.
According to a report by the Boston College Center for Work and Family, 89 percent of U.S. fathers said it was important for employers to provide paid paternity leave or parental leave. According to the International Labor Organization, 70 countries had paid paternity leave in 2013. The United States still doesn’t have maternity leave. Or paid parental leave of any sort. (As I’ve written about for many years now, the U.S. is the only developed nation with no paid parental leave.)
Ryan is known for flying home to Wisconsin every weekend from D.C. and spend time with his three kids and wife. “This is a job where you are expected to be on the road about a hundred days a year,” Ryan said in September, when it was first buzzed about that he’d be up for Speaker. “Our kids are 10, 12 and 13, and I’m not going to do that.”
For the most part, people are thrilled a political leader, a dad, is speaking about his need to be with his kids, too. As Sheryl Sandberg posted on her Facebook page today: “We need work to work for parents – and having leaders who weigh responsibilities as fathers as much as their responsibilities to their jobs shows all of us what is possible.”
Good for him. He’s not alone. The role of working dad has changed a lot in recent years.
In fact, 60 percent of working dads said they experienced work-family conflict back in 2008, which was up from just 35 percent in 1977, according to a Families and Work Institute study. From Pew Research this summer: “Among working fathers, 50 percent say that it is difficult for them to balance the responsibilities of their job and their family. This is roughly equal to the share of working mothers who told us they have difficulty balancing work and family. About the same share of working dads (34 percent) and moms (40 percent) say they ‘always feel rushed‘ in their day-to-day lives.”
But right: We don’t have to prove that dads today feel they can and should have a better schedule and more flexibility to be with their families. No one is shocked anymore when a dad says he wants flexibility or some time off when his baby is born or adopted.
The thing that we do need to figure out here in this fine country of ours is how to make that happen. And if Paul Ryan becomes Speaker, will he help other politicians figure out how to make work work for everyone and not just themselves?
Amy Joyce is the editor of On Parenting.
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