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Men Feeling Those Life Balance Blues

They worry they don’t spend enough time with their kids. They’re exhausted by just how much they have to cram into their days, juggling work with loading the dishwasher, driving to taekwondo practice, supervising homework and planning the Girl Scout camping trip. The pressure is relentless.

This isn’t just Mom anymore. This is Dad.

Fathers with children younger than 18 are now about as likely as mothers to say they feel pressed for time and have difficulty balancing the demands of work and home, according to a major report released yesterday by the Pew Research Center. Although mothers and fathers feel the strain, stressed fathers are unhappier about it.

Far more fathers say they feel they aren’t spending enough time with their children: 46 percent, compared with 23 percent of mothers. Although fathers’ time with children has tripled since 1965, fathers still spend only about half as much time with their children, on average, as do mothers. The Pew Research report found that fathers are also less likely than mothers to think that they’re doing a good job as a parent.

“Do I feel rushed? Oh, tell me about it. I don’t feel like I give everyone a fair shot at my time. And of course, all three of my kids want it at the same time, and they’re not old enough to be patient and wait,” said Neal Snyder of Alexandria, Va., a lobbyist, talking on his cellphone during his commute to work in the District of Columbia after dropping his three children off at two schools. Because his job is more flexible than that of his wife, an executive at an association, he is often the go-to parent.

Snyder, whose own father’s home duties tended to the more traditional grilling and mowing, is a Girl Scout-certified camping adult and has the owl pin to prove it. He’s also involved in Boy Scouts and ferries kids from after-school care to ice skating lessons and baseball practice. “I tell people that the easiest part of my day is going to work. And the hardest part is the hour and a half in the morning and the three hours in the evening at home. Being a parent is the hardest job I have. But I wouldn’t change it.”

Time-use studies have found that fathers have been gradually increasing time spent on children and chores.

Being home more may have made fathers feel closer to their children — and more conflicted about the amount of time spent away from them, said Kim Parker, associate director with the Pew Research Social and Demographic Trends Project. She and other researchers wrote the report after analyzing a recent survey of 2,500 adults and nearly 50 years of time-use data from the Labor Department’s American Time Use Survey and other reports.

“It might help explain this yearning to spend more time with them,” Parker said. “And now that they’re more aware of all that goes on in the home, dads may feel more of an obligation to take part. Before, it wasn’t their concern, it was all taken care of. And now that mom’s working, it is.”

Or, in the case of Jack Shoptaw, now that he’s divorced.

For years, Shoptaw, who lives in Charles County, Md., was the provider. He worked late, traveled all the time, and left the kids and housework to his stay-at-home wife. Then his marriage fell apart amid financial difficulties. “I was about to be the every-other-weekend dad, and I panicked. I didn’t want to be that kind of dad,” said Shoptaw, who runs his own real estate firm. “I had to change my life.”

He began flexing his work schedule so he could take daughter Isabelle, 13, to her dance lessons and son Reese, 10, to sports practices. He now cooks dinner and stays up late doing laundry.

“I’m 100 percent stressed. But I feel like I have a relationship with my children now. I know them,” he said. “Before, I thought I did, but I was fooling myself.”

In dual-income families — about 60 percent of all two-parent households with children younger than 18 — mothers’ and fathers’ roles are slowly “converging,” the Pew Research report found. Although fathers still spend more time at work and mothers spend more time juggling work and home chores — handling not only twice the child care, but twice the housework — their total workloads are fairly similar: 54 hours a week for fathers to 53 hours for mothers.

Meghan Roberts, assistant city attorney for Alexandria, Va., said she is concerned about her husband, Greg, who works as an accountant by day and bartender by night.

“He is always stressed out. I know he worries that he doesn’t spend enough time with our daughter,” 18-month-old Eloise. “But between my student loans and the cost of child care, right now that’s the only thing that makes sense.”

Although the overwhelming majority of fathers say working full time is best, nearly half also said that if they could swing it financially, they’d rather stay home with the kids than work, the Pew Research report said. An equal number of mothers have long answered the question the same way.

“That, to me, is shocking,” Parker said. “We don’t have trend data on that because no one’s ever asked dads the question before.”

Chris Thomas, 46, a “work-at-home” father in Alexandria, completely understands the feeling. It’s the life he’s chosen.

By 3:30 Monday afternoon, Thomas had already been awake for 12 hours. He’d worked for two hours as a personal trainer at the gym, then come home to start his “real” job making breakfast; packing lunches; driving his wife, a teacher, to work and his oldest son, Isaiah, to school; home-schooling his middle son, Jeremiah, in sign language; loading the dishwasher; soothing upsets; brushing tiny teeth; shopping for groceries; and changing the diapers of his youngest son, Elijah.

“I’m so tired. Everything is just so scheduled,” said Thomas, who goes back to work as a trainer in the evening when his wife, Kerby, returns from school. They rarely see each other except in the late evening.

Kerby, 29, stayed home for two years when Isaiah was born but was consumed with guilt that she wasn’t contributing financially as the debt started to pile up. She loved her work, as did Thomas, yet the two didn’t want to put their children in child care (and with three boys, couldn’t afford it anyway). That’s when Thomas, with his flexible schedule, suggested that he take over the job.

Each has struggled to find an identity in what Thomas calls “uncharted territory.” The two went through a rocky separation a few months ago before getting back together and working to redefine their roles.

“I was feeling like the mother usually does — unappreciated,” said Thomas, who started a nonprofit group, Daddy and Little Me, to try to help other dads navigate this new role. “And every time I joked about being Mr. Mom, she’d take offense and say, ‘You are not their mother. I am.’ ”

By 4:50 p.m., Thomas had dumped the Eddie Bauer diaper bag and worked with Isaiah on his homework. He’d calmed an overly tired Jeremiah, rocking him on his lap. Before heading out to the gym to train clients, he busily folded clothes as Kerby kept an eye on the three boys playing out on the balcony.

“My view is, we both wanted these children, so the job shouldn’t fall on just the mom,” Kerby said. “A lot of people think raising children is just the mom’s job. Chris and I don’t feel that way. Chris has the blessing to see, in a way that many men don’t, that being a full-time parent is a very, very tough job.”