Husbands' work-life imbalance strains family bonds in Vietnam

By Pham Nga   March 23, 2024 | 08:00 pm PT
Husbands' work-life imbalance strains family bonds in Vietnam
Many men are swept into the career race to fulfill their role as providers for their families. Illustration photo by Pexels
For Pham Tung, 31, from Dong Da, Hanoi, the demands of his job as a technology engineer have blurred the lines between work and family life.

Rising before his children stir and returning home well past midnight, Tung finds himself caught in a relentless cycle that leaves little room for familial connections. This grueling routine, stretching over weeks, has denied him the simple pleasure of seeing his children's faces, an absence keenly felt by both Tung and his family.

The demands of Tung's profession are unrelenting, with days spent tethered to his desk, wolfing down quick meals between tasks. Despite the financial rewards – Tung earns around VND80 million (US$3,228) monthly, enabling him to provide a better standard of living for his family – the toll on his personal life is evident.

For weeks, Tung did not have a single meal with his family. His daughter wanted to have a meal with her parents so badly that she would try to get up quickly when her mother called out "Dad is about to go to work."

While Tung takes pride in his ability to support his family financially, he acknowledges the sacrifices made along the way.

"I’m proud to be able to send my daughter to the best school," he said, weekends are a blur of work commitments, leaving little opportunity for leisure or bonding with loved ones.

On his wife's birthday or when giving gifts to his children, he can only transfer money. "My wife repeatedly reminded me to spend time with my children, even if it’s just a little," he said.

For the past two years, Duc Thanh, 34 years old, from the northern province of Lang Son, has partnered with a friend to open a medical equipment company in Hanoi. He also learned more about stock investment and worked as a manager for a service business in his hometown.

He travels back and forth between Hanoi and Lang Son every second weekend and spends the rest of his time working. Many times Thanh told his wife that he would come home early, but failed to show up until midnight.

"Every night he lazily flops down on the bed, not bothering to change his clothes. I love my husband but I'm still angry because he breaks so many promises," said his wife Thu.

Like Tung, Thanh has a three-year-old child. The husband wants his wife and child to have a good life, so he strives to succeed. "Men must be able to take care of their wives and children if they want to have a family," Thanh said.

In Vietnam, a significant number of men are swept into the career race to fulfill their role as providers for their families. Research conducted by the Institute for Social Development Studies (ISDS) reveals that 25% of male respondents face various pressures in life, with over 80% grappling with economic strains and nearly 70% feeling the weight of career expectations.

According to Associate Professor Dr. Nguyen Duc Loc, Director of the Social Life Institute, traditional gender roles, where men are perceived as the primary providers, remain deeply ingrained in Vietnamese culture. From childhood, boys are groomed to assume this role, a responsibility that becomes more pronounced upon marriage.

"For men who do not have a stable life and have not achieved economic stability, the male nature makes them yearn to become stronger and earn more money, and at the same time," he said.

Despite advancements toward gender equality, societal expectations still dictate that men shoulder the bulk of financial burdens, often at the expense of their well-being and familial relationships. The relentless pursuit of success can lead to feelings of inadequacy and shame when expectations aren't met, exacerbating the pressure.

Dr. Loc emphasizes that this pressure can have dire consequences. The ISDS's study "Men and Masculinity in Vietnam" highlights that nearly 3% of male respondents reported experiencing suicidal thoughts due to financial and career pressures. This phenomenon is most prevalent in the 18-29 age group, where the rate reaches 5.4%, the highest among all age brackets surveyed.

For individuals like Tung, whose livelihoods are threatened by financial instability, the stress can be overwhelming, manifesting in physical and emotional ailments.

However, Dr. Loc warns that this relentless focus on work can strain familial bonds, leading to marital discord and emotional detachment. Such was the case for Thanh and his wife, Hoai Thu, whose marriage reached a breaking point due to his preoccupation with work.

At the end of last year, Thanh's wife, Hoai Thu, proposed a divorce. "Maybe people criticize me for being stupid, when I have a husband who serves me, gives me everything I want, but I'm an emotional person, if I don't feel connected, I can't accept it," she told her husband.

Hoai Thu did not feel happy.

"There's not even a weekend for your children. Meals with the whole family have become a luxury. So what's the point of making money?" she asked her husband.

Hoai Thu's frustration stemmed from feeling neglected and unsupported in her pursuit of personal fulfillment and career advancement. Despite her initial dependence on her husband during lean times, she realized that material comforts couldn't compensate for emotional connection and shared experiences.

Dr. Loc advocates for a paradigm shift, urging both society and individuals to reassess traditional notions of masculinity and redefine gender roles within the family. He stresses the importance of open communication and mutual understanding in preserving marital harmony and work-life balance.

For Tung, a wake-up call came in the form of a health crisis, prompting him to reevaluate his priorities and make concerted efforts to reconnect with his family.

"Previously, I sold my health to make money, now I use that money to buy my health back," he said.

*Names of some characters in the story are changed.

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