Study: Fathers Still Struggle With Work-Life Balance After The Second Kid

No kidding.

dad working with baby on lap

When a second child arrives, the job of making sure a new older sibling doesn’t feel ignored or left out falls on the father. But new research from the University of Michigan suggests dads aren’t able to make that sibling care happen — particularly if they’re single earners. The culprit? The age-old enemy called work-life balance.

The study, published in Psychology of Men & Masculinity focused on 222 midwestern families, divided between single and dual income homes, who were bringing a second child into the world. Both mothers and fathers reported on father involvement after birth. Those reports were made four times over the course of the first year of the infant’s life, at one-, four-, eight-, and 12-months old.

Researchers found that regardless of whether or not both parents worked, fathers struggled juggling care for both children due to work pressures after the arrival of a new kid. However, families sole-earning fathers saw a decrease in dads’ care for the first-born kid. Shocker, right?

Well, despite how obvious findings might be (work = bad for father-child bonding), the research is important because it adds to the growing body of evidence to support why parental leave is so important to the livelihood of young families. When fathers don’t spend ample time with a new baby, they miss out on essential bonding.

“We found that access to paternal leave, or flexible working arrangements, would be key in aiding fathers’ involvement with their children,” said lead study author Dr. Patty Kuo, who added that she knew the results wouldn’t be particularly shocking. “Work-life balance is a pervasive problem throughout fathers’ child-rearing years.”

Of course it is. 2015 statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranked the U.S. 32nd out of 36 countries in regards to parental leave. That’s despite the fact the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) strongly encourages 12 weeks of family leave. Or the fact a recent PEW research poll shows that most Americans agree employers should provide it.

“Being involved in the day-to-day care of your baby is how you build a close relationship,” says Kuo. “So it’s important for dads to be involved. And it’s just as important for employers to support men with flexible workplace policies or paternal leave.”

Unfortunately, the struggle for paid paternity leave in the United States remains brutal. And there’s no telling how big the body of scientific evidence needs to be for a solid paid leave plan to emerge from Washington D.C. Maybe, given their cutting-edge parental leave policies, everyone should just go work at Ikea.