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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

Varya Thu 07-Nov-13 20:38:57

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.

itzdrk Thu 07-Nov-13 21:11:01

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

morethanpotatoprints Thu 07-Nov-13 21:54:01

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?

elastamum Thu 07-Nov-13 21:58:30

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

MysteriousHamster Thu 07-Nov-13 22:31:00

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).

sleepyhead Thu 07-Nov-13 22:58:02

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" hmm 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 grin. No worries about sickness, school holidays, school run. Bliss.

LuisGarcia Fri 08-Nov-13 01:20:10

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.

notnagging Fri 08-Nov-13 08:52:52

Yep I agreesmile
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.

turkeyboots Fri 08-Nov-13 09:16:33

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.

TheFabulousIdiot Fri 08-Nov-13 10:54:44

"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!

chickensandbees Fri 08-Nov-13 10:58:59

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.

NumptyNameChange Fri 08-Nov-13 11:18:08

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.

Anyfuckerisnotguilty Fri 08-Nov-13 11:51:15

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

Treats Fri 08-Nov-13 11:57:13

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.

elastamum Fri 08-Nov-13 12:16:54

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 angry

biryani Fri 08-Nov-13 12:43:49

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.

davidjrmum Fri 08-Nov-13 12:50:57

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!

BloominNora Fri 08-Nov-13 12:55:57

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'.

BloominNora Fri 08-Nov-13 12:58:04

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.

LeBFG Fri 08-Nov-13 13:09:24

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.

TheFabulousIdiot Fri 08-Nov-13 13:13:07

"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.

TheFabulousIdiot Fri 08-Nov-13 13:16:31

" 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.

ElizabethJonesMartin Fri 08-Nov-13 13:18:36

Always share 50/50. Never marry sexist men who won't do that.

LunaticFringe Fri 08-Nov-13 13:40:57

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

NumptyNameChange Fri 08-Nov-13 16:32:45

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.

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