Dads Juggle Work-Life Balance

In Tell Me More's regular parenting segment, host Michel Martin discusses the struggle to balance work and family responsibilities, with a panel of fathers. Weighing in on the work-life balance as well as the stigma attached to stay-at-home dads are Glenn Ivey, State's Attorney for Prince George's County Maryland, William Schlitz a stay-at-home-dad from Dallas, Texas, and Jamie Gomez who works two part-time jobs and studies.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News.

Now it's time for our weekly parenting conversation. That's where we turn to a diverse group of parents for their common sense. Today we're returning to the question of work-life balance. Last week we spoke with author and law professor Joan Williams. She's written a new book called "Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter." And she argues that the U.S. has some of the most family unfriendly policies in the industrialized world.

But she says that while most public conversations about work-life balance focus on professional women, men, particularly working class men, are often ignored and their concerns are as intense as anybody's, if not, more so. So we decided to invite a group of dads to talk about this.

Joining us in the studio is Glenn Ivey. He is soon to complete his term as the chief prosecutor for Prince George's County Maryland. That's just outside Washington, D.C. His wife, Jolene Ivey, is a regular member of our moms conversations and she was here with us last week to talk about this topic.

William Schlitz used to do communications work for a labor union. Now he is the primary caregiver, a stay-at-home dad with three children. He's joining us from Dallas, Texas.

And Jamie Gomez works two part-time jobs, is a student studying biology and he's the primary caregiver of a girl, who's nine months old. Congratulations. And he also has a 14-year-old son. And thank you all so much for joining us.

Mr. GLENN IVEY: Thanks for having us.

Mr. WILLIAM SCHLITZ: Yes, thanks for having us.

Mr. JAMIE GOMEZ: Thanks.

MARTIN: So, let me just start with just setting the table with the conversation we had with Joan Williams just last week. Now, she says that we are starting to accept the idea that women will be juggling career and family. That women will be working outside the home, but we have yet to accept the fact that men are also taking care of kids. I just want to play a short clip of what she had to say last week. Here it is.

Ms. JOAN WILLIAMS (Author, "Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter"): Now men actually report higher levels of work-family conflict than women. And I think one of the reasons is that men are caught in the way that women always have been caught - women have always been caught between this ideal of a worker who's always available to the employer and the ideal of a mother who's always available to her children.

MARTIN: And one of the points that Joan Williams made is that at least women can talk about it, whereas that men actually can't. They're punished for talking about their care-giving responsibilities at work. So, Glenn, I want to ask you, do you think that's true?

Mr. IVEY: Well, you know, I think it's clearly a challenge. There's no question. In the office that I run, what seems to have happened, over time, is that many of the men have just opted out of a career. And so my office is dominated by women in leadership roles and the rank and file roles as trial prosecutors.

And I think part of that is, you know, many of them are married to spouses that have a job that pays more. And I give them a lot of flexibility, you know, having kids and, you know, picking kids up after school and that sort of thing. I think the challenges are there for men, but to me it still looks like women are really still under the gun on this nine times out of ten.

MARTIN: OK. Jamie, what do you think? And I just want to hear, we have - we actually have your little girl with us right now, because a situation that -I'll just say that a lot of moms will certainly recognize - you weren't able to get a sitter on short notice, which is what we gave you. So if you hear a little bit of a little baby there, that's Jamie's little girl. And we're happy that she's with us. So, Jamie, what about you? Do you think that that's true, that you think that perhaps employers are not necessarily as understanding of men and their care-giving responsibilities?

Mr. GOMEZ: In my case it's not necessarily the employer, but more my coworkers. I don't think they understand. A lot of them see me as, you know, hey, he gets to stay home with the baby all day. He doesn't have to work as many hours, which - that's not the case. For us, me staying home was a financial decision because it would make more sense for me to stay home since I was, you know, just working part time - to stay home and not have to pay the babysitting charges, which leads to this dilemma, which it's hard for us to find a babysitter. So it's more my peers that

MARTIN: Well, how do they express that? What do they do? Do they make fun of you? Do they dog you out? What do they say?

Mr. GOMEZ: Yeah. That's about the gist of it right there, you know. It always seems like when I'm around my friends, especially I work with a company out of L.A. and we do special jobs. And whenever I'm with those guys, it always seems like my man card is in question.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOMEZ: You know, as far as employers, I mean, it's fine. It's just - it's my peers - my coworkers that give me the most trouble.

MARTIN: OK. They give you the most trouble. William, what about you?

Mr. SCHLITZ: I think it's a little of both. The interesting thing is when I moved from California to Texas, I went to work for a firm that was all women. And the executive staff had children and they said, oh, we understood, 'cause when I interviewed, I had expressed that, hey, I'm going to be the primary provider of care for my children. So if I need to leave, I need to leave to get my child.

And I unfortunately fell into the stereotype that we hear in the media. Well, if moms were running these corporations, it would be different. And what I think I personally realized through this experience is the people that run corporations or are driven to have these careers. It doesn't matter if you're male or female. You are in that position because that's the path you've chosen. And the expectations of their staff or their co-workers, whether it's a man or a woman, is that while they say they're sympathetic, at the end of the day, they're truly not. And I've experienced it both from men and women that, you know, they will say the good thing when you're interviewing for the job, and our company supports parenting. But when it's time for - you're on deadline, no one wants to hear that you have to go get your child.

MARTIN: Now, Jamie said that part of the reason that he's the primary caregiver is that it just made economic sense that - he and his wife kind of did the numbers, and it just made more sense for him to stay home. But William, what about you? Why are you the primary caregiver at home? Is it the dollar? So, you just felt like - and frankly, I'll just say it. A lot of women - professional women feel that they just cannot maintain the appropriate presence at home or take care of those responsibilities at home because they're getting too much pushback at work.

Mr. SCHLITZ: Oh, that's - that was the decision that we came to here. I mean, my wife and I couldn't justify that - the money I was bringing in here was going to pay for childcare or me, gas, driving to work or dry cleaning for my suits. When I left this position, we didn't see a huge economic hit because I wasn't paying for childcare anymore. But, plus, my youngest daughter we adopted from Ethiopia two years ago next week. And she had some serious health issues, and we just couldn't justify watching her struggle each day so I could go to work and have this ego issue. And I think that's a big problem for men who become stay-at-home dads, is letting go of that ego of what is a traditional man in our society.

MARTIN: And what do you mean by that? This whole question of am I really doing my job if I'm taking care of kids or I'm putting - spending more time care-giving...

Mr. SCHLITZ: Yeah. I mean...

MARTIN: ...and it makes you feel - what? Less manly? Like what Jamie was saying, you have to turn in your man card?

Mr. SCHLITZ: Oh, yeah. I mean, Jamie and I have probably - or any stay-at-home dad has that experience that all your friends, as close as they are to you, still joke with you about, you know, how is it to wear the apron? Or, you know, are your hormone levels changed? It's really - I mean, funny.

Mr. GOMEZ: Wow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCHLITZ: And I get it. But it's said, and you joke about it. But at the end of the day, you know, my daughter went from being a B, C student to a straight-A student, and the difference - only difference is that she's not in daycare till 6:30 every night. She's home at 3:30. She has a routine, and her grades reflect that. And the same with my son. He's doing very well in kindergarten. So, you know, I would, as much as I have quote/unquote "my bad days," I still think the right decision - for my children, especially - was for one of us to be at home and, you know, my wife's career economically provides better support for the family unit than my career.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. We're having our weekly parenting conversation. This week, we're talking to dads. We're talking about this whole question of work-life balance, and we're asking - as author Joan Williams did last week in a conversation - if men are being left out of the conversations about work-life balance, and also whether people who are, you know, not professionals or who work blue-collar jobs - shift work, factory work. Are they particularly under work-life balance stress and aren't being talked about in the public conversations that are so often had about this issue?

We're talking with Glenn Ivey of Maryland, William Schlitz of Dallas and Jamie Gomez of Jacksonville, Florida.

Back to our conversation, and, you know, Glenn, as you know, your wife Jolene is one of our regular contributors. And she talked about sometimes that - how can we put it - like the stress between husband and wife over the various roles that each one sees as being primary. And you were in that kind of traditional role. You worked outside the home. She stayed at home for a number of years.

I'm going to play a short clip of that conversation, and you're going to hear an exchange between Jolene and me.

Ms. IVEY: In our case, I know that when my husband was with a private law firm some years ago and I was home, he was free to work as much as he wanted, and he did. He worked a lot of hours. It was kind of crazy.

MARTIN: But, you know, when you say he was free to work as much as he wanted to work, you know, I would wonder whether he would agree with your language there. Would you say he was free to work as much as he wanted to, or did he have to work as much as he had to?

Ms. IVEY: There's probably a mix of that. But when I decided to start running for office, he was really alarmed, even though at that point, he was an elected official and I guess he hadn't really thought it through. But he did have more control of his schedule then. So he was worried about me not being available to the extent I had been.

MARTIN: To back him up.

Ms. IVEY: Exactly.

MARTIN: Interesting.

Okay, so now that you're here I think it's fair to ask you: Is that true? Is that your perception of it? Did you feel when you were working full time and she was at home, did you feel that you had to work a lot of hours, or did you feel free to work a lot of hours? And secondly, were you worried when she decided to run for an elected office, too?

Mr. IVEY: Well, I felt free to work a lot of hours. I've been blessed with a series of jobs where I've loved all of them. You know, I really have to sometimes remind just myself, hey. You need to go home. Or I actually had -during one stretch at one of the law firms, I had a mentor who would say, you need to go home now. The kids are only young once, and that sort of thing. And he's passed now, but it was great to have him around sort of reminding me of that.

On her decision to run for office, to be honest, I mean, my immediate concerns were political. How would the public react to sort of a, you know, husband and wife who are both elected and, you know, would we be stepping on each other's toes? And as you know, Jolene's pretty outspoken. Some of my staff were saying, my goodness. What's she going to say? You know, she's going to say things and you're going to get in trouble for what she says. The irony is that after she ran and got elected, and she's gone for three months of the year, pretty much. It's a 90-day session. I actually found that I really kind of enjoyed running the house and, you know, cooking and, you know, the kids bought the cookbook for me because they got tired of the, you know...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IVEY: ...chili and spaghetti, chili and spaghetti.

MARTIN: Spaghetti with chili.

Mr. IVEY: Yeah. So, yeah, let's try something different. But I've started enjoying cooking and those kinds of things. So it's, you know, I'm almost 50, but it was a real kind of eye-opening for me 20-plus years into my career.

MARTIN: When you re-embrace or embrace some of the care-giving side of it, you know, men, will oftentimes you're seeing find that they enjoy it. But I still want to ask just about working all those hours. When you were working all those hours, were you working all those hours because you felt that you had to or were you working all those hours because you felt the stress of being the sole, you know, provider?

Mr. IVEY: Oh...

MARTIN: Because often I think sometimes, like, women who are at home, they say well, gee. They're doing all that because I'm letting them do it. But then I wonder whether the comparable question is that men feel that that's what they have to do.

Mr. IVEY: Well, I mean when...

MARTIN: In a way that a woman might not feel that she had to do.

Mr. IVEY: When she first left - when Alex was born and she first started staying home, I remember us joking about, well, you can't quit your job anymore because you know, we were then definitely a one-income family. But, you know, really beyond that - because I've actually never quit a job in that way -that's not the pressure. I've been very comfortable with being the sole provider during that 16-year stretch. But I just love the work.

MARTIN: Okay.

Mr. IVEY: Yeah.

MARTIN: All right, Jamie - and I just want to remind people, we are listening to your beautiful nine-month-old girl, who's with you there in the studio. And I understand that you and your wife are basically splitting shifts, meaning that both of you constantly switch back and forth between taking care of the baby and then working or going to school. How is that working for you?

Mr. GOMEZ: It's tough sometimes. You know, and when - she's a teacher, so she has to grade papers, do lesson plans when she gets home. So when she gets home, I assume it's time for her to take the baby so I can get my studying done and go to work, whatever the case may be. But she assumes it's time for me to continue to keep the baby so she can do her lesson plans, grade research papers and so forth.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOMEZ: So it's very difficult. Just finding the time for me and her to spend alone to just, you know, be a married couple is near impossible.

Mr. IVEY: Right. Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: Yeah, that's - I hear - we all hear you. We're all nodding. We're all saying yeah, that's true. We started our conversation by talking about policy and the way in which the government can affect, kind of, private employment policy and the way things work. And I did want to ask each of you if there is something that you feel should at least be debated that would make your lives better. Because as Joan Williams talked about in her book, other countries do do these things differently, and there are all kinds of different arrangements that countries make.

I mean, France, for example, has a big array of support for parents, both who work outside the home and who don't. There's an extensive, you know, government-subsidized daycare. But, you know, but that's not the kind of thing we generally do in this country. So I wanted to ask you if there are things you've thought about that would relieve some of the stress on you. Or do you think it should remain generally a private matter? So, I don't know. Who wants to start? William, do you want to start?

Mr. SCHLITZ: Yeah, Michel. I think it's a mixed bag there. I don't know if our society would accept a government mandate like you see in Europe. That being said, though, there do need to be some discussions about a trend, I think, that's going to continue to grow, whether it's the man or the woman staying at home with the children and - or even extended family, your parents helping you take care of the children. And what does that mean to our society, and how should we recognize that? And I think those type of discussions, the practical economic realities of that need to be discussed at the federal and state level. And how can government help promote a healthier family environment for the realities that we all find ourselves living in?

MARTIN: Jamie, what about you?

Mr. GOMEZ: I guess in our case, the thing that we would think would be a great help would be perhaps help - you know, some kind of health care, like you said, subsidy or something, a voucher for daycare. But along the same lines, I think if there was the possibility financially for a - one of the parents, whether it be the father or the mother to stay home with the child, I think that would be a great thing because, I mean, the kids obviously seem to do better when there is a father versus staying at daycare all day.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm. I see. All right. Well, I see somebody's getting fussy there, so we're going to let you go...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: ...in just a minute. I want to give Glenn the final word here. Glenn, you're a public official, and so I know this isn't your area, that, you know, social policy isn't your area because you've been a prosecutor. But you've worked on the Hill before and you were a state's attorney.

Mr. IVEY: Yeah. I used to do these kinds of issues. Right.

MARTIN: So what do you think? Are there things that you would like to have more of a part of a public policy conversation as you move into this next phase of your life?

Mr. IVEY. Yeah. I know Jolene pushed hard for sort of equal treatment. You know, there were tax credits for people who would put their kids in daycare, but not for stay-at-home parents, for example. I think the larger trend, though, is the challenge of, you know, just earning a living in the current economy. So a lot of people have to work two jobs, for example, and that's going to put an extra strain on childcare because everybody's at work all the time.

The other part, too, is as a Sandwich Generation person, now you've got grandparents who used to help out who have to continue to work. And it's harder for them to do the daycare piece under our current arrangement. So it's something that needs, I think, to big overhaul.

MARTIN: Glenn Ivey is a dad. He is the outgoing states attorney for Prince George's County, Maryland. His wife, Jolene, is one of the regulars in our Moms round table. And congratulations on eight years in office.

Mr. IVEY: Thank you.

MARTIN: And our best wishes for this next phase of your life. He was here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio.

William Schlitz is a former communications director for a labor union. He's now a stay-at-home dad of three, and he was kind enough to join us from Dallas.

Jamie Gomez is juggling a new baby - you can hear her right there - and a 14-year-old son, classes at night and part-time work at night and on weekends. Jamie, we would never challenge your man card.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: And we think you have manned-up in a big way.

Mr. GOMEZ: Thank you.

MARTIN: And he joined us from member station WJCT in Jacksonville, Florida.

I thank you all so much for joining us for this conversation, and best wishes for the holidays for everybody.

Mr. IVEY: Thanks. Same to you.

Mr. SCHLITZ: Thank you.

Mr. GOMEZ: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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