We know what gender stereotypes and expectations encourage us to do, and that’s not to talk about our struggles. It’s not to be vulnerable and not to admit when we need a bit of help and support. And we know what these expectations and stereotypes can lead too.
In recent years, there has been a culture shift. A movement of men who are challenging those stereotypes and rethinking what it means to be a man and a dad.
MusicFootballFatherhood, a parenting and lifestyle platform for men, is part of that growing movement.
At MusicFootballFatherhood we are all about open conversations around fatherhood – conversations around the ups and downs of parenting and how we can think about doing things a bit differently. We have a popular blog, a podcast and we host regular events for our community to come together around a range of topics.
An extension of MusicFootballFatherhood is our new book, DAD: untold stories from the frontline of fatherhood. We have launched the crowdfunder for the book today, International Men’s Day, and we need your help.
WHAT IS THE DAD BOOK?
DAD is a deeply moving collection of stories that represent the diversity of modern fatherhood and seeks to start a conversation that challenges the traditions associated with masculinity. This is a ground-breaking book. Never before have a group of men come together to bare their souls and speak so openly and honestly about their fatherhood experiences.
The book includes powerful stories around widowhood, stillbirth, miscarriage, post-natal depression, divorce, childbirth trauma, work-life balance, shared parental leave, gay fatherhood and surrogacy, raising a child with a disability, blended families, black fatherhood, raising a mixed-race child, being a single dad, faith and fatherhood and raising a child with autism.
The book will be released in Spring 2021, with pre-orders available shortly beforehand.
WHAT WE WANT THE BOOK TO ACHIEVE AND WHY IT’S SO IMPORTANT
We know that men and dads don’t always have the space to speak openly about their experiences. We believe DAD can change the world:
The role of the dad has changed massively over the last decade, gender stereotypes and expectations are evolving all the time but the mainstream media hasn’t caught up. This book will help change the narrative about modern fatherhood.
Traditionally, men are taught not to open up and talk about their experiences. DAD can be the start of a new conversation and encourage dads across the world to be more open and honest about their fatherhood experience. This book will help to enable better conversations within families and communities.
Mental health of men is still overlooked with suicide remaining the biggest killer of men under the age of 45, and 12.5% of men in the UK suffering from depression and anxiety. DAD is a cathartic book that will help men and dads realise they are not alone. This will help contribute to better mental health.
WHY DO WE NEED YOUR HELP?
We approached publishers, but they told us that there was no audience for the book. They couldn’t see how the public would purchase a book where everyday dads shared some of their most personal stories. We know this is NOT TRUE! We know there is ABSOLUTELY the need for real dads to share their experiences. We believe that this book will change the conversation around fatherhood, men and masculinity. This book will help so many people and we can’t wait to share the stories.
WE NEED YOUR HELP! We are currently putting the book together and need support with the production and promotion costs. We want DAD to be a professional product that gives justice to the stories it shares. We also want to ensure that DAD reaches the people that need it most. Self-publishing is a complex thing to do, but with your help we can give DAD the platform it deserves.
We appreciate every donation we receive. We know times are hard at the moment and we really appreciate your support.
This has been an unprecedented year all-round, and as we approach International Men’s Day in 2020, many dads may find themselves at a juncture of reflection, possibility ahead, and hopefully a little dash of continuous evolution.
Let’s discuss these in more detail, and what this means for dads in 2021.
It really shouldn’t be new news to you by now that modern day dads are fully involved in day to day parenting. The results of our dad index showed that more and more dads are getting involved in so many more day to day parental tasks than any generation before them – the changing, the cooking, bath time, bed time, and just about everything in between – including the choosing and buying of products/clothes.
However something else has happened because of lockdown, even more dads than just those already fully involved got a chance to experience the possibilities of being more involved. Within the DaddiLife community we heard more and more stories of new dads who had joined who couldn’t believe the quality family time that they were starting to see, and seeing the possibilities of making it the norm in their family lives.
This has been a point of reflection for dads to see what being more involved within their family life could really mean – not just for them, not even just for their children – but for the entire family unit.
Even those dads who were already fully involved got a chance to reflect on what family success meant. From a personal point of view, I’ve spent more time with my own son in his teepee tent than I can ever remember. And we’ve used that tent for a huge variety of stories, sleep-ins, and whole new games! It’s given me a lot of reflection about really being present, and for a lot of dads as a whole if we’re going to make strident moves toward real gender equality, we need to take the lessons of this period of reflection, and take the necessary action.
The results of our own dads in lockdown survey earlier in the Summer showed one possible route ahead for dads. 76% said they felt like they were a more involved dad since the pandemic, and 25% were looking at making flexible working a way of working that’s here to stay for them.
Those results support our research programme last year, The Millennial Dad at Work, which was the first piece of research looking at the experiences of modern day dads at work, in-depth, right across the country. One of the key areas of research was around flexible working, where we found that 2/3 of all the 2000 dads we surveyed right across the UK had requested a form of flexible working since becoming a father, but only a minority of those had those granted.
A case in point was ‘working from home 1-2 days per week’ – where 14% of all the dads we had surveyed had requested. However of that group, less than one in five (19%) had had that request granted. Until we can turn the tide on those sorts of figures, it’s going to be a challenge to get the real balance of work and family that modern day dads are striving for.
What our research above shows is that there are still a tremendous level of challenges ahead that sits largely at a cultural level within workplaces. There are unfortunately still far too many workplace beliefs that dads should ‘just be at work.’ It’s a challenge that dads need to meet head on, and start challenging this within their own day to day experiences – and making it more overt of their parental responsibilities and desires.
The challenges ahead don’t just sit with organisations though. As I mentioned before, more and more fathers are getting more involved in the doing of parenting, but as we start to think about evolution ahead in 2021, is there more that needs to be done when it comes to the mental load?
Many mums that I speak to are quick to say that when it comes to parenting tasks, there is more and more equality in the household, but that they are still the ones doing the vast majority of the thinking – all the plans, the preparation, the things that are constantly revolving in the mind around parenting. Perhaps in 2021 we can start to challenge ourselves as dads not to just be happy anymore being congratulated for being more involved, but to start to think of ways we can discuss and shape the mental load with our family too.
Men, for too long have been required or mandated to be the cape wearing, problem solving, dragon slayers. However, as fathers we are the example for our children and to portray the false narrative of invulnerability, which we can do without realising, is to set them up for self-doubt and anxiety.
Before we approach any type of action or make any decision, our authentic inner self, our values, must align with our outer life and goals. How can this happen if we deny the influence of the inevitable doubt, trepidation and social judgement we all experience. If we never stepped out of our comfort zone, we would never find any real growth or change, and at its basic level isn’t that what life is about, isn’t that what we aspire for our children? Then we must model it for them.
Bravery is Cultivated
One type of bravery is being able to live mentally within the discomfort of uncertainty, continuing to grapple with questions before jumping to answers, and continuing to seek truth beyond social acceptance and the comfort of conformity or outdated gender expectations.
If becoming a father doesn’t fill you with uncertainty, not only about the basics of keeping your kid safe, nurtured and provided for, but also that deep unsettling worry that you’re not a good enough role model for children to emulate or to seek in a partner – because they will, then you must know something I don’t.
As fathers, you must step into this doubt whether you think you’re capable or not. Bravery is not a quality you are, or are not, born with. It is one that can be cultivated and honed and rather than deny our fears we must welcome them as an opportunity for growth.
Without doubt, the “bravest” thing I’ve done as a dad, as a person, is to realise and accept my vulnerability, my fallibility and flaws, and in fact, the very things that made me uniquely me. I remember when I was younger, thinking fatherhood looked limiting or stifling, however, I’ve found it liberating and the catalyst for discovering who I am based on my values that I want for my daughter’s example. Was I an athlete? A trainer? An entrepreneur? A writer?
All of those labels have an extrinsic set of characteristics attached to them. Now I’m a dad none of those labels take priority, I’m a parent, not a father, not a mother, I’m a parent. People become too conscious of what other people think about them, and they try, wrongly, to conform to social norms. These include how certain genders should act. Even the bravest of us experience fear and trepidation.
John Wayne said:
“Courage is being scared to death — and saddling up anyway” Ten simple words that summarise fatherhood, by a cowboy so you know they are applicable dads!
“Humans respect those who seek the truth far more than those who claim to have found it.” Voltaire
I always ask: How can we move beyond the fear that destroys connectedness?
Bravery is a product of the heart. To be sure, we must learn to be comfortable with honest vulnerability that people or society might be judging us, and you may wonder: maybe I’m not as I’m “supposed” to be. This is an immediate impression. It’s not fully rational yet. You need to stop yourself from just agreeing to these impressions, so that you can figure out if they are right.
The crucial part is to discern whether the evaluative portion of that feeling makes sense. Yes, they are looking at me. But that’s not a big deal. Also, yes, I’m not conforming to social norms — I’m not as I’m “supposed” to be. But why does that matter? Why is that bad?
I have never understood the rationale that dictates the most masculine, manly, virile thing you can do is sire children, yet, if you want nothing more than to stay home, nurture and raise those children somehow, it’s a feminine trait???
We need to find that feeling and learn to separate out that part that holds that ‘it’s a bad thing’. It’s not. Your life as a whole is not getting worse because of what “they” think. But if you give into that irrational first impression, then it just might.
To understand how much that is worth, consider it this way:
Can you put a price tag on living your own life? Do you want this for your children’s life? If I offered, you a certain amount of money to live a certain way for the next five years. How much would you ask for?
What if it was for ten years? How much would you ask for in that case?
Then why are you giving your life away for free? Why are you right now doing what “they” say without charging anything at all?
It’s Nothing Dramatic
Bravery doesn’t necessarily entail doing something dramatic or astoundingly heroic. On a day-to-day basis many ordinary people summon uncommon courage to overcome both physical and psychological barriers in order to achieve a variety of necessities and goals.
You first need to muster up the willingness to do so. Before you can acquire any habit, or character trait, you must have a strong desire or willingness to do so. Contemplating the alternative, which would be to live in fear or a position of great vulnerability, should provide ample motivation.
When we work to develop bravery, we both empower ourselves with the ability to confront problems head on, as well as, acquire the skills required to deal with life’s inevitable challenges and by showing our children our true selves, rather than some all-knowing super heroic depiction of masculinity, we set the example.
Men have been endowed with the gift of speech even though we don’t use it nearly as much as we should. We must use it wisely. And when our hearts and minds authentically combine around an action, a passion, or a cause, it takes the power of speech to convey the importance of said pursuits.
A vital element of bravery is being able to speak up when it is terrifying to do so. When was the last time you asked for help? When was the last time you said, “I’m a bit vulnerable at the moment, I need to figure out why?”
Lao Tzu, teaches: “From caring comes courage.”
Bravery isn’t always an outward display of character: having the self-awareness to restrain oneself is an underexplored example of bravery. Bravery is not only about acting publicly or about speaking up, but about being silent when the times call for it. Not every situation requires our voice; not every pursuit needs our opinion. Knowing when to back off is as important, maybe even more so, than to stand up.
When we don’t start from the masculine, ego-filled position to be a hero, but with the compassionate conviction of love, then we step back when we need to. To do this, we often need to rebuild trust and connectedness the necessity of harnessing the will to not act on our fear, even at a moment when it might feel most appropriate.
Do I have all the answers? Definitely not and I’m more than ok with that, because together my daughter and I will keep searching for our truths.
Parting words from the author:
Male Stereotypes and Stigmas:
“If your behaviour is governed or influenced by what is typical, expected or popular, rather than by what is required for your family, ethical and authentic, you don’t have a problem with your masculinity, you have a problem with your character.” Michael Ray
About the Author
Michael speaks about his insights from his personal journey raising his daughter and the profound impact being a solo dad has had on his outlook.
He conveys his important message to organisations and individuals, brimming with concrete, actionable research and guidance with a passion that inspires. (He also has a breadth of dad jokes!)
Michael addresses the gender and societal roles that are no longer applicable and the negative impact on organisational, business and personal outcomes. He speaks straight from the heart and his ability to connect, resonate and inspire people is obvious. “
Like ageing pop stars, we jostled with top billing and soundbites. Early attendees were treated to the sort of behind the scenes banter and rubbish jokes that you would expect from 4 white middle class dads (mostly in their 40s!)
Joking aside, the webinar was such a success we broke the internet – well Zoom had a technical issue that unexpectedly and annoyingly capped live attendees at 100. Lockdown maybe easing but technology shenanigans are still waiting to catch people out.
Contributors were Brian Ballantyne, Dan Reed, James Millar and myself, Ian Dinwiddy
Links to our work in the footnotes.
Quotes throughout were taken anonymously from the chat box.
Positives of Lockdown
James talked about time with his family, while recognising that isn’t a positive for everyone – depending on relationship tensions and available space, but for him real quality time without any fear of missing out and being able to eat flavoured crisps without their air pollution hampering face to face meetings!
Brian appreciated the chance to decompress, relishing the lack of a stressful commute.
Dan reflected on the unprecedented chance to spend time with his daughter, just turned 1, experiencing her milestones and being there for bedtime. In broader terms he made a great point about the democratisation of individual voices, with face to face opportunities likely to remain limited, location is no longer seen a disadvantage.
For me it was about the opportunity to invest in family time – weekend walks, movie night and eating together every day. We were all grateful and understanding of the privilege to have space inside to work and outside space to play.
Poll: What is the biggest challenge for working fathers?
A culture of presenteeism was the ‘winner’ with 42%, ahead of options
choice of flexible working denied,
fear of job loss and
obstructive line manager.
Here is selection of other challenges identified in the live chat
“Fear of cultural stereotype and social judgement”
“Sexism, managers, male and female, assuming that it should be a woman looking after children”
“Fear of Job Loss – if you’re not available then it’s not viewed upon ‘favourably’ “
“I think working Dad’s themselves are part of the problem in recognising their own journey, its challenges and being willing to reach out for help”
Challenges of Lockdown
Moving onto a discussion on the challenges of lockdown, James found it hard to find time to yourself and your own thoughts – despite the benefits of being together as a family there was a recognition from all of us that your own physical and emotional space really matters.
In contrast to Brian, Dan had found himself missing the commute – his time to listen to a podcast, play on the Switch or read. Instead replaced by zero commute time and a flip from “family mode” to “work mode” at 08:59 without so much as 15 minutes of mindfulness.
Brian’s comment about a “Maslow reset” (Hierarchy of Needs) resonated in the comments with worries about basic needs such as health, food (and toilet paper) having taken priority in the psyche.
We had all found it tricky to set and maintain barriers between work and home life, while at the same time accepting that one of the key ways for everyone to survive the process was to accept a degree of blend between work and family life, no matter how messy that could get.
What are the implications of the experience of working flexibly and remotely during lockdown for dads in future?
What key lessons can we take from this experience?
After these initial thoughts Rachel took us into bigger topics around flexible and remote working for dads, as Dan noted, many men see formal flexible working as “for mums.”
You can see why when last year Daddilife’s “Millennial Dad At Work” survey found that 63% of men surveyed had requested some form of flexibility, but of those who requested working from home (1-2 days a week), less than 1 in 5 of those were successful in their request (19%).
This isn’t flexible working
Early in lockdown James wrote an article pointing out that this version of remote working was not working from home and Dan echoed that point.
There’s nothing flexible about being forced to work from home in a space you share with your family and with school, formal childcare and informal family babysitting being taken away in one fell swoop.
My own experience of coaching and mentoring dads during Lockdown tells me that despite the practical and emotional challenges of lockdown, dads have also seen the benefits of being much more active and involved parents. They don’t want to return to the working structures of 2019, they want to design something that fits around their family life.
I think that that says a lot for just how broken the system has been, when, despite everything, a man in a 2 bed flat with a young baby tells you he wants to work from home regularly in the future.
I think that despite the chaos, stress, and tension of this surreal version of remote working, we’re learning something what single dads have always known – that breadwinner and carer are not separate roles.
“My current bug-bear is the preponderance of equality advocates who are too eager to classify bread-winning as somehow separate to care giving rather than a vital part of it which has allowed employers to be wilfully blind to parental responsibilities”
This messy, though ultimately rewarding, blend of work and life maybe be flawed but we want more of it.
Assumptions have flipped
Brian mused that the default has flipped. For office-based workers the default was office, with possibly some home / coffee shop / remote location and now we’ve gone the other way.
Yes there are consequences, as LinkedIn Change Maker John Adams pointed out this week, while major city / town centres and public transport firms will struggle in a new world of remote working, it does create an opportunity to rebalance the economy away from tax efficient corporate entities and into the hands of the local cafes and restaurants for instance.
Ultimately it needs to be about choice. Giving dads some sort of choice as to where to work to meet business and family objectives.
As James said recently, this is the route to “help fathers thrive and companies succeed.”
Not everyone wants to be in the office all the time, not everyone wants to be at home all the time, my wife (lawyer) is case in point. As part of writing this, I asked her what her ideal would be – 3 days in the London office, 2 days at home. But currently the 35-minute train journey isn’t very appealing…
At this point another poll Rachel ran showed – 82% planned to work more flexibility than pre-covid.
What guidance would you give to companies looking to support working dads and improve their experience at work, so they are able to be great employees and great dads
Ditch the assumptions
My response was stop assuming that working dads don’t have caring responsibilities or desires to be more involved in their children’s lives.
It’s so important to dig deep and have proper time-consuming human to human conversations to understand what sort of support each employee needs. The pressure and tension a dad might be facing as he tries to juggle his responsibilities may not be obvious, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Men have become adept at concealing the pressure they face, presenting a face of devotion to their business.
Companies need to treat everyone as individuals and understand that caring responsibilities aren’t just for mums. That sort of lazy thinking creates a 2-tier system that does nothing for gender equality, mental health or productivity.
From the chat box:
“Managers are key here. They should understand the individual’s needs and encourage them to flex in the way they need to. Plus, role model themselves.”
This comment from the chat illustrates how the mental health pressures that dads face collides with ethnicity:
“Sadly, I was signed off because of the extreme pressure and now there is another dad (a good friend) with 2 small children, he’s been signed off for 4 weeks (I was signed off for 2 weeks). Being the only black man in the office, I feel all your pressure plus…”
Understand the effect of school holidays – especially in 2020
It’s especially important at the moment – school summer holidays have started, and the vast majority of childcare settings are shut, plus large numbers of grandparents will still be shielding until at least 1st August.
Now is the time for business to understand the childcare responsibilities and support needs for all of their staff.
Tap into empathy
James talked about companies being both mindful of the return work challenges of returning from furlough AND also seeing it as an opportunity to improve empathy towards maternity returners amongst others.
“I’ve been on shared pat leave it is obviously great but a real eye opener for the bump back to work post maternity leave”
Identify and celebrate senior male role models
Working dads take their signals on behaviour from their male leadership.
Brian talked about changing to a more authentic version of himself, becoming a role model for active and involved fatherhood – blogging about fatherhood. His view was that if you can’t be yourself, consider if your company is the right place for you anyway.
But Dads do need to ask…
Lockdown has improved the awareness of personal circumstances and an element of everyone being in a similar boat. Communication has been enhanced, through the lens of Zoom it’s become more personal. Now more than ever is the time to future proof your life.
To ask for the long-term flexible working patterns you and your family need. If you’re a working dad with a working partner, what happens if you don’t push back?
Who picks up the pieces? Who looks after the children?
The good news is that good businesses will want to help.
So, if not now, then when?
Dads face risk
“The difficulty with asking for flexibility is that you worry that if the answer is no, then there will be further consequences in terms of career opportunities in future… I’m ashamed to say that I’ve put this (Zoom) in my calendar as a “private” meeting so my team can’t see what I’m doing at the moment.”
But we need to keep shouting about the benefits of flexible working.
Not just shouting because as James said on our podcast, it’s harder to be heard with a face mask on…
Mental Health Benefits for the whole family
Achievement benefits for our children
Improved relationships with partners = happier employees
Saving money on commuting
Saving money on office space
Don’t feel guilty about being a dad. Speak up, because it might be easier than you think.
“Sometimes things you think others would find difficult are actually OK, but we are worried what others would think”
“Yes, if we didn’t worry about what people thought, we would just ask for it.”
Enhanced Parental Leave is so important.
Shared Parental Leave suffers because families can’t afford to use it and it is dependent on a transfer of rights (usually from a woman to man)
James talked about the benefits Aviva found with 6-month full paid gender neutral parental leave – giving others the opportunity to step up and improving the skjills and capability of the business.
Gender neutral leave is also really important for same sex relationships:
“I’m a mother in a same sex relationship and because I wasn’t the pregnant one, I was also only entitled to two weeks paid time off (despite breastfeeding!) The policy documents that applied to me were named “paternity” policies.”
This comment hit the nail on the head:
“Puppies aren’t just for Christmas and dads aren’t just for parental leave – both have ongoing needs and responsibilities. Too many organisations are patting themselves on the back after providing a shared parental leave policy and then frowning when dad requests to attend school sports day, lipstick on a pig”
Finally, in one-word what would like to see happen in the workplace for dads.
“Working Dad stoicism – this forum is shattering that antiquated, defuncted belief system. It’s wonderful to hear that Dad’s no longer need to suppress their emotions or fear reprisals or shame for doing so. This is so refreshing, revitalising, and becalming”
Flexible working is a key tool to help working dads achieve improved work / life balance and be the involved, active and present father that surveys tell us that they want to be.
Helping dads to communicate their needs and desires about work life balance is vital to move the conversation about flexible and part time working away from just being a female ‘issue’ to becoming a people issue.
When society and the workplace see flexible working and caring responsibilities as not just something that men want, but as something that men are supported to fulfil then this will drive benefits for everyone.
No longer will the only way to get ‘ahead’ be to be ‘all in’, fully committed to your job to the detriment of all else. When we take the time and effort to communicate with men, to give them a safe space to share what they really want we can to start to design work to fit modern society.
“Benefits” of Covid-19
Covid -19 and the associated lockdown measures have become, for many men, a massive experiment in remote and flexible working. One that has been embraced by many.
“I’ve loved being able to work from home full time…we have a six month old now so I get to see him during the day a bit, feed him lunch, always have bath time at 5.30pm… it’s been a positive in an otherwise pretty weird / horrid time.
As workplaces start to open up, parents everywhere are under pressure to juggle potentially competing demands of work and family but without the school and childcare facilities they depend upon opening at the same rate.
We are at an incredibly tense time for gender equality. Despite reports showing that men have doubled their involvement in childcare, the burden still falls unequally and we face a real danger that in many families, men will be back “at work” and women will be left juggling everything else.
What can business do?
Businesses can help by not just assuming that only women have caring responsibilities and by being aware that in spite of the benefits of lockdown working life, men may fear the career implications of pushing back and trying to maintain access to the significant benefits of flexible or remote working.
Encouraging men to return to the workplace while supporting women to work from home does nothing for equality and mental health and potentially drives a wedge between couples.
Research by Pregnant Then Screwed found that “75% of working mums have struggled to manage childcare and their paid work during the pandemic while 57% of believe it has damaged their career prospects.”
It’s incredibly important for working dads to continue to strive for the type of flexible working that has worked during lockdown and driven equality.
Here’s a helpful reminder of the type of benefits…
1. Spend More Time With Your Family.
Commuters are now facing an average 58-minute daily journey – the equivalent of 27 working days a year… Londoners take the longest to get to and from work: 1 hour and 21 minutes each day.
Leaving home early and returning early evening means if you have young children it’s likely you’ll hardly see them during the week. A work / life balance fail…
Through flexible working you can use the time you normally waste travelling to the office and spend more with your family. Maybe you want to do some school pick ups and drop offs. Flexible working is the key to unlock that allowing you to be there for the times that matter.
2. Less Stress
Crammed into trains (mask on), crawling through traffic, blood pressure rising, it’s no wonder commuting is one of the most stressful events in people’s lives.
Yes, some stress can be good for you, but nobody ever said that about the stress of commuting. Working from home can play a big part in reducing your overall stress levels simply by removing your daily commute.
‘Not only are long commutes bad for our health, but they can affect our ability to concentrate at work. That’s bad for productivity, resulting in a lose/lose situation for employers, employees and the whole economy.’
Work / family balance was the #1 challenge facing working parents.
Women in particular also identified the ‘culture of inflexible work’.
Flexible working was seen by both men and women as the #1 solution to these challenges.
4. Supportive “Power Couple” Relationships
Real men not only want to spend more time with their families, they understand and help with the mental load.
It’s not just about your quality time with your children – life is a partnership and your presence has to be more than getting home on time and making great memories at the weekend.
Your role doesn’t begin and end with money in the bank and feeling good about yourself because your kids love you and you get to work from home once a week.
It has to be about taking on the “burden” of life.
It’s about pulling your weight, not waiting to be asked, about managing at home as well as at work.
Get that wrong and you’ll be staring down the barrel of divorce
“I think it’s time you had a chat about this situation. Ffs we do not live in the 18th century! Seriously if you have to go out to work, then the balance within the home needs to be altered too. Atm my oh is ironing whilst I am doing other jobs. If he did not help out with the kids/ housework etc I would just down tools.”
He says children whose dads actively engage with them will be smarter and more balanced.
“First of all, a hands-on father bolsters [a child], it inoculates them against the many much less fortunate role models that there are in society, which influences their development in terms of how they view themselves, the relationships they will form with other people and as parents in their own right.”
“Children were more likely to show behavioral problems if their fathers were overly involved psychologically in their careers… A father (who is) noticeably absent when he is on his digital device — was also linked with children having emotional and behavioral problems “
There you go, 5 great reasons why flexible working needs to stay. It’s up to everyone to create a new normal, but for men my message is simple – guys you’ve seen the benefits, now it’s time to celebrate father’s day by holding on to your flex and continuing to demonstrate “how to be a great dad AND have a great career.”
A week before the UK went into lockdown, my family and I were already in self-isolation. Both the kids had a temperature, and I’d had strange fever-like symptoms. I’d been in London the week before delivering a talk on why dads matter in the workplace, and I remember Coronavirus being discussed more and more.
Then, lockdown happened. And to be honest, it felt like a bit of an adventure. The four of us against the world. Working from home for a couple of weeks (maybe a month, tops)… what’s not to like? I was a pro at working from home. Heck, I gave talks to companies about why flexible working was so important.
But what at first seemed like an exciting adventure for a small period of time quickly turned into an unwavering nightmare that had – and has – no end date. I’ve gone through the whole range of emotions associated with grief (several times, in fact). I’ve read the advice for parents trying to work and home school. I’ve joined Zoom calls to catch up with friends. I’ve hosted LinkedIn Live virtual coffee chats.
And – as I write this going into the middle of June – I’m conscious of two competing thoughts: Lockdown has been great in allowing me to spend more time with my family, particularly my 11 month old daughter. Lockdown has also been incredibly difficult for me to take ‘me time’.
Starting with the positive, I have had more time with my baby daughter than I ever thought possible without sacrificing my career. I’ve seen her first crawl, first clap, and first independent stand. She also accepts me more than my son ever did at that age, too. I can actually settle her to sleep (I don’t know how big an issue that is in your household, but in mine it’s huge). I’m incredibly grateful for that.
But I can’t overlook the negative. My wife is up throughout the night, so I take both kids at around 6.30am and try to let my wife sleep for as long as possible. In the week, that’s usually until just before 9. I then transform from ‘dad mode’ at 8:59 to ‘work mode’ at 9:00. Personally, I’m finding that incredibly difficult. People say to me, ‘Dan, you must love not having a commute anymore’. On the contrary: that was two hours of ‘me’ time. I crave it. I’m really missing it.
I’ve had some advice on how I can meditate before work, or go for a quick walk. Maybe I can. But there’s no way I’m going to put that onto my wife if it means she has to wake up earlier so I can have me time. So I’ll find another way.
The million dollar question is: I can’t have one without the other… so would I change anything? Would I be prepared to miss this quality time and these milestones if it meant I, and others, could have some sense of normality. If I’m honest with myself, I think I would. Does that make me a bad father? I don’t think so. I think it just means I’m honest about how difficult the situation is… and the grass is always greener.
However, we are where we are. It’s been incredibly tough. But at least I can always remember the time I did have with my family – particularly my daughter. It has definitely given me food for thought.
By Dan Reed
For further great articles by Dan and his podcast, see his website.
If you want some entertainment, his daily video diaries of life during lockdown with kids are a lot of fun.
I’ve given presentations inspired by my book Dads Don’t Babysit at government departments, universities and City institutions. I always start by introducing myself as a journalist, author, editor, podcaster and then, inevitably, I add, “Oh, and I’m a dad.”
Why is my most important and fundamental role an afterthought? Partly because I take it for granted, partly because like so many parents it doesn’t seem natural to blend personal and professional life.
Lockdown’s changed all that for me and many other fathers.
Pre-lockdown, even as I spent my days editing workingdads.co.uk and writing about why men should get more involved in family life my offspring were out at school. Now we’re all sat around the kitchen table. Family life has moved off the page and unfolds in front of my face.
It’s not been that way for everyone. I’ve heard countless tales from mums of partners who spend the day holed up in a makeshift office while the woman juggles work, homeschool, squabbling siblings and the not inconsiderable new burden of feeding the whole family three times a day. I feel sorry for those women. I feel sorry for those men too.
They’ve missed out on a unique opportunity to sample a new way of living that rebalances that work-life equation.
Working from home is not for everyone. Engaged fatherhood does not bring benefits if it is enforced. Just ask the generations of women forced into the domestic sphere by social and economic pressures they could not challenge.
But at the heart of Dads Don’t Babysit is a quest for genuine choice.
Partly that means changing the law so men can have more paternity leave if they want it and have a proper shot at parenting. A fortnight with a newborn and a partner recovering from childbirth is not a good guide to the next 18 years of bringing up a child. And when it comes to engendering genuine choice extra paternity leave, whether it be standalone or as part of the Shared Parental Leave scheme, must be properly funded. Currently a man looking to take some leave later in his child’s first year will likely face a significant drop in income from his salary to the statutory parental pay rate of around £150 per week.
But making a genuine choice doesn’t just mean having the options laid out in front of you.
I could choose to spend 20p on a tomato or a lemon. If I don’t know the difference between them I could end up with a sharp surprise.
So it goes with fatherhood. Parents ought to be able to try before they buy. Currently mother is funnelled by society and economy into taking on more domestic work, and that can leave a bitter taste. While father is sent back to work after a couple of weeks and his experience of family life is limited to bedtime and weekends, not enough time to practise parenting and gain the necessary confidence.
At this point in the blog writing process my son is marching round the garden loudly telling me about jellybeans that taste of dog food and ranking ice lollies by flavour. This is lockdown work and parenting. It’s frustrating. It’s not like normal working from home. But it’s a chance like many dads have never had to immerse themselves in family life. Children talk about jelly beans. They test your patience. But I’d far rather look up from my computer to see him swinging from a tree in the garden and eating an ice lolly than my usual view of next door’s cat strutting across the lawn.
And there’s encouraging signs that men are doing more around the house during lockdown, and enjoying it. You can take your pick of the statistics. They all show women still doing more than their fair share. But it is a positive that men are engaging. Boxfresh research for the daddilife website found respondents all reported more playtime, cooking and homeschooling. (The latter two are more important to achieving gender equality than the first.) But the crucial bit is that the men are keen to change. A third pledged to build more quality family time into their lives in future. Nearly half are seeking more flexible or remote working from their employers.
As lockdown eases more change is inevitable. But if the pandemic robbed us of agency, easing restrictions puts it back in our own hands.
If you want to carry on working from home, ask for it. Employers can no longer claim it can’t be done. Business as usual will be the path of least resistance for bosses but it won’t be the right route for many who want to rebalance work with life. We’ve let work into our homes this spring, employers must now allow us to shape work to fit our domestic responsibilities.
And if men take those steps everyone benefits. Fathers who are more engaged enjoy better mental health and longer life expectancy. Women are freed from the weight of the domestic load and have the opportunity to forge more fulfilling and/or lucrative careers. Kids with more engaged dads turn out smarter and happier. Society is richer, both in terms of GDP and diversity.
There’s been much talk of a new normal post Covid. A kinder community. We can achieve that if men take the opportunity to cement the changes in working practices and family life that have been forced upon us all this spring.
Enjoy a relaxing Father’s Day and make the most of it. Because to forge a better life for everyone after the pandemic we dads have work to do.
‘I never thought of you as someone who does DIY,’ was my Dad’s reaction to the news that I’d managed to fix our washing machine. Inspired by the YouTube videos of eSpares.co.uk, I successfully replaced the carbon brushes in our Bosch washer; I keep the worn-out coils in a souvenir box like baby’s first kiss-curls. My Dad was right, I’d never imagined myself that I would be able to repair any kind of domestic appliance, but unable to get a professional round during the Covid crisis, it was time to roll up my sleeves and have a crack at it.
My sleeves were already rolled up from a few weeks of handwashing laundry in our bathtub; at one point I even considered investing in a mangle to squeeze more water out of the dripping wet clothes and towels. Covid lockdown was becoming a stark reality-check on the basics of living together as a family. From laundry and cleaning, constant cooking and washing up, to face-masked grocery shopping, all while trying to keep the kids on track with school, and the ball rolling with work. And I am one of the lucky ones, with a job that I can do from home … on the eye-tiring screen of my laptop, and with a WiFi connection that regularly crashes.
Instability has been a theme for me during Covid, not just for the internet, but psychologically in terms of mental strain, and physically for the health and safety of my family. Before the start of lockdown I was terrified that one of my children was going to catch the virus, and I lay awake at 3am thinking through how I could nurse him, while avoiding contaminating the whole family. The next day, once the children were finally off school, I fed them oranges in the hope of boosting their immune systems, to stand more of a chance of fighting Corona if they got it. As a loving father, I have always tried to shield my children from danger.
Setting boundaries is an important part of parenting, and kids can feel more secure when they have a boundary to kick against. During Covid I also set boundaries for myself, on when I am going to be online with work, when I am present with the family, and frankly when I need time to disconnect on my own. When everyone is on top of each other and going stir crazy, it’s inevitable that tensions will flare up, so communication has been vital, trying to recognise and express our needs to each other. If I have video calls for work, I chalk the times on the IKEA blackboard in our kitchen, alongside our “Family Member of the Day” award (we vote on a winner, and they get a song from Alexa and choose what we watch on Netflix).
A major part of my mental perseveration during Covid, beyond social media distancing, has been walking in our local Luxembourg forests. Taking time each morning to get outdoors, in amazing weather, has been an effective way to clear my head and keep things in balance. It is definitely something that I will try to keep as we emerge into a new normal. There are many things about flexible working and engaging with my family that I’d like to continue, although working from home is certainly going to be less stressful once the kids are back at school. I have mixed feelings about going back to the office, top of mind is booking a holiday! For this Father’s Day, I will be content with the simple pleasure of an empty laundry basket.
When I was growing up in a market
town in Somerset, dads went to work and provided, and mums looked after the
house and made sure everyone was fed. We
didn’t know any gangsters, so my dad was the first person I knew who had a Carphone
(back when The Carphone Warehouse seemed like the obvious name for a business).
He was a surveyor, out on the road
in Somerset – calling in his reports over the phone to be typed up in the
office. But despite the technology there never seemed any danger of being
‘always on’, technology was an enabler.
In fact, my dad even had flexible
working – he scheduled his own diary of house surveyor visits and frequently
made his schedule fit the away sports matches my brother and I were involved in
years on I can look back and appreciate that he had the type of hands on
involved parenting opportunity that many men today are striving to achieve.
working and Paternity Leave initiatives are bound up together. They both represent
potential opportunities to support the desire of a new generation of men to
have greater involvement in raising their children and by doing so to move
towards equality of opportunity in the home and the workplace for both genders.
a long way to go to normalise equality of choice when it comes to parenting but
on International Men’s Day it’s good to reflect on some of the key milestones
towards parenting equality.
1999 Set up of the Fatherhood Institute – “a great dad for every child”
2003 Statutory Paternity Leave
In 2001, Gordon Brown included men’s right to paternity leave in his Budget and, from 2003, male employees received paid statutory paternity leave for the first time.
2011 Additional Paternity Leave
were given the right to take six months statutory paternity leave while their
partners returned to work, in effect taking the place of the mother at home.
2014 Flexible Working Rights
right to request flexible working was extended to all UK employees with at
least 26 weeks’ service with the same employer on 30 June 2014.
2015 Shared Parental Leave
Shared Parental Leave
allows you to share up to 50 weeks’ parental leave and 37 weeks’ pay with your
partner. Each parent can take up to three blocks of leave, more if their employer
allows, interspersed with periods of work.
2017 Aviva set the bar high for parental leave
From November 2017 Aviva became the first UK firm to offer up to one year of leave, of which 26 weeks’ is at full basic pay for each parent employed by the company within the first 12 months of a child’s arrival.
2018 NZ Prime Minister takes Maternity Leave
Arden took 6 weeks of maternity leave while in office and then her partner, a
TV presenter, became a stay-at-home dad to baby Neve, a great example of
showing that no job is too big for spending time
with your children.
they became the first to offer 9 months full pay parental leave.
to be done
I was amazed to
discover that paid paternity leave has only been around since 2003 in the UK
and even 15 years on, when a child is born the dad (or the other parent or
partner) gets just two weeks statutory paternity leave paid at £148.68 per week, less than half of minimum
leave uptake is very low:
Analysis by the University of Birmingham found only 9,200 new parents (just over 1% of those entitled) took shared parental leave in 2017-18. That increased to 10,700 in the financial year 2018-19.
Moves around the fringes of government are important indications as to
which way the wind is blowing – even if parliamentary time seems taken up with
2018 the government announced that it planned to consult on a bill that would
require large employers to publish their parental leave package. Read more here
Whately, Conservative MP for Faversham and Mid Kent a introduced the flexible
working bill, to make all jobs flexible by default unless the employer has a
sound business reason why particular hours in a particular place are
required. Read more here about
what this #FlexforAll bill is all about.
moves but in the UK we remain a way away from the gold standard of well paid,
protected parental leave for fathers.
Why does parental
Gain Empathy & Awareness of Bias
job be safe? What would it mean for my career? How would it impact my team?”
Then, he adds: “It hit me like a freight train. These are worries that women in
the workplace have been facing for generations”.
Well paid protected leave is a key part of
breaking cultural assumptions which perceive childcare as a woman’s job, it
supports equality of choice in families and is good for mental health,
relationships and women’s income prospects.
On International Men’s Day we should be setting
the bar much higher than 2 weeks of below minimum wage leave. It does nothing
for families, for fathers or for mothers.
This is what society and business needs:
flexible working as a default position for all.
leave provisions for new parents.
with paternity coaching before and after their paternity leave.
and support senior fatherhood role models.
support and persevere with fatherhood community initiatives in the workplace.
Having just had Father’s Day, it’s worth reflecting on what dads really want. We know a lie in would be good, socks even better and maybe a novelty selection of real ales. But in terms of the workplace, dads just want to have options. Options about how to organise their working lives, without being told that they can’t raise their children or that being a committed dad means you can’t be committed to work.
A New Generation of Dads
A whole new generation of men want to
be much more actively involved in raising their children. They expect equality
in the workplace and at home and they are frustrated when their needs and the
needs of their families can’t be met.
In short they want to be great dads and
have great careers.
GQ magazine found
that the number 1 aspect of modern masculinity, identified by 66% of Men was
“being a present father”.
Income and childcare priorities change
and for many heterosexual couples the certainty of a man being fully committed
to his career, while a female partner takes on the majority of the childcare
can give great comfort and certainty.
However we do an enormous disservice to
society, the workplace and individuals when we assume that men don’t want to be
fully involved as parents. That attitude is no more valid or helpful than
assuming that women only want to stay at home and look after children.
We need to allow couples to make
genuine choices – both for their own benefit and for benefits of building
gender diverse workplaces.
When we cannot tell whether a man or a woman is more likely to take parental leave or seek flexible working, gender ceases to be an issue in hiring and promotion decisions.
The Good, the Bad
and the Ugly.
As a man access to flexible work can be
difficult to achieve. It can be seen as a perk of seniority or as something
that solves a female childcare ‘issue’.
72% feared their
employer’s reaction if they asked for flexible working.
But when it works well the benefits to the man, the family and their partner are clear to see as the ‘Good’ storyof Susha and Magnus and will show. The example of the ‘Bad’ show how a lack of flexibility for Dads will cost businesses their talent and the motivation and good will of their staff. Finally the ‘Ugly’ shines a light on the type of casual dismissive bias that one man faced trying to access part time work. It shows how attitudes towards men’s flexible and part time working desires can directly and negatively effect women’s aspirations.
Things will change but this Father’s Day we need to think about the next generation of Father’s Day.
“The current crop of
male, mid-fifties business leaders are completely out of touch in respect to
the changes to the role of the father that have taken place in the two decades
since they were young dads.”
Susha Chandrasekhar is a Senior Lawyer at the Department for Business.
Her husband is Dr Magnus Ryner, Professor of International Political Economy and Head of the Department of European & International Studies at Kings College, London
Their son is called Axel.
Susha kindly shared their story…
“I am a lawyer working part-time which is demanding since my responsibilities include EU issues. Fortunately, my husband’s (more than) full-time work can be carried out flexibly. He comes into and leaves the office at different times, works from home, and catches up on things in the evenings on the days he does the school pick-up. My husband is an academic which helps but professors have to teach, attend meetings, supervise students, undertake research etc. which require a physical presence in the office or a library. It’s still a juggling act.”
Here are the top 7 ways in which my husband’s flexible pattern improves my
1. Morning mayhem
My husband does the morning shift and
the school run. That pressure is off me as soon as I wake up which is always a
good start. I do the evening routine of bath-book-bed.
2. School pick-up
My husband does two school pick-ups a
week so there are least two days on which:
I do not have to rush home and can deal with last minute work emergencies;
My husband helps our son with his reading and maths homework; and
There is dinner on the table for me when I come through the front door.
The other 3 weekdays on which I do the
pick-ups, my husband gets these benefits in return.
3. Dealing with
It is not the default position
that I drop everything and deal with a sick child. We see whose schedule is the
more flexible. Sometimes it’s his.
4. Caring for Grandparents
There comes a time when our own parents
need care. I value the chance to do this.
As we do the childcare ourselves, we do
not need to employ a nanny which is expensive.
If my husband says he will do
something, he has the flexibility to do it. I feel assured it will be done
without having to check up on it.
7. Frazzle factor
I can deal with the organisation of
raising a child e.g. costumes, presents, dental appointments without too much
stress. I also enjoy time with my family and friends instead of fretting
non-stop about everything that needs to be done.
“No system is perfect and ours breaks down once in a while when the adventures of life are thrown at it. But one thing makes us truly happy. When our son cries out when he has a nightmare or has fallen over, he doesn’t just call for “Mummy, Mummy”, he calls for “Mummy-Daddy, Mummy-Daddy.” To him, we’re equally present, equally important. To us, his opinion is the most important one.”
The Bad – Losing Talented Staff
James wanted flexible working after the birth of
He worked long hours
for a private jet firm, but wanted more flexibility after his baby was born.
While the official office hours were 9am to 6pm, in reality everyone was in the
office until 8.30pm.
“If you didn’t
do that it was frowned upon. I was struggling,” he says. He had been at
the firm for four years and was one of its top sellers, so he asked for
flexible working and expecting a positive response.
“I tried to talk
to them several times, but it was always a blanket ‘no’ because they said
others would want to do it too.”
In the end, he quit,
and now the 28-year-old works for his father’s firm Bloomsbury Estates where he
says he’s happy to work at home on weekends to catch up from when he leaves
early in the week.
‘Phil’ tried to get part time work in
SW England so that he could support his partner’s work expansion plans by
taking on more of the childcare responsibilities, including looking after a boy
on the autism spectrum.
He struggled badly in the recruitment
process and ended up having to take a full-time role.
Farcical the amount
of times I have heard “overqualified” or “you would be
bored” or “your skills wouldnt be used” in spite of yelling into
peoples faces that I only wanted part time and 2 days a week would not be
Could it be because you are a man?
It definitely is. One of the interviews I had I actually was told that I would probably be embarrassed being shown the systems by a 20 year old girl. “Considering my experience.”Ironically, i would say the most dismissive were female HR professionals, which makes it even more of a joke.ICasual sexism?
I think more unconscious bias as the notion that a
white middle aged straight male with no disability under the Equality Act could
feel discriminated against is laughable. I flip it round as well… are we saying that part time ‘easy’ office
work is the only thing young women or mums can do?
As a footnote, the
role I secured is the 1st full time role I applied for. But that was secured
through a friend in recruitment who could see off the bias before it was
What do we need to do
Let’s forget the socks and real ale
gift sets this year…
Encourage and support dads to talk about the pressures they face.
Normalise flexible and part time work for men.
Senior men to lead by example – embracing flexible working opportunities –
making it ok for men in the workplace to spend time with their kids.
Change the working culture so that raising happy, successful children isn’t
just a female thing.
Dads will be happier and more fulfilled and the opportunities for families to choose how best to arrange their working lives will increase.