Oh, no! I continue to pray that dads resist the rabbit hole of “daddy wars” that have distracted moms from real work+life issues for too many years. My desire to get all of us–men and women in all stages of life–to focus on the real issues prompted me to start writing my book seven years ago. I wrote about the limited ability of companies to “solve” this problem for us, and about how individuals need to play a larger role in setting boundaries around work and life, given our circumstances in the new 24/7 work reality.
Yet, Brian Reid in his Rebeldad blog for Washingtonpost.com has asked his readers to define “daddy wars” saying:
“I’ve been wondering for some time if I could define the phrase “daddy wars.” Are dads in the middle of any great battles?…The conventional wisdom is no…(but) I am increasingly convinced that there is a coming conflict that will involve fathers. Right now, there are discussions about balance going on in the corporate world. One is over the formal, set-in-stone family policies (leave, flexibility, etc. etc.), and that is increasingly a gender-neutral discussion.
The second set of conversations is about the squishier concept of corporate culture. Can employees really take advantage of the policies without paying a price? That discussion still seems dominated by mothers. But I believe that dads will increasingly have a voice in those debates, and that’s where the conflict is likely. As the idea of a “mommy track” gives way to the idea that all parents (and even a good percentage of single folks) will be aggressively taking advantage of policies that give flexibility and options, companies may well begin pushing back. And that pushing match will signify the start of a new conflict: a daddy war.”
Okay, one more time…there is no war between moms who work and mom’s who don’t. Or dads who work and dads who don’t. Or people who care for their aging parents and those who don’t. Or people who work in retirement and those who don’t. Or people who want more time outside of work for an avocation they enjoy and those who don’t. Or those who go to school at night and those who don’t. I could go on and on. Hopefully made my point. These mommy and daddy “wars” assume things that are simply not true:
• These “wars” assume that parents are the only ones struggling to effectively manage their work and life in today’s 24/7 work reality. They aren’t. We all are! In fact, in my corporate consulting work I’m beginning to hear about elder care challenges just as often as I hear about child care challenges. We need to pull the lens back and see this issue for what it is: an everyone issue. We may have different reasons behind our need for a better “balance” but the problem is the same, as is the solution.
• These “wars” assume that companies can solve the issue with a policy. They can’t! Twenty years into the work+life research and field, it’s becoming clear that corporate-driven policies are not the answer. We as individuals really do have to do a large part of the work, with organizations creating an environment in which a common process guides the decision-making of both employees and managers.
• These “wars” assume that all companies will fight work+life flexibility tooth and nail. They don’t. I find it’s just the contrary. Companies are aware that burning their people out, losing people, and failing to attract the best and brightest new employees is not in their best interest. Do they have all of the answers? No. But there are plenty of them out there searching for new mutually-beneficial solutions. Yes, there plenty of unfortunate stories in which people who have tried to adjust the boundaries around work have been “hurt.” But, in my experience there is more to such stories than meets the eye: Did the person present their work+life plan the right way? Many people don’t know how to present and implement a plan so that it succeeds. Did they mentally assume they were off of the “fast track,” when no one else did? Did they assume their company didn’t support flexibility? Did they assume that their manager would say “no,” and therefore never present a plan? It’s not as clear as we might think. For every case that didn’t work, I can show you 25 cases that it did–at all levels, in all types of companies, in all types of jobs.
• These “wars” assume that there are only two choices at any work+life decision point: stay or leave. This is false. There are countless ways to combine work and life, based upon your unique circumstances and very few people fall neatly into an all or nothing category at any point in life or career.
• These “wars” assume there is one definition of success. There isn’t. There are countless ways to define success between the all or nothing extremes. One response to rebeldad’s blog posting said something along the lines of “we all know that guy who’s been here 20 years and hasn’t gone anywhere but who has had time with his family. I don’t want to be that guy!” Has anyone asked that guy how he feels? Maybe he feels tremendously successful.
• These “wars” assume that one person’s choice is right and another person’s choice is wrong. It’s not. I posted on this point a couple of weeks ago, citing some interesting research to explain this seemingly relentless need for “rightness” in our choices.
• These “wars” assume that stereotypes developed 40 years ago still hold true. They don’t. We need to start creating 21st Century work+life stereotypes.
Bottom line: Dads, and rebeldad, please avoid the mistakes moms made. Don’t make it all about the different choices of different dads. Make it about stepping back and rethinking the ways in which we all can strategically and effectively combine work and life in a 24/7 work reality.