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.
Author, Men Can Do it! The Real Reason Dads Don't Do Childcare
Thu 07-Nov-13 13:29:06
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.
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
I read your book, I found it really interesting. My partner and I share childcare 50/50 although this is a recent, short-term arrangement. He does feel I don't give him enough credit for being more involved than 'most blokes'.
I think as a society we've established that women can do pretty much everything men can, we haven't really convinced men they can do everything women can.
This was very interesting. Thanks for writing it.
One thing occurred to me though. There are many men who do childcare - but not on weekdays. We have to have two incomes, my partner is self employed full time and I look after the kids during the day ( unless I am on nights) while he works. I then work some evenings/ weekends and he looks after the children. Very occasionally we have some time together as a family.
I know lots of other people who work this way mainly those doing shiftwork.
So do you think that typically middle class white-collar occupations: media, law, finance, may be more resistant to part time working and caring? Perhaps due to their extremely competitive nature and the values that go with that?
Childcare cost was a huge factor in the loss of my career sadly but my husband had to keep working and earning to support us all.
Personally, i think universal, good quality free childcare for all is the only way to help families -dad working part time isn't going to pay the heating bill this winter.
Sounds about right.
Dh could be a SAHD. He is perfectly capable. But he's the first to admit that he doesn't want to. He finds it unrelenting and exhausting and his patience doesn't stretch far enough.
He was earning more than me when ds arrived so financially it made sense.
IMO there is a major difference between men and women/ fathers and mothers, something physiological and instinctive about looking after the dc. I'm sure it's the reason dh never wakes when the dc cry.
It would be interesting to know if there is a physiological difference between mothers and fathers and their responses to the different challenges dc present.
I'm happy with dh working and having the financial pressure on him. I'm also happy that he knows just how testing my job can be!
I rather think the answer is free universal childcare rather than dad going part time to do childcare.
Both partners sharing childcare can work but only if both partners are earning at a certain level. Personally I work evenings and weekends and my partner works week days so that we have enough money. In thus way we manage an almost 50/50 split in childcare responsibilities but rarely have family time together.
Do you not think though ubik that good quality part-time jobs or job shares would be part of the answer? My DH and I both work part time (4 days) and earn over £60k between us, I know of one other couple where both partners have maintained high earning careers whilst both working 4 days a week. I don't know anyone else whose tried it.
In the book he states that in lower income households men do more childcare than higher earning ones, presumably in the way you describe.
I agree that workplaces need to be more open to flexible or part time work. I find it so frustrating that I cannot have an office based career and look after my kids, so have gone freelance (and have to put up with the inconsistent earnings) as a result. I would love it if I could have a proper well paid part time job.
Free childcare was also help massively! I just feel like so many parents are wasted because they are effectively forced out of work.
My dp loves dd dearly but cannot bear the thought of being a SAHD. However, I don't think all women love the idea but more women seem find ways to make caring for children work for them. I wonder if more men asked for flexible hours it would begin to happen.
I can't speak for all men, but when it comes to my dp, when the going gets tough he comes to me but when it gets tough for me I deal with it and am inventive in ways to manage the household. He thinks I am more instinctive but gets annoyed with my ways at the same time as they don't always make sense to him.
In short, he cannot deal with it in anything more than short bursts which he loves but enjoys escaping from.
I think it depends where you live. In north London I'd say its about a third father carers - they are everywhere and usually 4/5 in every Playgroup. 1/3 mothers and 1/3 nannies or grandparents.
Look where people have money and choice and that's where the higher participation levels are.
It's so hard to generalise, isn't it.
I know other couples who both work part time and make it work but they are self employed at high rates or in a well paid profession such as medicine.
I know public sector employees who work a compressed week allowing for a 'day off' meaning childcare can be cut to three days.
But I know many other families who either need 2 full time incomes and rely on grandparents/state nursery for childcare or who have one well paid provider (usually the man but not always) while the other does the childcare.
One thing though - I found DH much more confident about caring for our 3 children once I went back to work. He is much more involved in their lives, they are very close to him and that was an unexpected benefit of me going back to work.
I think it also has a lot to do with women's salaries and careers - pre child.
I liked my job more than DP, earn more etc so for the moment DP is a stay at home dad - end of. He knows how much he would have to earn to cover childcare - he is happy to do it. But then we are in London and a lot of our friends dads do some of the childcare.
Also I have never heard any of the Dads i work with blaming 'office culture' or workplace legislation for missing out on key moments with their children or helping out if mum has other commitments.
Also growing up mum worked and dad would often help out with us kids - telling us when to go to bed and what to eat.
I hate blogs sometimes very subjective and just courting controversy in the hope for 'online fame'.
Thank you very much for feedback on the article.
ubik - Yes, absolutely, this is a middle-class problem mainly. In lower income households, the statistics show, things do work out a little more equally (as Wonderstuff states) with parents juggling the pt work they do have between them. And it is in middle-class parenthood, isn't it, where the new fatherhood myth is mostly located? My book states right from the beginning that I am mainly talking about professional middle-class couples.
Wonderstuff - Totally agree that good quality flexible and part-time work is the solution to this. In order for it to happen, men themselves have to ask for it. It won't be handed to them, except in very progressive workplaces. Men aren't asking, nor are they challenging (say in sexism tribunals) when their female colleges are granted flexible and pt-work, but they're not.
There wasn't room in the article to highlight one of my main solutions: that men in leadership positions in the workplace need to show the way. If you are a professional man and your boss works three days a week to look after the children, wouldn't you be more likely to ask for the same?
CityGal29 - I reckon you're absolutely right about north London (and other affluent parts of the capital too). And where do all the journalists who perpetuate the fatherhood myth live? They may see men doing childcare around them, but outside the M25 (where I live) we're a far rarer sight.
SuddenGeekGirl - The women are naturally better at this stuff argument is one I hear a lot. First, in answer to your question, there is extensive evidence that men are just as good and sensitive as women when it comes to childcare. The Fatherhood Institute www.fatherhoodinstitute.org has extensive evidence of this, all based on peer reviewed psychology and other studies. It's excellent stuff.
Secondly, we sometimes mistake natural ability among women and men's lack of it because, right from the beginning, it is women in there getting their hands 'dirty'. Meantime, men are are (often willingly) elbowed out of the way by maternity services, traditional expectations and, yes, women/maternal gatekeeping. So the mother gets better and better at it, while dad doesn't get a chance to learn for himself (or does it differently, and mum thinks her way is better). This backs up BadgerBumBag on the different reactions to when the going gets tough. She's learned to be inventive, while he seeks help from her when he struggles.
UBIKs experience in this area is common - men who are left to get on with it by women feel more confident and 'better' at it when their partners aren't around, or worse watching over their shoulder. In the book I tell the story of when my wife did this very early on. We had a big bust up. We learned the hard way that I had to have my own learning curve, just like she had had, and that my way wasn't necessarily going to be hers.
Tournesol and others - free childcare would indeed be a huge bonus in all of this, but so would be better pay, more flexible working, better legislation, less workplace sexism. I say bring it all on. But also, in a climate where there is no cash, and where parliament sits sometimes until after 11pm and women can't become MPs because they can't juggle work and childcare, what's the chances of that happening?
The key point of my blog and book is that men (and families) already have loads of wiggle room that we're simply not using, particularly when it comes to parental leave and non-work time childcare and chores. We surely need to fill up that wiggle room we do have before claiming it is impossible, or that something else should happen?
It makes good polemic to say "men don't want to", but there are more practicalities to consider.
You could as well say "women don't want to let them".
The truth lies in the grey area.
I don't want to be an apologist for the many selfish dads i come across but i do appreciate the situation is rarely black & white.
There are plenty of 'traditional' families where the woman takes the primary carer role, usually with pt work. It wouldn't make financial sense for both parents to take the career hit that pt work entails. Usually the woman takes the hit because she wants it more than the man.
My dh has made career choices that keep him more involved in family life. We also share care fairly equally for our 3yo ds. I work 4 days but bring home better money than him! I do pt work because we can afford it and I want to take extra time with ds when he is young. Equally I'd hate to be a sahm.
Next year when dc2 is born I will take on sahm role for a while. It's not even a question of the better earner working. Psychologically I won't want to be away from baby. Also I intend to bf for the year. Even if this weren't the case dh works in the family business & they couldn't spare him for 6 months.
DH's old boss said to him 'Don't you want to play with the big boys?'
This was when he wanted to leave on time for a change, not even apply for flexible working. That kind of attitude takes a bit of shifting.
i find it really sad to read women excusing their partners saying things like, 'they can only cope with it in short bursts' or they're not as good at it or whatever.
they're like that because they know you'll do it. teenagers for example don't lack the actual ability to put their clothes in the washing basket they just probably won't bother doing it if they know mum will pick it up off the floor and do it for them.
if magic mummy, she's so much better, she has instincts and can multi task wasn't there taking over daddy would have to pull his finger out and learn to cope same as we had to.
the reality i see happening is more and more women having children on their own from the start or getting divorced when they realise they've married someone who thinks a woman is little more than a house elf once she's given birth (though i suspect women married to very high earners may stay longer). it seems the only way to get some men to actually do some childcare is to divorce them then at least you get every other weekend and one night a week off i laugh but seriously i listen to some women's workloads and the embedded disrespect they live with and really do think they'd be better off, have more leisure time and a hell of a lot less on their plates if they were single.
one pattern i have seen that i'm not sure has been explored anywhere is whereby it was the woman more than the man who wanted to have a baby. this sets things up for inequity imo - how does a woman really feel confident to demand someone make equal sacrifices and do half the work on a project that part of them feels they pressured the other party into?
i have known at least one couple where this was an explicit part of the dynamic going on - she was aware she'd talked him into it and was unconsciously therefore not feeling able to make any demands and he was abdicating all real responsibility for childcare on her. was sad to watch really.
I think it is very true that in the early years there are fewer fathers involved in the daily grind of chilcare although in my experience, once the children are in school , fathers are much more evident.
I see lots and lots of the school run for example. Many father's attend parents evening, school plays, cheering on the after school football match, watching the sSaturday morning swimming lesson.
I would say that my partner and I share the "work" between us now.
Pre-school I did 80%, whilst also working a 4 day week.
I think the reasons for this are many and varied but the main ones for me was that that I wanted to be super mum in the early days. It was important to me.
I am older and wiser now and physically can't be everywhere so i have renegotiated our arrangement .
Children are also more fun and the activities more interesting once they hit school age, juniors onwards and so dad's become keener to do stuff with them.
Toddlers and babies are just plain hard work!
Amongst my friends with school age children, all the dads now share the running around side of parenting.
The administration stuff still seems to be mum's job though and I think that is because someone has to be ultimately responsible for organising so things don't get forgotten and mums are still ultimately in charge.
My dp will do anything I ask but I still have to do the asking!
I agree with this op, but I'd go further and say its sometimes not just the men who dont want to do childcare, if I could count how many women I've heard say "oh I'd love to give up work or go part time but.....we need the two cars/foreign holidays/big house etc etc", I'd be loaded
It's going to take a few generations for the culture to change IMO. The children who are growing up now need to realise that men and women can look after children.
Boys are still told they don't play with dollies, girls are still raised to be 'homemakers'. As I'm a LP my children do see that a mother can work and run a house
badly. But I'm also drumming it into them that mums and dads can look after children, woe betide DS if he has kids and leaves it all to his partner (he's almost 7, I like to plan ahead). I'd be livid if I thought I'd raised DS like his Dad was, with outdated 1950's parents. All I can do is chip away at stereotypes and hope things are a little better when they are adults.
To turn this on its head a bit - as a woman pre-child I had a career that I loved and was very good at. I was passionate about what I did, and happily spent hour after hour in the evenings/weekends/holidays, plus a fair bit of my own money, making sure that everything I did was the best it could be. It fulfilled me and I felt I was making a difference.
Post child, I've changed what I do to a related job with far fewer hours. I still really enjoy it, but I've chosen a career path with much less pressure, more satisfaction, less hours and lower pay. This gives me most of my week to spend with my child. It's what I WANT to do, and my husband supports me in this. Every instinct I have pushes me to stay with my child and to bring him up myself. I can't control that, and leaving him for extended periods is stressful, even though I know he's in the best of care. Instinct is powerful, and it's there for a reason. Some have stronger instincts than others, but if mothers didn't have a strong instinct to stay with their children, to protect and nurture them, then the human race would have died out long ago!
I think many men are scared of what it will do to their career. Women are too, but we have to face it, because all our colleagues and bosses can see we're pregnant an we h e to take at least a few days (!) off work to give birth...! So, I think there are more and more career women who think, prior to birth, "I have no idea how my office will manage without me; I'm essential here, I just can't take time off" - but they have to, and their bosses have to let them - so we confront those fears and realise, after the event, that the things we were so worried about are not as important as we thought they were.
Also the huge rush of hormones helps - but men who spend a decent amount of time with their children bond just as well, and men who share responsibility develop the ability (curse?) of waking in the night when the baby starts to cry too.
Pre DC I earned almost exactly the same as my DH (we met at work). Now I'm a SAHM while he works long hours and isn't around much to help with childcare. We could have done it the other way around from a financial perspective, but the thing is, this is what we both want. I love being a SAHM!
I don't think we should just lay the blame on each father who fails to make career sacrifices for equal parenting, there is a whole cultural pattern that determines their career expectations and makes it difficult for an individual to go against the grain.
DH and I do 50/50 childcare, both working part time, and although we work in similar jobs the effect on his career has certainly been worse than that on mine. It is pretty much expected for a mother to work part time hours, but DH was the first in his office to request flexible working, and although he eventually got the hours he requested, the grief he got about it was eye-opening. He is frequently told (informally at least) that he is not taking his career seriously because he is working part time. I don't think anyone would dare say that to me.
The whole cultural expectation of women being the main caregivers seriously blights the workplace despite all the legislative efforts to move towards more equal parenting. I suspect it will take generations for the necessary cultural shift to take place. It is getting better, but it is slow.
My son takes part in nappy changing, bathing and feeding his baby daughter. He and his wife share all aspects of baby care together. On Saturdays he looks after the baby while his wife goes to work and I look after her two weekday afternoons, so his wife can do more hours at work.
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I don't think childcare should be a 50/50 split if it doesn't suit one or both partners.
I don't want my dh to do 50% and he doesn't either.
There is nothing wrong with this. I know some mothers who don't want to do 50/50 either and prefer to do 25% leaving 25% to their dh and 50% to childminder. What does it matter if you are happy?
Great article. And I think it hits the nail on the head. Men dont do more, mostly because they dont want to.
Ex DH and I supposedly share the care of our 2 DC. In reality, I parent them most of the week and he does one set of school runs some weeks and EOW. Before children I masively out earned him, now 15 yrs on he has the bigger salary and is 'too busy' to do his 50% of childcare.
Our situation is amplified as we are not together, but in all honesty,it had become that way long before we seperated, with me making all the compromises required to spend more time bringing up our young family.
I dont regret making time for my children at the expense of my career, but the implicit assumption that (even though I now pay all my childrens household costs) that my work will always be less important than his, still irks me
Great article. My husband and I split it all 50-50, and I think we've done it relatively well. He works from home one day with our son (so earns a full-time salary), whereas I have one day off a week (so part-time salary). In practice we both spend the same time with our son, but he is better paid for doing so. He also has the more demanding job so is away more often. We both take time off for illnesses but it impacts me more often as he's more likely to have a meeting he can't get out of. Overall I've made more career sacrifices, but some of that I did pre-child as I was less keen on my job than he was.
I think you're right in that many men don't want to do childcare. Children are brilliant but they are also hard work.
Women not only have maternity leave which gives them (to an extent) confidence in being alone with the child (that arguably some men don't get), and a reason to ask their work if they can come back on different terms. They also have a lot of guilt.
Some women love childcare. Some women love their child - but don't necessarily love childcare - yet they do it anyway because of all the questions about who's looking after the baby after they go back to work, etc etc.
I'd say the women I know find it just as hard to parent as the men, but they become used to it through maternity leave, they feel more guilt about going back to fulltime work, and they are socialised to feel as though they should be the primary carer (similar to the guilt thing).
Dh is currently on 6 months paternity leave as we've shared my mat leave. He is loving it. Really, really loving it.
He was the first man in his company to take advantage of the legislation, but there are now four others preparing to also take Additional Paternity Leave. Talking to colleagues he said that there was low awareness of this as an option, but many men said they'd like to. A fairly significant proportion of his female colleages though said that there was no way they'd "let" their partners do this, and they thought I was mad.
It works out financially for us as I'm the higher earner, and also I like my job and dh hates his. He works in a call centre and a lot of the men have higher earning partners.
I am loving having a SAHP for ds1&2. It's making my life a piece of piss quite frankly . No worries about sickness, school holidays, school run. Bliss.
We have a one year old and a three year old. We live in the back end of beyond. I gave up my career (twice) to support DP's career choices. I do all the night stuff (for two terrible sleepers). I am the one who moved out of the parent's room for a long time, but that was because DP had work tomorrow. I do all the cooking, and a large majority of the shopping, cleaning, laundry etc. The drudgey bit.
I've counted several times. There are usually around 13-15 parents dropping off children at DS's nursery when I do, depending on the day 6-8 of them are men. Our wind the bobbin up sessions are not as busy as yours, but there are more men.
From mostly lurking here, the impression I get is that most see parenting sites and adverts and general media exposure of parenting as normative. On that basis I have no problem with adverts showing dads as being more involved than statistics reveal them to actually be. In fact I welcome it.
And a lot of the analysis of things like this miss an important point. Our children settle for me much easier at night than they do for DP because it's always been me, so DP going in is odd and new and stimulating, not because DP is worse at it. The childrens perspective on who does what is actually quite important imo.
I am their dad. I'm not a myth.
Yep I agree
My dh said he'd look after our baby one day a week so I could go back to work. The first 2 weeks were fine then the excuses started- he had a meeting he couldn't get out of. Something's comes up at work etc etc. I know he loves our boys but looking after then all day, especially a baby, when your used to being a manager on the go is a whole different world and not always an interesting one.
I agree, as does my DH. He's very open about the fact he could do more, but doesn't really want to. Thankfully for our DC the things he prefers not to do, are the things which are iimportant to me and vice versa. So it works for us - mostly.
"Put your placards away girls"
though apart from that I thought this was spot on. Even when father's become stay at home dads (usually out of necessity rather than choice) they STILL don't do half of everything. The cards and presents thing for families example is just one of a thousand things that many women do but many men don't, however 'new man' they may think they are.
Right on Dude!
I agree. I think a lot of fathers use work as an excuse not to take a bigger part in childcare. I see a lot of fathers not rushing out of the door to get home at the end of the day and even going somewhere on the way home to avoid the children.
DH is great and works PT and takes a big hand in childcare, he puts them to bed and make breakfast, does most fo the cleaning etc. I still do more even though I work FT. But this may be because I don't want to miss out.
It is interesting.
i think you can compare men and women to two children being raised with favouritism in the family. imagine one child is spoiled rotten, not made to lift a finger and generally raised to see herself as above mundanity whilst the other is made to do everything, criticised a lot, held to higher standards of behaviour and expected to earn her worth. which child is going to swan through life expecting stuff to be done for them and coming up with excuses about why they couldn't possibly be expected to do drudge work? which child is going to feel the need to prove themselves a good parent, do what's expected, be willing to take on the drudge work and accept that as her lot?
it's not about parental leave laws it's about not producing another generation of spoiled children who don't see why they should get their hands dirty and calling out spoilt child, entitled behaviour for what it is.
self esteem and confidence in women needs to go up and entitledness and spoiled childness in men needs to go down - then we may see some equality.
This is why I like being a sahm, as I know if I went to work as well
I would be run ragged with no free time tomyself at all
I would be working pt, then doing pretty much all the child are then doing pretty much everything at home
As my dh just doesn't bother about if the house is clean and tidy he really doesn't seem to care
Where as I suppose if we had visitors and the house was messy
I would feel embarrassed where as he simply wouldn't
Such a great blog post! Thank you so much in particular for the stats - it really is revealing and I think you hit the nail on the head about why dads aren't doing more childcare.
My DH and I started off on 50/50 - both working 4 days a week - but once I went on my second mat leave, he went back to FT and - once I returned, it was to three days a week. There are lots of reasons why - some very specific to our situation - but he's very reluctant to discuss moving back to an equal split.
I tend to find that he's great when there's a specific task to be completed - change the nappy, cook dinner, take DD to a party - but he doesn't have the patience for spending whole days at home with the children when there's nothing particular to do. Neither do I, to be fair, but I do it anyway and I think he should too. Much as I love my DH, I think he really does think (although he'd never say it) that he shouldn't have to.
I completely disagree with those who say that there's something 'natural' about the mother doing childcare - it absolutely isn't. It's learned behaviour and all our children would be better off if their fathers learned how to do it too.
Well, spurred on by this article, I have just had a bust up with my ex as he had booked a meeting in London, on the day he is supposed to do the school run, as it is my office day, expecting me just to change my plans!
FFS, ONE day a week when all childcare is his responsibility - his excuse - I have been working at home (writing up a project FT and some) for the past couple of weeks, so he just assumed it wouldnt be a problem. He has backed down, but no apology
Thanks to Gideon for opening my eyes as to how I am being played here.
Shared parenting, my arse
Yes, great blog. I gave up my career - a well - paid one - ten years ago and I haven't found a way of getting back. Even while working part time I was doing everything: childcare, housework, etc. Dp has not taken or collected Dd from school, ever. I have more options now as dd is in high school but I'm struggling to find a way back in to well-paid work.
What really irks me is that he plays the role of superdad to a T- when it suits. He's there on Sunday mornings bonding with other dads like butter wouldn't melt:frankly it makes me sick.
If you are looking for stay at home dads in the library singing nursery rhymes I think you're looking in the wrong place. My husband has been the one at home with the kids for quite a few years now and he wouldn't be seen dead at a mother and toddler group or baby signing or similar. He took our children to gardens, the beach, castles, museums even our local antiques auction. I think part of the problem is that what is presented to men currently is the idea is that if they are a stay at home dad they will be spending their time with groups of mums talking about nappies and feeding or clapping out tunes at a baby and toddler group (it's probably worth saying that there are loads of mums who would find these activities really tedious too). Men are similarly criticised for not doing things like sending cards to loads of people you barely know or baking cakes for the school bake stall - why for goodness sake is it necessary to write Christmas cards for your children's friends!
I think some of the points you make are valid, but the examples that you give are not.
Our childcare is split pretty evenly - if anything I would say that my husband actually does slightly more - and certainly 'enjoys' it more. He would become a stay at home dad in a heartbeat if we could afford it, but it is not something I would ever consider - at least with pre-school aged children.
However, you would never find him at a library sing-a-long event, whereas I used to take my eldest to daughter to one on my days off. My DH however hates them - he does crafts or pizza making at home or goes to softplay or the park instead.
Regarding the ONS figures - you can't use figures about whether the number of full-time SAHD have increased to demonstrate this - I suspect the number of households where at least one parent stays at home has gone down generally. These figures do not show statistically whether the number of dads moving to part time work has increased or whether more dads are doing school runs or weekend childcare.
Finally, your paternity leave figures are also misleading - men only get statutory paternity leave - this would be significantly less than their salary for the majority of men. Chances are they can't afford to take it in the first place - particularly if the woman is taking a cut in salary for her maternity leave or they are saving so she can have longer off.
My instinct says you have some valid points - it is shame that you undermine them with such poorly thought out 'evidence'.
Oh - and you also need to compare the paternity figures with how many women take the full amount of maternity leave if you want to add any validity - I suspect that if you looked at it as a time series, you would also see less women taking the full 12 months - particularly as financial pressures have increased.
Enjoyed reading this, especially the statistics. Very interesting.
I feel, though, Gideon that you haven't come close to asking why men don't want to do the childcare.
If men are stating a desire to do childcare but then wiggling out of it then there is something else going on....
For example, I think men want to do it less than women (whether this is socialisation or an evolved physcology or both is moot). I think a good start would be to investigate these different motives and use them to incentivise women to work less in the home and men more in the home.
"Men are similarly criticised for not doing things like sending cards to loads of people you barely know "
Actually I think the point is that Women are the ones remembering to buy/send presents and cards to people in their own family. It's covered in the book wifework
it is women who send cards to their in-laws and it is women who are criticised if cards are not sent to their in-laws. (By in-laws I mean their husband's family).
Yes, maybe men don't want to be at toddler classes, though I think that's a massive generalisation on your part. Perhaps you could expand on WHY he wouldn't be seen dead at them?
You are probably wrong to make the assumption that men not wanting to go to these classes = an unseen army of men taking their children to museums and parks. Because clearly there are not many men staying at home in the first place.
" this would be significantly less than their salary for the majority of men. Chances are they can't afford to take it in the first place - particularly if the woman is taking a cut in salary for her maternity leave or they are saving so she can have longer off."
I think you have misunderstood. Isn't the way the system works that the woman would be back in work when the dad is taking his 6 months? I think you are right to say that the family as a whole would be less well off given that statistically the woman would be returning to a less well paid job than the one the man has, given that there is such a problem with men earning more than women in the first place.
Always share 50/50. Never marry sexist men who won't do that.
Message withdrawn at poster's request.
davidjrsmum - agree on the 'doing too much' business - there is absolutely no need to be writing christmas cards and buying presents for your children's friends and good parenting doesn't have to mean emulating ridiculous neurotic conformity. certainly some do more work than is at all necessary and no one should 'have' to do that if they don't feel the need for such perfectionism/performance.
i found mums and tots type experiences excruciating.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
And fwiw, we are both in demanding full time careers, but his happens to pay about 60% of what mine does.
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.
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...
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"
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
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.
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.
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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