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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.

exoticfruits Fri 22-Mar-13 17:55:14

The other thing is that you have to take into account age of the parents- and more and more parents are older.
Of course I would have gone back to work if I was 21/22yrs old - I wouldn't be established - I also wasn't ready for a baby. I would be horrified if my DSs became fathers before they were, at the very least 26yrs- preferably over 30yrs (I would be equally horrified if I had DDs, except that as they are more mature earlier and under 30 would be OK) They need to establish careers and live a bit.
A child changes and disrupts your life for ever- you need to be ready.
When you are 38/40 when you had your babies it is very patronising for those who had them in their 20s to tell you what you should do- you started work when they were toddlers! Unless you have a toy boy, your DP is likely to be the same age. Either you have been married long enough to know whether he is any good as father material or you have met him in later life and he may have been married - at the very least he has been living away from his mother for at least 15yrs ( if he was living with his mother when you met him don't take it further!). You are both established in careers, you know where you want to go and you can discuss if you want a child and how you will work it. Why a 40yr old would be at home, spending life doing housework without appreciation,- while 'Sunny-Jim' does his own thing- beats me! If they are at home you can be sure they chose it as a perfectly feasible choice. Or maybe DH chooses to be at home. And the money side is sorted.
With tuition fees and house prices and child care costs I doubt whether people can afford to have DCs at the start of their careers. I have never felt old as a parent - I am not alone by any means and not the oldest.

exoticfruits Fri 22-Mar-13 13:42:14

It is a shame that we are channelled into a narrow tunnel vision on the world of work and can't have more creative thinking and flexibility.

exoticfruits Fri 22-Mar-13 13:38:07

I also get exasperated by the thought that SAHM are forced into the position by a sexist DH and that they spend the day cleaning.

The first time I was a widow and it was the advantageous part - the decision to not work until DS went to school.

The second time I was a 38yr old woman, who had got my life back on track, had had a lovely productive time at home- being a treasurer for an organisation, among other things- and I was back in teaching.
I had an 8 yr old who was well behaved and very used to adult company. I can't see why I would have wanted to go back to nappies, sleepless nights etc if I didn't enjoy life with small children. I had done 'the career' and done 'motherhood' and knew which I wanted to have another go at.
You are not stuck at home! In fact it is the only time I have had a cleaner. I was chair of the pre school, responsible for hiring staff, the daily running etc. I was on the committee of a charity as a fund raiser-could take them swimming once a week, when the pool was quiet, set up a little business with a friend and generally have time to devote to the children.
I then went back to work part time. I had to do a refresher course but it was free and easy enough to get back. At times I have done full time.
It isn't so good on the pension front but I am not missing life for the sake of the pension. My father was going to do so much when he retired, go sailing, paint water colours etc and he dropped dead long before that - so I am doing it as I go along instead of ....'one day'.

It wouldn't suit a lot of people, I wouldn't expect it to and I count myself incredibly, incredibly, lucky to have managed it. The one thing I am not is a mug.

exoticfruits Fri 22-Mar-13 10:43:06

Working hours were very different dependent on you place in society. The servants used to work all hours and they now get proper meal breaks, holidays etc. Teachers had it much easier in 1960s and had all their holidays, weekend, evenings free if they wished or unless it was a busy time like report writing. Even reports were easier- they could be brutally honest and get away with a few words e.g 'could do better'. My father had a highish up job, he worked regular hours and was always home by 6 without bringing it home. If he had an evening meeting he was home for a meal first.

I am really happy that I was the one having the lovely life at home, seeing my children, working part time, reading books, following interests and volunteering in the community- and all without having to wait until I get to 65yrs. If you call that being a mug then I was very happy to be it, rather than my DH who was 4 hours a day in the car, if lucky and no traffic hold ups, and had a treadmill of commute, office, commute, children already in bed, eat, flake out shattered, and start again.
My full time work has been- in school by 7.30am- teach all day - lucky to get to the loo if on playground duty, grab 20 mins for lunch- stay at school until 5.30 if no meetings that take longer - come home and cook (DH can't unless we wanted to eat really late as not back from work) eat. Do school work - go to bed. Same again. One day of the weekend working on school work. Before you say 'you are a mug being a teacher' - I will say that I love being in the classroom- it is my ideal job- without the workload. I wouldn't want to be a Head, a completely different job. I much preferred a job share which gave me back evenings and weekends and time to read etc.
Yesterday I did 3 history work shops with 8/9 year olds.Had a lovely time- no planning because I had done it before- got to interact with the children. It wasn't boring because different personalities of the children made each one different- and different to the last ones I did. I started at 10am, had a lunch break and finished at 2.30pm. No follow up, record keeping or marking. Stimulating day- school staff said they enjoyed it.

I can't see why this is a mug. I should say that DH has now changed his job and works from home and so had done the ironing and DS was taking his turn to cook the meal I sat down and read the paper.

I don't see anything mug like about it.

Xenia Fri 22-Mar-13 09:05:12

On working hours they are much much shorter though than they were. Go back to the million of our ancestors who were servants circa 1880 and they might get one afternoon off a month and start at 6am and end at 10 with perhaps a short break in the afternoon. Go back to 1960 and most people worked a 6 day week, many with just Sunday off. I am not sure working hours are worse today.

The issue for many women is who is going to be the mug in this home - do cleaning an d childcare for no appreciation and kill your career to pieces or let your husband or someone you pay do it for you and have a nice life.

Saundy Fri 22-Mar-13 08:36:04

I think the qualifying week for APL should be 15 weeks before HIS leave would start.

I also think its unfair that there is nothing similar to MA for men.

My partner works in the food service industry which is (like many) going through a tough time. We've just fund out that his job is in danger. We had planned to share maternity leave but if he is forced into another job, or worse finds himself unemployed, it will mean that we can no longer share our leave as planned.

I will likely be forced to take all the leave if he finds himself no longer eligible, I am the main earner though so this makes no sense. Or is he loses his job he wont be entitled to the MA I would have been had I lost mine, we will again be financially worse off. There is not enough flexibility in the system.

exoticfruits Thu 21-Mar-13 19:29:33

I wonder why work places can't 'think outside the box' -they are working hours that used to be be suitable 100 years or so ago and are not suitable in modern life. Flexibility is the key. It isn't only families with children that would welcome it-it would benefit all.
On just a small point, my son works for a company where they are all outdoor enthusiasts and so they work hard all through the week, with very short breaks and then they finish at 2pm on a Friday which gives them plenty of time to head off to the hills etc. They are no less productive and at least they are refreshed on a Monday morning. I'm sure that it is perfectly possible to sort something out that suits other scenarios.

exoticfruits Thu 21-Mar-13 19:09:46

I don't think that high flying careers mix with family life, whether male or female. Claire Perry the MP has announced that she and DP are getting divorced, there is no one else involved, they have just 'grown apart' -this is hardly surprising because they can't spend much time together. Her 3 children are already at boarding school. It could just as easily be her husband and the other way around-although probably women are more long suffering.
I wouldn't be an MP and I wouldn't be married to one either. It doesn't give you a life. Children have to have time-partners have to have time. That is the latest in a long line of Westminster broken marriages. Working hours are mad-in nearly all jobs.

BertieBotts Thu 21-Mar-13 18:50:20

I think some people have a drive (not sure if it is biological) to spend a lot of time with their children when they are small. I don't think it is only, or even mostly, women who have this drive - of course in our society it's more acceptable for women to express this than men, and it is often more practical for the woman to do so if she has the lower wage - and if maternity leave is restricted to her, then she has already taken the career "hit" by taking this so, again, her earning power is reduced (now I think about that, surely it makes more logical sense for the woman to take ML and then the dad to take time out to be a SAHD so that they take an equal hit? anyway) - and because it's the "norm" and as humans we tend to go along with the norm without thinking, if we do something differently, it tends to be a conscious choice, and not always an easy one.

I don't think that true 50/50 is realistic or would work for most people, because people have different strengths but it would be great to see an average, generally, of 50/50 childcare done by men and women. Overall, childcare needs to be done by somebody, and money needs to be brought into the home - both parents can't really stay at home with the children, and (IMO) it's not ideal if both parents work very long hours and the children are cared for by a nanny/nursery/childminder all the time, so how the money/childcare is split up should be based on many different factors but currently it's very skewed because of society's norms. I think it would be great to see a world where there are SAHMs and SAHDs in equal proportion, lots more flexible working allowing parents to choose a more balanced role (I'm thinking a kind of 70/30 arrangement or just both parents being flexible so that there is less reliance on childcare) and parents generally choosing their role based on their strengths and their family's needs rather than necessity or expectation.

tomverlaine Thu 21-Mar-13 17:37:22

Xenia - although i think there is some conditionaing involved do you not think there is any biological drive that women want to spend time with their children-particularly when they are very small

Xenia Thu 21-Mar-13 10:22:22

Many people don't care what sex their child is.

As for careers, more than half of lawyers, doctors etc and university students (60%) are female. men tend to earn less in their 20s now and do worse in most exams frmo 11+, GCSEs through to degrees.
The difference comes when women have babies - they are conditioned by sexist parents to take on more boring dross cleaning chidlcare work at home and pressured by sexist men to assume those roles and the women usually regret such choices so it behoves us to convince them to keep on with high paid interesting work and leave sunny Jim the husband at home cleaning the loos if he thinks it is so important a parent is home 24/7 (let it be him). Thus do women achieve better lives.

exoticfruits Wed 20-Mar-13 17:48:46

What I truly don't understand is why anyone cares which sex they have as a baby-if they are the same.

exoticfruits Wed 20-Mar-13 17:37:42

No idea Vinegar but mine did!

I don't know why we need males and females to be the same. Why not different and equal?

I'd say about 80% of all games (outdoors anyway) when I was growing up were what I'd see as gender neutral - bows & arrows, den making, tree climbing, being in the Red Hand Gang. They seem to get stereotyped as "boys games" now. We played in mixed gangs until at least the age of 12

I had exactly the same-we roamed all over the village playing them. I still couldn't do the noise-I'm not saying that girls can't-just that I personal don't know any and didn't know any then.

ATouchOfStuffing Wed 20-Mar-13 16:52:07

Gnomez after our on off relationship of nearly 2 years, and the fact he has refused to see DD from 6mo I have reverted to calling him the donor. Before he decided not to see DD (and was happily seeing her sporadically and when it suited him and not paying maintenance) I took the case to the CSA. He is her biological father. I also expect he will turn up unannounced in the future for the drama as he hinted he wanted to do when we went to Court to clarify that he should indeed be paying for his child.

VinegarDrinker Wed 20-Mar-13 16:32:57

My 2 year old hasn't got a clue what guns are. Why would he?

tomverlaine Wed 20-Mar-13 16:25:35

Going back to the more general question I am not sure whether there is something innate in women that makes them wnat to be the rimary caregiver or whether that is social conditioning. Myself and DP had always agreed that he would be primary caregiver for DS when he was born as I had the career/salary etc and that's what we have done but it has been harder than I thought. i think i instinctively wanted to be the one to look after DS the best and wanted to be the one he needed and i felt that DP was invading my space. i also don't think he felt the emotional need to look after/be with DS in the way i did.

on another note there is a fantastic book (Pink brain/blue brain) which talks about which things are nurture v nature and it highlighted really how early nurture/social factors come in- although i do remember that larger propensity to like wheels was a natural differentiating factor

Dahlen Wed 20-Mar-13 16:22:13

exotic so do you think the answer is to accept that men and women are different but equal and that therefore we need to equalise their status through other means?

If so, how do you propose that is done?

sleepyhead Wed 20-Mar-13 16:15:30

I made guns from lego, sticks, etc etc etc. And I can make the noise of a machine gun at the back of my throat - we all did, and could, growing up in the 70s. Did you not play at The Professionals? Cowboys & Indians?

We used to play a game on the way to school where we'd throw a stone ahead and all run to get by it (was a grenade obv hmm) while counting down from 10 and if you didn't manage you had to perform your most creative death scene.

I'd say about 80% of all games (outdoors anyway) when I was growing up were what I'd see as gender neutral - bows & arrows, den making, tree climbing, being in the Red Hand Gang. They seem to get stereotyped as "boys games" now. We played in mixed gangs until at least the age of 12.

How sad that the terribly useful skill of making a machine gun noise in the back of your throat has been lost to the female gender wink

exoticfruits Wed 20-Mar-13 16:08:58

Teachers, librarians etc used to be all male because it wasn't that long ago that women had to give up those jobs once they got married. I was talking to an elderly woman just yesterday-she was a teacher and kept her marriage secret for ages-wore the ring on a chain round her neck!

exoticfruits Wed 20-Mar-13 16:06:29

Innate. As a single mother of a DS who was very against toy guns and took him to ballet lessons and couldn't stand football. He made guns from duplo and toast when aged 2 yrs-with no older children as influence- he could also do a noise for it from the back of the throat that I can't possibly do and have never heard a girl make. He loved football before he was remotely old enough to know it was the 'done' thing'. I live in an all male house-mentally they are on a different wavelength-and I am forever saying that I am not odd-it is what women do. The girlfriends are a breath of fresh air-I don't have to explain things.
I can't see why we can't admit to differences.

sleepyhead Wed 20-Mar-13 16:02:37

Tricky when you start looking at jobs like teaching. Teachers used to be almost all male. So did librarians (another v female field). So did clerical workers.

The more women move into a field, the lower the status tends to drop, the more female it tends to be seen...

Dahlen Wed 20-Mar-13 15:57:16

So you are saying that men and women are different. Do you think that's innate though or do you think it's due to social conditioning?

exoticfruits Wed 20-Mar-13 15:56:30

Personally I wanted to be a teacher since I was 5 yrs because I loved school so much at that age.

exoticfruits Wed 20-Mar-13 15:55:13

I can only say personally- I don't have that level of fitness, don't want to have that level of fitness and don't want a job where I might well get killed. I also don't want to take orders and I want to choose where I live. I don't want to be married to anyone on the front line either. I know one girl who has joined the army and is quite comfortable with the risk level, I know quite a few boys. It is a male trait. There are differences between the sexes.
Lots of women want to be teachers because they like children and want to work with them. I think you would get more men but their motives are suspected by many and if I was a man it wouldn't be worth it IMO-the reason the Scouts are short of leaders-some people can't accept that a man likes working with children and wants to put something back into society.
I know 2 male florists and flower arrangers, but tons of women who do it as a job or hobby.

Dahlen Wed 20-Mar-13 15:46:11

allnew you're going to have to explain that further.

If gender is irrelevant to the choices people make and those choices are influenced by other factors, you may well find that more people choose to be doctors than road-sweepers, sure, but you should find that the number of road-sweepers, while smaller than the number of doctors, is still 50/50 by gender.

exotic - what is your opinion as to why women don't want to be on the front line and would prefer to be teachers? Why do you think that is the case?

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