Friday, April 11, 2003

Single dads' ranks growing

Companies need to pay more attention to concerns of custodial fathers

By Shauna Scott Rhone, The Cincinnati Enquirer
and Enquirer news services

Ed Turner of Loveland considers himself lucky. When he and his wife decided to end their marriage, they decided to share custody of their three teenagers. This made him, by necessity, a better parent, he says.

"This may sound strange," says Turner, 42, "but being a single parent has caused me to be more involved in every facet of my children's life."

For many years, businesses have focused on offering working moms flexibility. But single dads are growing in numbers, and companies need to pay more attention.

It's no surprise that a large number of workers in this country are single women raising children. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that three in five preschoolers have a mother in the work force and that one of every two school children are part of a single-parent family sometime during their elementary school years.

But the number of single-parent households headed by a father is growing, too. The U.S. Census Bureau's report on American Families and Living Arrangements shows that single-father families went from 393,000 in 1970 to more than 2 million in 2000. And the number of single-father households grew to 5 percent of all families in 2000 from 1 percent in 1970.

In addition, says Dr. Louis Buffardi, a professor of industrial and organizational psychology at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., a growing number of men are assuming responsibility for child-care arrangements because their wives are working.

Not a 'woman's job'

"Child care is no longer a woman's job. More and more men, single and married, have taken on the demands of caring for children," says Dr. Buffardi.

A segment of the workforce that previously was only marginally affected by child-care issues now is involved to a much greater extent.

"Our studies have shown that among married moms, single moms, married dads and single dads, single fathers were the least satisfied with their child-care arrangements," says Dr. Carol Erdwins, a clinical psychologist at George Mason University. One reason, she says, is that single fathers do not have the social support from other dads that mothers have with each other.

"Women tend to do a better job of networking with other women in the same boat," she says.

Thomas Dukes of Mount Airy networked with family members to make sure he made the right day care choice for his newborn son, Fray.

"I have a cousin who has kids so she helped me pick out a good situation for my son," says Dukes.

The 51-year-old new father says it was difficult to find good day care to accommodate his job's evening hours.

Recently, Fray fell ill and Dad had to explain his absence to his boss.

"I told him I had to stay home to take care of my son and I couldn't work that weekend," says Fray, "but (my boss) just changed my schedule so I could work during the week to spend the weekend with my son."

In order to balance work and family effectively, single dads need to talk with their supervisors about handling their challenges.

"They need to ask for help and communicate their concerns," Dukes says.

Supervisors need to be sensitive, too. Buffardi notes research that indicates the work-family culture of the organization plays a significant role in whether available benefits are used.

"In some organizations, some single dads may perceive that there are negative career consequences for men using such benefits," he says.

On-site care expensive

One frequently discussed solution is employer-sponsored on-site child-care centers. Nevertheless, a Society for Human Resource management survey showed that only 5 percent of U.S. companies had on-site child-care facilities in 2001 compared to 3 percent in 2000.

There are good reasons why few organizations offer on-site child-care, says Buffardi. In addition to physical space considerations and staffing and upkeep costs in running an on-site child-care center, there are liability issues. These factors can combine to make the cost of on-site child-care prohibitive, both for the employer and the employee.

Allowing employees to have greater control over their work day is perhaps the best way a company can assist those with child-care responsibilities.

"Giving employees the flexibility to deal with child-care situations ... greatly reduces the stress and conflict that working parents typically feel," Buffardi says.


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