MumsnetGuestBlogs (MNHQ) Thu 07-Nov-13 13:29:06

The real reason fathers don't do more childcare? They don't want to

Fathers are frequently reported to be taking a more equal role in childcare - but that's a myth, says Gideon Burrows. If dads really want to spend more time with their children - as many claim they do - they need to stop blaming 'office culture' or workplace legislation, and step up to the plate.

Read the blog, and tell us what you think. Is the real work of childcare now being shared more equally? What can be done to persuade men to split the load? Share your thoughts on the thread below.

Gideon Burrows

Author, Men Can Do it! The Real Reason Dads Don't Do Childcare

Posted on: Thu 07-Nov-13 13:29:06


Lead photo

Nine out of ten fathers say they wouldn't take more parental leave if it was offered

This year's Christmas advertising campaign from Lego paints a lovely picture: father and son spend endless days together as they bond over Christmas jumpers, play monsters on the sofa and, of course, build towers out of little plastic bricks.

In the advert, Dad isn't afraid to tell his son when it's time for bed or that he must eat up his sprouts. In Lego land, this Christmas at least, Dad’s in charge of childcare.

The picture of a highly-involved hands-on father, gleefully spending every moment he can with his adorable child is one which the media has been dining out on for years.

Almost weekly stories in the national newspapers describe men who are now routinely 'swapping the pinstripe for the pinny', getting fully involved in their children's upbringing right from birth. There is a growing breed of 'new dads' doing their fair share of everything to do with children: from the baby care to the school run, the nappy change to the housework, the mashing of carrots to attending children's medical appointments.

According to a survey by BT covered across most media, half of all dads say they do an equal or even majority share of childcare. That's one in two fathers. Another survey claimed that one in seven fathers were now primary childcarer. Put your placards away girls, the battle for equality is all but won.

Except for one thing.

The growing trend of new fathers doing a fairer share of the childcare is no more than a myth.

The Office for National Statistics shows that just 6,000 men in total have become full-time baby and toddler carers over the whole of the last ten years. Not a lot - particularly when one considers the care gap created by the 44,000 decrease in women looking after babies and toddlers full time, over that same period. It is nurseries and grandparents who have come in to fill that gap, not fathers.

Out in town with my two children over the last six years, the new fatherhood myth has been plain to see. I see women. I see lots of women. Women in coffee shops with prams, chatting about feeding patterns, sleeping regimes and what school they hope junior will get into. Women in supermarkets stocking up on nappies and Calpol, with their kids stuffed in trollies. Women with babies at playgroups and Sure Start centres.

But men?

At the library singalong one day I did a quick count. There were forty of us, but only me and one other guy. Once the singing started, he went upstairs to the adult section, leaving his female partner with their child to wind the bobbin up.

When my daughter was born six years ago, my wife found her career as a TV producer suddenly subsumed by cleaning up baby sick and filling ice-cube trays with stewed apple. As I watched her career turn to dust, I asked myself what sacrifices I had made for the family we'd decided to build together? Why should she take all the burden (as well as the joys) of childcare, just because she's the one who gave birth?

The biggest problem is not the legislation, or employers, or maternal gatekeeping, or some 'natural ability' with children that men seem to lack. It is that most men simply don't want to do it. And they're using a nappy-change bag's worth of excuses to get out of it.

We decided to split everything right down the middle. The same working and childcare hours, an equal share of the cooking, cleaning, friends' birthday card buying, and princess and pirate party attendance. (And on the subject of festivities, who will be buying presents and writing cards for your children's friends this Christmas?)

I've heard all the excuses from male friends over the years. They'd love to do what I do: work part-time to look after their children. But their work, their situation, their location, their boss, their commute, their pay packet, their (insert convenient reason here) means they just can't.

Survey after survey does indeed show that most men would love to spend more time with their kids and less time at work. But they're not backing up that desire by actually doing anything about it.

Some say the legal framework prevents men from cutting down on work to do childcare. Yet in the first two years of men having a legal right to share 26 months of parental leave with their partners, how many men actually took the opportunity?

Just 1,600. In two years, when nearly 1.4 million children were born in the UK, that's the best we supposedly desperate-to-be-hands-on dads could muster out of our new legal right.

Only two in three fathers even take their statutory two week's paternity leave. Nine in ten say they wouldn't take more leave if it was offered. From 2015, as new parental leave legislation comes in, it will be – but with such a poor show on the legal rights we already have, what are the chances men will exploit an even bigger chance to share parenting more fairly?

Affordability is one reason families cite for pursing the traditional arrangement when baby comes along: families can't afford for Dad to go part-time or become primary child carer.

But why not? Women actually earn more than men before childbearing age, according to the ONS. On the finances alone, shouldn't it be Dad leaving work to bring up baby? Or at least working part-time along with Mum?

Men also often say they can't go part-time or take parental leave because they won't be taken seriously at the office: they wont get promotions or pay rises, they'll be seen as uncommitted by colleagues. (In other words, they'd face the same workplace restrictions that mothers face every day.)

I’m a small business owner. Going part-time to do childcare wasn't easy, it did curtail my prospects and I frequently lament it. But don't many mothers with once successful and fulfilling full-time careers feel exactly the same?

Is it OK for mothers to put up with a glass ceiling, but not fathers?

Mothers taking time away from the workplace while fathers don't is the biggest driver of the pay gap between men and women. While 30-something professional women are looking after the kids or working part-time, their male colleagues are getting all the pay rises and promotions. By the time they hit their 40s, women's pay lags 15% behind men's. And the gap only widens from there.

But even if affordability and workplace culture were preventing men from doing their fair share of childcare, the final proof that new fatherhood is a myth is simply this: women still do twice the childcare and related jobs than men do - even during non-working hours, on evenings and weekends.

Surveys have also shown that only a third of couples report taking it in turns to get up for a new baby during the night. One in three dads don't regularly change nappies, and a third don't bath their babies. One in ten move out of the parent's room entirely because he has work tomorrow (while she, presumably, spends all day with her feet up watching Bargain Hunt.)

The biggest problem is not the legislation, or employers, or maternal gatekeeping, or some 'natural ability' with children that men seem to lack. It is that most men simply don't want to do it. And they're using a nappy-change bag's worth of excuses to get out of it.

Childcare can be wonderful, heart warming and rewarding. But it can also sometimes be disgusting, frustrating, boring and, well, just downright hard work. Women are getting on with it, while men are getting away with it.

Men aren't willing to make the sacrifices to their careers, free time and hobbies that childcare necessarily involves and which women have been making since time immemorial.

If even just a slightly fairer share of parenting is to become a reality, we all have to admit that new fatherhood is a myth. We also have to admit that child rearing involves sacrifice and men need to take a fairer share of the hit.

Actually making those sacrifices – rather than just saying we'd like to and then building the occasional Lego tower when we get home from work - is what being a good father, indeed a good partner or husband too, should really be about.

Gideon Burrows is author of Men Can Do It! The Real Reason Dads Don't Do Childcare

By Gideon Burrows

Twitter: @GideonBurrows

davidjrmum Fri 08-Nov-13 16:33:55

TheFabulousIdiot - I was talking about the silly ritual of mums writing christmas cards to the friends of their toddler - why do toddlers need to swap Christmas cards.. (and I've never sent cards to my in-laws - my husband writes them). My husband was really bemused when our 9 month old received about 20 christmas cards from other babies at his nursery. The reason that my husband wouldn't be seen dead at a mother and baby group is because he would most likely be the only man there and he finds activities like baby singing groups bizarre. I think he has a point. When I think back to my pre-school days my mum carried on doing the things she needed to do and we tagged along, so we helped with the laundry (I can still remember loving using some massive wooden tongs to move washing from one side of the machine to the other to get spun), the shopping, baking bread, calling in at nanna's to get her lunch, getting some books out of the library etc. Essentially this is what my husband does with our kids. He has things he needs to do during the day and the kids tag along whether it's taking the car the garage, taking his mum to the hospital or hanging out the washing. If it's a nice day he'll take them to a garden, not just for their benefit, but because he fancies going to a garden anyway. I'm not sure why days suddenly have to be filled with child specific activity. The point I was trying to make is that I wonder if men are making an assumption that days filled with toddler groups etc. are what they should be doing if they are the stay at home parent and this is partly what is putting them off doing it.

BloominNora Fri 08-Nov-13 19:15:27

The fabulous idiot - no, I don't think I have understood.

Gideon says: "Only two in three fathers even take their statutory two week's paternity leave. Nine in ten say they wouldn't take more leave if it was offered."

Statutory paternity leave has to be taken within 8 weeks of the babies birth and very very few employers enhance paternity leave above the statutory, so if the woman doesn't work, or does work and doesn't get more than statutory after the 6 weeks of 90%, or the couple simply want to save the most money possible in order to maximise the amount of leave the woman takes, then statutory paternity leave is actually economically unviable for many couples.

Even with the ability for the couple to share up to two years worth of leave and even with the rights coming in to share the 9 months paid leave, we need to remember that even if all things were equal - the woman is happy to give up her time with the baby and their wages are the same, it is still economically very difficult.

Most woman don't take the full 9 months paid maternity leave now because they can't afford it, this isn't suddenly going to change just because men can now share in the leave.

MadameLeMean Fri 08-Nov-13 19:32:36

Amen. Men feel like they have the right to refuse to make career sacrifices when they have kids, women accept it as a fact and plan for it. That needs to change. Men should have to career plan for kids too.

I've said to DP that we will not have a child together unless he agrees to make sacrifices also eg if I do 4 days a week, so does he. Or no deal. But I have the power to say this because I earn more money than him, so I am in a more fortunate position & have more leverage over the situation than many women.

TheFabulousIdiot Fri 08-Nov-13 20:08:32

There are many women who feel the 'doing too much' thing and I don't think it's the norm to send cards to everyone in nursery either. I certainly haven't done it.

I think more about the inequality when t comes to taking kids to the GP, taking time off work for illness, taking kids to parties at weekends and buying the presents for the birthday boy or girl, taking kids to and from school or nursery, buying children clothes, sorting out bags for day trips, making packed lunches. I think these are still jobs women do more of, even when those women are working full time.

But fair play to all the men who do all these things, not that they need a round of applause for doing the basic childcare tasks for their own child mind you!

How often do we hear 'my husband is babysitting for me tonight' and 'aren't you lucky to have a partner who cooks/irons/changes the beds'?

We are still stuck in a mindset where it is considered special to have a partner who takes some responsibilit and where praise has to be heaped on them for being so amazing.

Wonderstuff Fri 08-Nov-13 20:57:36

That's a really interesting point NumptyNameChange my mum raised both me and my brother to see books and academic study as much more important than housework and helping her. she did this as a reaction to her upbringing where she was expected to do much more than her brothers and prioritise helping her mum over her study or free time. This did result in me being quite entitled, and pretty shocked at how much goes into running a house. But it has also made me very reluctant and frankly ill-equipped to be a SAHM and determined that my husband will share the domestic burden equally.

I plan on both my son and my daughter being less spoilt than I was.

I think once a few more men take up the challenge of equal parenting it may start to snowball. At my husbands work one of their key problems with allowing him to work pt was the fear it would lead to lots of men making similar requests, he was the first man in his company to request flexible working. If we didn't know of another couple where both parents worked pt I don't know if we would have considered it. DH was petrified of asking. We have always shared emergency days off, and his boss asked 'why can't your wife do it' (she's a mother herself) the first time he had to leave to get a poorly child.

LadyInDisguise Fri 08-Nov-13 21:13:11

Men feel like they have the right to refuse to make career sacrifices when they have kids, women accept it as a fact and plan for it. That needs to change. Men should have to career plan for kids too.

YY to that and to the fact that at work, when a man asks for emergency leave for a sick child (or to take them to the GP, etc etc), it isn't usually well accepted.

But also YY to the fact that quite often it's women who just step up to the mark wo giving a chance to the man to actually do the job. aka there is no question as to who is going to take a day leave to after little Johnny. It will be 'mummy' because only 'mummy' will do if little Johnny is ill.
It's a change that both men and women need to make.

Anyfuckerisnotguilty Sat 09-Nov-13 09:52:57

Any one remember that BBC documentary about equality and housework
And a lot of the people on it were annoyed about being Asked both housework they were trying to come across s oh so equal
Yet it WS the as omen that did all the house work

LeBFG Sat 09-Nov-13 10:34:42

Yes, AFisnot guilty - quite a lot of posters proving Gideon's point that lots of people profess equality in their relationships and their friend's but the facts remain the facts - very few households are really living in true equality esp. when it comes to choosing whose career to sacrifice.

ElizabethJonesMartin Sat 09-Nov-13 11:04:30

Often money is at the heart of it. The person posting above who has said she will not have children with her partner unless he plays an equal part earns more than he does. I earned much more than my children's father. It is that inequality in a sense which gives women power to ensure more equality at home and the lack of it in many marriages which means some sexist men do not pull their weight.

MadameLeBean Sun 10-Nov-13 09:44:30

Yes, exactly. I feel I have to protect my higher earning status in order to compensate for the "natural" power imbalance of being female. My partner says oh look at us we do things equally and I say well if you earned more would we? We can't know that, it would be a lot harder. I get the right to push back on domestic things that I doubt I would automatically get if I earned less or even the same as him.

MadameLeBean Sun 10-Nov-13 09:46:46

And fwiw, we are both in demanding full time careers, but his happens to pay about 60% of what mine does.

ElizabethJonesMartin Sun 10-Nov-13 09:48:17

I earned 10x more although when we earned the same we each pulled our weight as I have always been a feminist and we talked about all this even before we married so it was never going to be an issue and I am from a long line of strong women over about 3 generations at least. You don't mess around with the women in our family and you pull your weight at home.

MadameLeBean Sun 10-Nov-13 09:48:29

It's all the more shocking when you think that if I was a man, I probably would not do any domestic work (statistically speaking!) whereas I do half of it...

MadameLeBean Sun 10-Nov-13 09:51:38

Elizabeth - I've no doubt that my partner would want to continue things equally even if we earned the same or I earned less (I am a staunch feminist too and DP supports feminism) but the fact is that it is easy to slip into predefined gender roles and it is a LOT easier now for me to say "no my work is priority, you have to do the school run that day"

scottishmummy Sun 24-Nov-13 14:12:08

Please don't generalise,we both work ft.we share the associated tasks equally
We plan who will collect if they get sick,it's not just assumed its mum
Now you may have observed your fair share of caveman,doesn't mean it's how we all live

annieorangutan Sun 24-Nov-13 14:14:45

I would say in dual earning families at least 70% of all dads I know do childcare at homs whilst their wives/girlfriends are at work.

annieorangutan Sun 24-Nov-13 14:25:46

Having read your comments on page 1 I agree the richer the couple the more liklihood of the traditional sahm/provider model. If you arent in the middle classes then everything us usually a lot more equal with dads a big presence on a daily basis, sole care of children and taking them places.

The world described in your op and that you hear on here is alien to me in my area as the vast majority of dads are always hands on.

BadgerBumBag Mon 25-Nov-13 07:24:01

Numpty - I agree. A big part of the problem is me doing it or quite likely butting in instead of respecting his learning curve and need for trial and error. I probably need to encourage him to try even if I desperately want to take over.

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