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What can be done to get fathers more equally involved in childcare?

(207 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 18-Mar-13 11:34:07

Hello there

Maria Miller, the Minister for Women and Equalities, has asked us what MNers think could be done to encourage fathers to be more equally involved in childcare and education.  

As you might know, the government proposes to change the way that parental leave works - after the first six weeks, working families can now choose which parent uses a 'joint' parental leave allowance.  They can split it between both parents either consecutively or concurrently, or choose to have either the father or the mother stay at home exclusively, for the duration of the leave.

What do you think? Will shared parental leave have an effect on how families divide childcare? And what else could help to encourage fathers to become more involved in caring for their children?  What about education - are fathers as involved as they could be? Please do tell us your thoughts - and any great ideas you might have - here on the thread.

MrsHoarder Mon 18-Mar-13 12:38:26

What really needs doing is for fathers to be used to being responsibly for childcare (which DH is). In this house DH gave DS "short weeks" at nursery at first by using leave to work part time for a while and being responsible for days off due to illness whilst I settled back in. Given how I nearly gave up in the first few weeks because getting back into the habit of leaving the house was so hard, knowing that for those weeks DH was in charge of emergency childcare was very helpful.

Give a financial incentive for fathers to spend up 2-6 weeks off after the mother has gone back to work, ie paternity pay at the same rates as early maternity pay at first. That should get more fathers taking paternity leave (after the newborn phase) and thinking of themselves as in charge of childcare.

Xenia Mon 18-Mar-13 13:33:32

1. If you go back to work full time as I did and out earn your husband then he rarely will be uninvolved.

2. The changes on transferable leave will help.

3. Women not tolerating sexism. Some of us would not tolerate a sexist man for a day and some women conversely let themselves be walked all over or want to feel they have the power to show off to a man only they can put a nappy on correctly.

4. If both parents work full time, if your mother earns 10x your father as I do/did, you tend t think women in successful jobs is the norm. If mummies work 2 hours a day at the minimum wage that bad example at home means children will copy that and you will breed another generation of sexist men.

Meglet Mon 18-Mar-13 13:56:04

3 months paternity AND maternity leave. Then both parents shift their hours around to allow both to continue their jobs, while spending some time (even if just one day a week) as a SAHP. More pressure on employers to offer flexi-time to both parents so either parent can start / finish early when kids are sick.

None of this 2 weeks, low paid paternity leave for fathers nonsense. 2 weeks is nothing if the mother has had a rough birth. Give them 3 months together so the mother is fully recovered and expressing is well established (if bf), maybe more women would be able to fight their corner and go back to work p/t soone and the father can also drop a day or two. Both parents still earning but not burnt out working full time.

Indith Mon 18-Mar-13 13:58:46

I think mostly it is just habits that need to change. Fathers have the right to take days off to look after poorly children etc, it is just society that tends to see that as mummy's job when in reality it should be the person who it makes most sense for.

stargirl1701 Mon 18-Mar-13 14:23:27

I think paternity leave should be fully paid for at least the first two weeks. If fathers are involved, right from the very beginning, that is more likely to continue.

My DH is very hands on and says he thinks it was having the skin to skin time after the birth as I was being stitched. He feels the bond began then.

Our NHS ante natal classes did split into male & female groups for one session. Helpful?

Could the govt encourage companies to provide better pat leave? Tax incentives?

sleepyhead Mon 18-Mar-13 15:00:31

It's partly expectations. Dh is fully involved in childcare and has been from day 1. It's not been completely straightforward though and in the early days I did sometimes have to make a concerted effort not to just do things myself, or hover, or criticise if something wasn't exactly how I'd do it - early days make a difference.

I think some of it stems from being in hospital for those first few days, on your own, sink or swim. You come out as the defacto "expert" even after a few days.

Also dh having a decent attitude - I know some partners who have a stinking attitude to childcare, eg not changing nappies or getting up at night. Short of refusing to have children with men like that, not sure what the answer is and I'm glad I don't have to try.

It's also partly down to inequalities in society, again we're quite lucky as a couple in that we have jobs that pay roughly equal (I earn a bit more and also work part time at the moment so would earn quite a bit more if full time jobs were available in my field at the moment) so there's none of the issue with one job being considered "higher status" or contributing the lion's share to the family purse and therefore being harder to take leave from.

For dc2 (due soon) I'm taking 6 months leave and dh is taking 6 months leave. This is a godsend for us and has been pretty easy to arrange. Dh is really looking forward to it, it'll save us 6 months nursery fees and we'll be better off than if I'd taken a year.

The bit where we don't do so well is ad hoc leave for childcare due to sickness etc. Dh is not treated equally to women in his workplace doing the same job. It is assumed (by his employer) that I'll take the time off and they are noticeably less willing to be flexible for male employees. It was the same in his last job. It's difficult to know how much this is down to him being private sector and me being public sector though. My employer has significantly better family friendly policies and is far more transparent in their application.

Dh, however works shifts and this has worked out well for us in being able to be more flexible in the long run. I am as flexible as possible with my employer (eg swapping days if needed, as much unpaid overtime as required, working from home) because I appreciate the flexibility in return and dh's shift patterns give me some leeway. We don't have much family help (50 miles away so emergencies only) so we work it out between ourselves.

We don't have a lot of money, but in some ways (bizarrely) this gives us a bit more choice. I read a lot on here about people who work miles from home, travel a lot for work etc etc etc. We don't have high paying jobs but we both work within a mile of where we live, don't tend to work more than 40hrs in an average week and have no regular travel. We live in a poky flat, but don't have some of the headaches better off people have.

Nursery fees will bite us in the arse again in a year though. We're considering dh working 4 days a week and opposite days to me to save on fees if possible.

sleepyhead Mon 18-Mar-13 15:01:03

That was epic.... with no actual answers hmm. Sorry.

MoreBeta Mon 18-Mar-13 15:52:07

I am a father and DS1 was born 13 years ago and DS2 11 years ago.

Me and my wife always planned that I would have a more flexible academic (University lecturer) career and she would have the full time high earning City career. We knew that if we both carried on working in the City as we did before children then it would be impossible without 2 x full time nanny cover as we knew some people had.

Things didnt turn out the way we planned and we both ended up working part time from home and sharing parenting. My wife returned to work full time 2 weeks ago and I still work part time from home. Today, I collected DS1 from school and took him to the dentist, later I wil be picking them, both up from school, some tea, and then often taking them on to other activities, parents evenings, helping with homework, washing clothes and all the other support that children need.

Employer flexibility is the key to getting fathers more involved.

Without two high paying jobs that cover 2 x nanny cover or relatives that can cover at the drop of a hat I dont think it is possible for parents to both work in demanding full time professional jobs which involve frequent trips abroad and 60-70 hour work weeks as is common in the City or many other professions at senior level.

A dual income family that have very regular 9 - 5 hours, no foreign travel and a very understanding employer or flexi time it is possible but it still requires a high enough income to pay for nursery, nanny, childminder, holiday clubs, after school club.

The solution I think is to have legal obligations on employers to provide flexi time on demand for both fathers and mothers. I dont think employers will agree to that in the current economic climate and hence we will stumble on with most women being forced back into the home as their earning power falls behind their spouse when they have children and many men likewise being forced out of the home - purely by economic necessity.

I have been incredibly lucky to be able to have the freedom to choose to look after my children and out of my circle of friends and acquaintences I dont know any other men that did. All are out full time working and have done so since their children were born. They are all loving fathers but they have had little choice over how much parenting they did.

conorsrockers Mon 18-Mar-13 15:53:14

I think that employers will now avoid employing potential fathers to be as well as potential mothers to be.
Just go for applicants that are 40+ that already have a family to be safe. Think I'm joking?
What business is it of the Governments to meddle with the family balance. I would no more expect my husband to change a nappy than he would expect me to get in the firewood - unless there was a problem in which case we would both do whatever needed to be done.
I don't think this continuous playing around with maternity and paternity leave is doing anyone any favours, especially the young people trying to find work. The more you swing it in their favour, the more unemployable they become.

Xenia Mon 18-Mar-13 16:00:07

There is a big issue with weak women accepting sexism from men. The very first time you are getting to know the man he suggests because your'e female you cook you need to look on his in outrage.Observe his parents. See if his mother is a domestic drudge or leading surgeon. Do your due diligence. Make sure was we did nearly 30 years ago he is involved in or even in charge of finding the nanny or nursery. we discussed even before we married that if a nanny did not work out he would look after the children (although it never came to that). I was weaned almost on the 1970s feminists books and what a wonderful life that has led to with a very high earning career, gorgeous large famly and in some ways the perfect life all caused by those feminist decisions and refusal to accept sexism in a relationship.

There is also of course an issue that some people male or female are pretty lazy and are not prepared to make back up child care arrangements or back up of back up and clearly their careers will always suffer whether they are always off sick playing computer games or off sick nursing their cat or watching football or feeling every slight cold means mother or father takes a day off work to be with the poor little darling. Those people's careers not surprisingly suffer.

Someone called me today for career advice. I gave her a lot of help but gosh I had to bite my tongue. She seemed to think there would be some perfect job out there for her working a few days a week on very high pay very near her home. There aren't jobs like that in what she wants to do. I nearly said well how come your husband isn't fixing the childcare and working full time. Were yo brought up in a sexist home? Would you like a feminist reading list you pathetic thing. I didn't but no way will she get any job like that. She'd be lukcy to get a full time 50 hour a week one commuting over an hour in the current climate. She is living in cloud cuckoo land.

MoreBeta Mon 18-Mar-13 16:06:25

conors - sadly I think you are right.

Young men with a childess spouse of childbearing age will be discriminated against in just the same way as young women of childbearing age.

I did find it quite a shock that the atitude of men and women alike changed the minute I announced I was going to be going part time to look after my children (before finally leaving work all together).

Attitudes to me changed literally overnight. Mostly jokey quips but my boss did ring my wife and tell her that we would end up divorced if I stayed at home with children. I left work completley anyway and we are still married.

MrsHoarder Mon 18-Mar-13 16:08:46

conorsrockers except they will find that very hard to do, that's too big a proportion of the potential workforce. Its twice as many as they discriminate against now. That is a good part of the reason why equal paternity leave should be encouraged.

exoticfruits Mon 18-Mar-13 16:21:31

Change women's attitudes to start! It amazes me that most people these days are like me-no experience of babies-and they both start clueless. Then from the very first moment the woman becomes the 'expert' and the senior parent. She is the one to explain how to change a nappy etc. I accept that if you are bfeeding it gives you something that the father can't do, but you can just let him do the rest. In many homes he is edged right out-not even allowed to choose which clothes to dress the baby in. Needless to say he lets her get on with it and then it is rather unfair, in my view, that she then turns around and gets resentful that she is doing it all when the child is older-but she is still making herself 'the one in charge'. He is not the babysitter-it is his house and his child-and so she should be able to go out and leave him to to it without a single instruction. There is many a thread where the mother is sad that the DC won't go to the father -it has to be mummy-and you think 'well just go out for the day and let them bond'-if the child screams they won't come to any harm, as someone put it yesterday 'he is the father and not an axe murder!' They are perfectly safe.
I would agree with MoreBeta and the flexible working-but I think that working hours are ridiculous and one person is doing more than one person's job, so that employing more people is the answer -but it will never happen-not in the present economic climate.
At the moment I think that getting young people into work is far more important-there are no jobs for them-never mind ones with flexible hours!

sleepyhead Mon 18-Mar-13 16:23:05

It would be interesting to do a proper calculation of the risk to businesses of restricting themselves to employing over 40s (maybe make it over 45 to be on the safe side? No safe age for men really, so better make that over 50 for them) in order to avoid parental leave.

The risk of sick leave increases with age - cancer, heart disease, diabetes, other chronic illnesses. All could easily outstrip parental leave in terms of risk to the business and all are less predictable than pregnancy.

It's not as simple as just not employing women of childbearing age, or men of - well, what age? A lot of the statements "business" makes about these issues is knee jerk and alarmist. However, they wil get away with whatever they can which is why robust legislation is so important (for those of us who dare to ask their partner to change a nappy and, hey, might even chop firewood ourselves from time to time).

I have been giving this some thought, and I think that, as a nation, we're storing up trouble for the years ahead.

It's known that women motivated to work in business are less likely to have children than their unemployed counterparts. Many women only have the support around them to do part-time work, or low-paid jobs. It's also known that motivated parents = motivated children. So if we can find ways to encourage motivated parents to have children, we will have a motivated future workforce. By not supporting capable and motivated women to have children, we are reducing the percentage of motivated workforce in the coming decades.

Joint leave is a step forward, but ideally we would be working to find ways of working away from 9-5 and shift work, and working environments that were supportive of parents.

jellybeans Mon 18-Mar-13 17:00:56

Do you mean to get more mothers into work? They tried the push women to work and pull men to the home method in Sweden but there are many women there in low paid jobs and very high sickness rates. Let some of leave be shared (mother should have 12 weeks recovery time minimum unless they choose to go back early) and let parents make their own minds up who cares for the child! Studies show most mothers of small children want to work part time if at all. Listen to them? Families should make their own choices instead of the government trying to dictate that all mothers and fathers should both be working all hours. I wonder if SAHDs became widespread the government would see them as 'a problem'. Or is it just mothers...

jellybeans Mon 18-Mar-13 17:04:05

Do you mean to get more mothers into work? They tried the push women to work and pull men to the home method in Sweden but there are many women there in low paid jobs and very high sickness rates. Let some of leave be shared (mother should have 12 weeks recovery time minimum unless they choose to go back early) and let parents make their own minds up who cares for the child! Studies show most mothers of small children want to work part time if at all. Listen to them? Families should make their own choices instead of the government trying to dictate that all mothers and fathers should both be working all hours. I wonder if SAHDs became widespread the government would see them as 'a problem'. Or is it just mothers...

jellybeans Mon 18-Mar-13 17:04:30

Sorry for double post!

Xenia Mon 18-Mar-13 17:04:35

Much more feminism training in schools of teenagers. Challenge them about their prejudices and expectations. Show them the lovely lives many working women who earn a lot and have large families lead. Ask teenage boys what forms of childcare they will use etc etc.

Treats Mon 18-Mar-13 17:31:02

The language that government and the media use around this should be modified for a start. On the Andrew Marr Show yesterday, the Chancellor was being questioned about what provisions for supporting childcare would be in the budget, and both he and Jeremy Vine discussed how they would be helping "working mothers". And later I read the same thing in the Sunday Times - how the govt were hoping to help "working mothers" by increasing help with childcare fees.

Start talking about the issues in terms of working PARENTS! As long as politicians and journalists use this language, they're insinuating that childcare is a woman-only issue.

Language is important.

ShrewveTuesday Mon 18-Mar-13 17:46:21

Agree, Treats. Would also help if paternity leave / parental leave etc applied to self employed fathers (in the way that Maternity Allowance is an SMP substitute for s/e mothers). Maybe claimed via the HMRC self assessment?

VinegarDrinker Mon 18-Mar-13 17:46:51

We would be one of the couples potentially using the new shared parental leave, except that we can't afford for one income to drop to SMP/SPP levels so I will be going back after 6 months, when my Additional Maternity Pay runs out, as I did with DS1.

We both work "part time" (36-38hrs/wk) but a high proportion of "non standard" hours so DH is at home on 2 weekdays and I am at home on one.

So, suggestion number 1: for employers to pay equitable amounts for maternity/paternity pay, in other words those who offer additional pay over and above SMP to offer this to fathers too.

Number 2 is much harder but hopefully improved by no 1 - a sea change in attitudes towards fathers. None of this "I am so lucky my husband *helps out*" business. And an end to assumptions that mothers are more "natural" parents or more inherently suited to childcare. If I knew the answers to that I'd be a lot richer than I am, but it seems the Scandinavian countries do a much better job than we do.

Obviously more flexible working helps, but even where this is readily available, it is hardly taken up by fathers.

VinegarDrinker Mon 18-Mar-13 17:57:07

Oh yes couldn't agree more re language used. It also winds me up when women say "I only earn X a day after childcare "

And yy to SPP for self employed Dads

msbossy Mon 18-Mar-13 18:24:15

Equal pay.

Women need to raise their expectations of the men they have babies with.

Grandparents need to step back enough for men to be needed.

That said, I'm about to quit work to be a SAHM. We did discuss which of us should quit - it wasn't assumed. Everyone's reaction is "that's great that your DH earns enough". Yes, we're fortunate but it's because we've both worked hard for so long that we're in a position where a career break is possible. I would trust DH with everything except handwriting

YY to asking boys in school what childcare they would arrange.

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