Women aren't the only ones having a rough go of it in Europe. Men, these days, are embracing fatherhood with the round-the-clock involvement their partners have always dreamed of-- changing diapers, handling night feedings, packing lunches and bandaging knees. The time British dads spend with their kids has risen eightfold over the last 30 years. Today, 79 percent say they'd be happy to stay at home and 9 out of 10 say they're as confident as their partners in looking after the kids. "These dads are going to be guide and a mentor in a much more visible way than their own fathers were," says Armin A. Brott, author of "Fathering Your Toddler."
That's good news for Europe, whose economic future depends on a rising birthrate. Studies show that women with involved partners are more inclined to have more than one child. To tempt moms back to work, governments are also putting in place more policies to help dads take time off. Britain, for instance, announced recently that fathers would be entitled to up to six months of paternity leave. In Germany, companies are required by law to give all employees up to three years parental leave and guarantee their jobs on return.
But all these devoted dads may have a harder time with the same issues women have faced for decades: namely, how to balance work and family. "There's a constant feeling of guilt," says Robin Mungrah, a 37-year-old London accountant with two children. "No matter how early I leave work or how often I take the kids to Legoland on the weekends, it never seems like enough." Unlike women, many find they're negotiating their new roles with little support or information. "Men in my generation [25-40] have a fear of becoming dads because we have no role models," says Jon Smith, author of "The Bloke's Guide to Pregnancy." They often find themselves excluded from mothers' support networks, and are eyed warily on the playground.
The challenge is particularly evident in the workplace. There, men are still expected to be breadwinners climbing the corporate ladder; tradition-minded bosses are often unsympathetic to family needs. In Denmark most new fathers only take two weeks of paternity leave--even though they are allowed 34. As much if not more so than women, fathers struggle to be taken seriously when they request flexible arrangements. Though Wilfried-Fritz Maring, 54, a data-bank and Internet specialist with German firm FIZ Karlsruhe, feels that the time he spends with his daughter outweighs any disadvantages, he admits, "With my decision to work from home I dismissed any opportunity for promotion."
Mind-sets are changing gradually. When Maring had a daughter, the company equipped him with a home office and allowed him to choose a job that could be performed from there. Danish telecom company TDC initiated an internal campaign last year to encourage dads to take paternity leave; 97 percent now do. "When an employee goes on paternity leave and is with his kids, he gets a new kind of training: in how to keep cool under stress," says spokesperson Christine Eiberg Holm. For a new generation of dads, kids may come before the company--but it's a shift that benefits both.