21st century parents are very different to their parents, or even more so, their grandparents. There is a growing pressure / expectation that parents will share the burden of childcare which was unheard of 100 years ago. Our current Government is trying to introduce policies to encourage mothers to go back to work and to roll out flexible working opportunities for fathers as well as mothers. This is all fantastic for those that choose to take advantage of such opportunities but the keywords here are choice and honesty. Not everyone wants the perceived utopia of flexible working and spending more time with their children, as much as they might love them.
Fathers are now increasingly under pressure to make the same choices as mothers regarding balancing their families and their careers. The media’s perception is that all fathers and mothers want to work flexibly or stay at home with their kids. But what about the parents that don’t? There we’ve said it. Some fathers and mothers do not, for many and varied reasons want to stay at home and be the primary caregiver. We talked to several fathers and asked for their honest opinions. The results sound very traditional. Perhaps parents and society in general is not really ready for complete equality when it comes to childcare.
Steve: “I don’t know why no-one really tells you the truth about having kids. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to admit to themselves, their spouses or the world at large that there are times when the stress of having young ones can seem too much for even the most maternal baby lovers. And, as my wife is well aware, I certainly feel the stress. I love my children immensely, however the honest truth is that there are many days when I’m glad I can put on my suit and walk out of the door safe in the knowledge that I’ve got a full, working, child-free, day ahead of me. Of course, every time that sort of thought crosses my mind, I feel guilty and think I’m a bad father. Maybe I am, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m glad I’m not the permanent (or even semi-permanent) child carer. I just don’t think I’d be able to cope.”
Matt: “I am able to work flexibly providing that my clients’ needs are met but actually I choose to work 5 days in the office as my job involves a lot of resources and discussions with colleagues, plus it is very intense during the day and a noisy home environment would not be ideal. My wife is at home and she does a very good job looking after our children. I have got better at getting home between 7-8pm most nights during the week to at least catch the eldest before she goes to bed, even if that means doing more work from home – between family and work, there’s not a huge amount of time left for me but again that’s a mostly conscious choice.”
David: “I don’t see any reason why fathers should be treated any differently to mothers. However I think the logical conclusion to this point is that, like women who have taken maternity leave/flexible working/etc., the father would be equally unlikely to achieve (in his career) what he might have done had he not taken said benefits. The Italians say “You can’t have your wife drunk and the wine barrel still full”. Therefore yes I have the option to work fewer hours but realistically, reducing my hours might force my wife to work, which is not in the interests of my family as a whole. Makes me sound like a martyr, but it’s true so as she doesn’t work, our child is looked after by her and the nursery and I get to put him to bed nearly every night.”
Alan: “My children are now grown-up and have children of their own. When they were little there was no question about who would look after the children, my wife did. I wasn’t even there when my sons were born, a fact that might now lead to divorce according to my eldest who was there when his daughter was born and took time off afterwards. I spent time with my children but taking time off just to provide childcare didn’t cross my mind. Of course I would if I had had to. I appreciate that things change and we now live in an equal world, which is great but I do think parents are under a lot more pressure now than when we were bringing up our own children.”
It was clear from all our fathers that they recognised that the pressure on today’s mothers had also changed from that of their mothers. They also understood that where both parents were working, both had to take their share of the childcare. However for most their work/life balance was not brilliant and although they accepted it, they sadly saw it as a sign of the times.
Peter: “I work long hours and flexible working is not an option. My wife works part time, 4 days a week, one day from home. She also often works from home during the evenings when the kids are in bed. In reality she probably works 40- 45 hours a week. Our children are at school and nursery and although I try to get home early to see them, I only tend to put them to bed one night a week. My work/life balance is terrible. I make a point to never work weekends, but at this point in my family life it would be good to be more present during the week – something that has proved difficult. This is an issue we struggle with – at some point we may decide to leave London as neither of us can see how this existence is sustainable for the long term.”
Our survey threw up some interesting and honest points of view. Not everyone wants or can have flexible working, whether as an economic decision or a personal one. Not everyone can face the role of being the primary childcare giver no matter how much they love their children. The option is to provide choice thereby allowing those that want flexible working and more time with their children to have it, whilst not looking badly on those that don’t.
Thank you to everyone who took part on our survey. The names have been changed to protect identities.