Every weekday at 7 a.m., Tim Sohn, a freelance writer and owner of Sohn Social Media Solutions in Pa., says good-bye to his wife as she heads to her teaching job. Sohn throws laundry in the washing machine, dresses his three-year-old daughter Megan, and off they go for a three-mile walk. When they get home, Megan naps and Sohn teaches his growing roster of small-business clients how to utilize social media.
“I’ve been a stay-at-home dad ever since Megan was born. We decided I would do freelance work because it made more sense for me to stay home. My wife is a teacher and she has good benefits. I was excited and up for the challenge," Sohn told Healthline. "I couldn't imagine it any other way, and I couldn't picture putting her in full-day child care. It’s great to be able to send so much time with her."
Sohn is not alone in taking more responsibility for childcare, while simultaneously working to advance his career.
Raffi Manoukian, a global investment panel manager at Ford Motor Company, where he has worked for nearly 24 years, has assumed a larger role in caring for his three children, ages nine, seven, and three.
A year and a half ago, Manoukian decided to take advantage of Ford’s Transitional Work Assignment (TWA) program. TWA is a 90 percent work schedule, which means Manoukian works nine hours a day, four days a week and is off on Fridays.
Sohn and Manoukian are taking more active roles in their children’s upbringing, just as the push for workplace benefits is getting national attention. In fact, President Barack Obama addressed the need for family-friendly policies and paid parental leave at the first White House Summit on Working Families on June 23rd.
According to the White House, more than 1,000 people, including CEOs, labor leaders, academics, and working parents, attended the summit, which was designed as a way for the administration to encourage family-friendly state level and corporate programs.
A Win-Win Situation
To hear Manoukian tell it, there are many benefits to working at a company with family-friendly policies.
“The kids are a handful, as you can imagine. I didn’t take advantage of Ford’s policies, which give us flexibility, until later in my career, but it has worked out well as it has helped me manage the energy required around the three kids," Manoukian said. "The kids are young and they look forward to their time with their parents and their dad.”
During the school year, Manoukian takes his two older kids to the bus stop and picks them up when they return. “I’ll take my youngest child to lunch, or she’ll join me for errands that need to be run that day,” he said.
When the kids are out of school during the summer, the Manoukians have daddy days. “We spend time together doing various activities,” said Manoukian, who acknowledged that his wife, who is a stay-at-home mom, “has one of the hardest jobs.”
With Manoukian home on Fridays, his wife is free to run errands or to pursue other activities, and sometimes the family spends time together. “More than anything, that day has opened up time and energy that can be devoted to family matters, as opposed to working five days a week, getting home late on Fridays, and not having the time or energy, and it spills into the weekend," Manoukian said. "Even my personal health has benefitted from it.”
He added that the management team at Ford supports him. “They still appreciate the work I do in delivering the objectives that we deliver. As long as there seems to be harmony at work and at home, I can foresee continuing to do it,” he said. “I think I’m a better parent and it has helped me at work. I’m mentally and physically better off.”
Getting the Job Done
Lena Allison, Ford’s diversity and inclusion manager, told Healthline that in addition to the TWA option, Ford also offers flex time.
“At Ford, it’s more about getting the job done, not when are you at your desk. The policies enable workers to do what they love and have challenging work. If you have to pick up your child at five p.m., we have flexible time. What time they start and what time they leave is up to that employee and their manager,” said Allison.
Ford, which employs 23,000 people in the U.S., also offers job sharing and telecommuting options.
Approximately 12 percent of Ford’s salaried U.S. employees participate in a formal flexible work arrangement. Of those who telecommute, about 60 percent are women and 40 percent are men.
The ratio of women to men is higher in the TWA program. “We have about three percent of our U.S. employees on TWA. That’s about 600 people. Out of the 600 people, 8.5 percent are male,” said Allison.
She added,“The company believes employees should have more flexibility as to how the work will get done, when and where the job gets done, and that leads to greater job satisfaction, stronger job commitment, and a higher level of engagement, and less stress. It’s really a win for the employee, but also a win for our company.”
But dads who expand their childcare roles also have their fair share of challenges, especially if they work at home.
Sohn said he misses the camaraderie he felt while working in a newsroom. He attends networking events at his local Chamber of Commerce and keeps in contact with other freelance writers to bridge the gap.
Getting work done in a timely manner is another challenge. “When Megan was younger, I kept my iPad nearby and sent emails to coordinate interviews. Now, I work when she’s sleeping, and when my wife gets home, or on the weekends. It’s definitely more challenging now that she’s almost three, because she’s talking and climbing everywhere. You always have to pay attention, but now you have to pay even more attention,” said Sohn.
Sohn, whose wife is expecting another child in the fall, says he will likely work from home until his second child is in school.
Sohn's advice to other dads is to use their time wisely. “Time management is very important. Every day I make a to-do list of priorities," Sohn said. "I also think it’s important to have a separate work area, whether it’s an office or a desk in a corner. Don’t do work on the dining room table.”
Children need socializing, too. Sohn says he stops at a playground every day so his daughter can play with other kids. “We want her to be more involved with other kids, so we’ll sign her up for a dance program this summer,” said Sohn.
A Look Inside a Father's Brain
A recent study conducted by Eyal Abraham, a psychologist and Ph.D. student, and professor Ruth Feldman, a psychologist and neuroscientist at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, sheds light on the way dads' brains change with greater childcare experience. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Abraham told Healthline, “In the mothers, activation was stronger in the amygdala-centered network, whereas secondary caregiver fathers showed more activity in the network that's more experience-dependent. At first glance, the finding would seem to suggest that mothers are more wired up to nurture, protect, and possibly worry about their children. However, we found that when fathers are the primary caregivers, and when there is no female mother anywhere in the picture (in two-fathers families, which provide a unique setting to assess changes in the father’s brain upon assuming the traditionally 'maternal' role), experience of hands-on parenting can configure a caregiver's brain in the same way that pregnancy and childbirth do.”
Abraham said the findings indicate that assuming the role of a committed parent may trigger a global “parental caregiving” brain network in both women and men, and in those who are related biologically, as well as those who are genetically unrelated to the child.
He added, “While only mothers experience pregnancy, birth, and lactation, evolution created other pathways for adaptation to the parental role in human fathers, and these alternative pathways come with practice and day-by-day caregiving.”