MODERN MYTHS

Men Can't Have It All Either

Man with a pram Getty
Juggling the demands of work and family is not easy for anyone.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The authors take aim at expectations that men and women can both work, raise their families and be happy doing so. The problem is: Today’s economy demands too much.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The authors are editors at Die Zeit, the German news weekly.
    • Their book “Everything Cannot Be Done” (“Geht Alles Gar Nicht”) sells for €16.95 in hardcover and  €14.99 as an E-book.
    • An earlier book, “The Everything Is Possible Lie,” by Susanne Garsoffsky and Britta Sembach,  examined how women juggle careers, relationships and families.
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  • Audio

    Audio

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“Everything Cannot Be Done,” the new book by Marc Brost and Heinrich Wefing, should not have been written – because there was no time for it in their busy lives dedicated to children, relationships and jobs.

The subtitle says it all: “Why Children, Love and Careers Cannot Be Arranged.”

Today’s freedoms ultimately allow for big dreams, from happy families to mega careers. But big disappointments come out of big dreams – and an unbelievable amount of day-to-day stress.

The authors, who are editors at the German news weekly Die Zeit, write as the first generation of fathers in a world where women and men play equal roles in raising their families. They are supposed to be modern men who, with affection and attention, replace the old model of provider who only came home to say good night to the kids.

But it simply does not work, they argue. The authors try to expose the new “arrangement lie” – in which being a loving parent, devoted partner and successful employee, all at once, is simply a matter of organization.

For a start, Mr. Brost and Mr. Wefing want honesty. Today’s freedoms ultimately allow for big dreams, from happy families to mega careers. But big disappointments come out of big dreams – and an unbelievable amount of day-to-day stress.

The majority of fathers, about 90 percent, work full time as in previous generations. Many would like to change that, but cannot.

“Men also feel overextended by family and career,” Mr. Brost and Mr. Wefing write. “Men also are sad when they hardly see their children. Men also believe something is basically going wrong in many families.”

The authors acknowledge arguments that modern men have it great compared to earlier times. And what about modern women, who not only share men’s problems but often are paid less too?

“Everything Cannot Be Done” is a family book, written from the evolving perspectives of two men, who interview other fathers about their experiences.

Their book is not an easy, weepy complaint. The reader gets a sense of the authors’ concern about their personal lives, frustration at political failure and anger at being thrown into this new “arrangement” with no role models to show them the way.

“We are the first generation really trying to live with equality – with all the opportunities and fears, joys and burdens that equality poses – for women and men,” write Mr. Brost and Mr. Wefing.

Their fathers’ generation led another life in which they were often the sole breadwinners. The authors ask: Where are prominent, successful fathers now? Who has so much time for his family that his wife can also work 20 hours or more?

New life circumstances are simply not playing along. Grandparents often no longer live nearby and so cannot jump in when children are sick.

Away from home, work demands steadily increase, including more meetings and travel, working on projects and going from one deadline to the next. Increasingly, there is a tag attached to work: No time for procrastination.

“We are experiencing the permanent simultaneity of overload and acceleration,” the authors write. Instead of multi-tasking, hyper-tasking is demanded. It is not rare that everyone in the family suffers.

So what should be done? First, the authors say, individuals must change their own expectations.

But that is hardly enough, because employers have bought into the “arrangement lie” too. For businesses, it is not about mothers or fathers or families, but only about work power.

“(The economy) wants as much as possible from our time,” the authors write. “Although we always want more time for our families.”

The authors depend a great deal on “The Everything Is Possible Lie,” a book last year by Susanne Garsoffsky and Britta Sembach, about  women juggling careers, relationships and families.

Now Mr. Brost and Mr. Wefing see an opportunity in the fact that men also are beginning to see through the modern myth and realize that everything is not possible, whether you’re a man or a woman.

 

This article originally appeared in Tagesspiegel. To contact the author: redaktion@tagesspiegel.de

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