And now, guilt-ridden dads!

And now, guilt-ridden dads!


Conscious choice: Once fathers also start demanding flexible working, it could make it easier for women to get it. PIC GETTY IMAGESWorking fathers are struggling to juggle the competing demands of family and career, according to a report that shows that they are just as uneasy with their work-life balance as mothers.

The report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) suggests that the long-running debate over the pressures experienced by working mothers, who strive to “have it all” — children and careers — is just as relevant to working fathers. Studies on work-life balance have usually focused on women, helping to create a stereotype of the guilt-ridden mother, who professes to be cutting corners in every segment of her life. The Fathers, Family and Work report, published on Wednesday, attempts to redress this emphasis on women, looking at men’s attitudes to work and family life, and finding fathers equally under pressure.

Research conducted by the EHRC shows many fathers are dissatisfied with the amount of time they spend at work and the amount of time they spend with their children.

Family first

Some 54 per cent of fathers with children under one felt they were not devoting enough time to them, while 42 per cent of fathers felt they were not able to spend enough time with their children.

The report also found 62 per cent of fathers thought that, in general, fathers should spend more time caring for their children. The research confirmed fathers are working long hours, with six out of 10 working more than 40 hours a week.
“The desire of many fathers to spend more time with their children can be frustrated by long working hours and inflexible workplaces, leading to tensions between work and family,” the report says.

Fathers were more unhappy with their working hours than mothers. Only 46 per cent of fathers thought they spent “about the right amount of time” at work, compared with 61 per cent of mothers.

The report paints a picture of a modern working father who feels miserable about the proportion of time he is able to devote to his children, but who is too nervous to demand flexible working from his employers.

Nervous about flexi-time

About two in five men fear that asking for flexible working arrangements would result in their commitment to their job being questioned, and would negatively affect their chances of promotion. Although men are entitled to two weeks’ statutory paternity leave in the UK, 45 per cent of men did not take it, with most saying they would have liked to. The most common reason was because the fathers felt they could not afford to.
Dr Katherine Rake, Chief Executive of the Family and Parenting Institute, said: “This is a very timely report. It reminds us that parenting is about more than mothers. Fathers want to spend more time with their children and they are facing the same issues about how to balance work and family life as mothers.”

The report finds there is still a wide gulf between an aspiration to share responsibilities for children and the practical division of labour. “Although fathers express egalitarian views, in practice most still work full-time and their partners provide the bulk of childcare within the family,” it says.

Campaigners for better flexible working opportunities for mothers said these were familiar concerns.

Justine Roberts, co-founder of online parenting network Mumsnet, said: “Welcome to our world. Yes, your career prospects do get materially impaired by wanting to put your family first, and that's something women have been wrestling with for years.”

Work-life balance

But Roberts welcomed any growth in pressure from fathers for flexible working, because she said this would ultimately reduce the strain on women. “Unless men start thinking about this, the culture will never change,” she said. “Once fathers also start demanding flexible working, it will make it easier for women to get it. At the moment, employers think of women as a potential burden because they worry they will want flexible conditions. It will be helpful for women and their prospects once men are also seen as likely to demand flexible working.”

Becky Sibert, policy officer at Families Need Fathers, welcomed the report. She said: “It is clear the government’s approach for supporting balancing work and childcare commitments is outdated. We know from our experience that fathers want to spend more time with their families and that policy doesn’t support this. We support the EHRC report which expands paternity and parental leave schemes.”

Anne Madden, an EHRC policy adviser, said: “One solution for enabling women to spend more time at work would be to allow fathers to spend more time with their children.”
End of juggling act?

The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, said he empathised with the portrait of men battling to reconcile professional and family commitments. “Like most parents, Miriam and I are both constantly trying to juggle long hours at work with trying to spend as much time as possible with our kids,” he said. “It is about time that fathers struggling to combine work and family life get the same level of attention as mothers do. It looks like ideas on how to ‘have it all’ are finally no longer just confined to the pages of women’s magazines.”