Opinion: Fire your work! Why it's important for dads to think about how work fits with family life.

There is an interesting contradiction in the way that the 'traditional model' of parenthood has changed in our society. 

Traditionally dad goes off to win the bread while mum stays at home to nurture the children. Dad may contribute at times but clearly the nurturing and raising of children is primarily the woman's job. For a long time women with children were restricted - the arrival of kids also signalled the end of their career as their world narrowed down into a small child-shaped box.

Happily, women are no longer expected to 'just' stay at home or give up their careers. There is not the pressure that a woman with a child can 'only' be a mum. More and more women are working as well as caring for their child. While things could be better and there is still progress to be made it's great that women have more freedom than they previously did. 

What men look like at work

What men look like at work

It's interesting that we haven't seen a similar transition for men - the default for nearly all men is to continue working. Generally (not always), it is assumed that if anyone is going to lessen the amount of work they do, it will be the woman. This seems to be an assumption made by nearly all parties - men, women, employers, broader society. And while the perception of dads role as a nurturer has increased I would argue that most still primarily see this as a motherly role. Unfortunately this status quo has had some unhelpful consequeunces for some - men who feel their work gets in the way of fatherhood, dads who feel 'obligated' to work to provide for their family or women who feel trapped in a can't-win decision between returning to work/staying at home with child/placing child in childcare.

We've chosen to go a different route. My wife and I both work part-time and split the care of our son evenly between the two of us. We feel like it's given us the best of both worlds as we have the joy of both spending decent time with our son while also having the challenge, fulfillment and stimulation of working alongside that. While we're not unique we're certainly in a minority in pursuing this.

We are fortunate in that we were both happy to spend time caring for our son, while we also both wanted to work and don't have work in careers that restrict our ability to work part-time. I realise that not everyone is fortunate enough to have things align for them this easily (not that there haven't been challenges - less choice of part-time work, lower income to name just a couple for us), but for me good parenting and living a meaningful life usually don't have much to do with ease - so don't let it being hard be the thing that stops you.

This might not be something that you or your partner have ever considered. It could be something that you have considered before but have dismissed as an unrealistic option. It might be something you've thought lots about but have felt uncomfortable raising with your partner. Or perhaps you're a mum-to-be reading this feeling like your partner's assumptions or attitudes about work are leaving you with an uncomfortable choice you don't feel is fair, like the one outlined above. No matter what boat you're in if any of this is resonating or ringing bells for you then take the time to think about it and talk it through with your partner.

Some discussion/thinking starters:

Dads-to-be (or dads) - How do you expect your roles to breakdown once baby has arrived? Do you expect your partner to stay at home and/or work less to look after your child? Why? Is your attitude/commitment to work infringing either on your partner's ability to work or your ability to be the best dad you can be? Does your career facilitate good fatherhood or make it harder?

Partners - Encourage your partner to think about their role. All many men need is just a bit of encouragement to think differently and move towards more involvement in looking after baby. Do you expect them to go to work full-time to provide income for your family? If you do it's good to ask yourself why and whether this is best for you/him/baby.

I'm not saying that an arrangement where mum works less/focuses solely on childcare while dad works full-time (or vice-versa for that matter) or where your child is put in childcare full-time so can both work is bad in any way. It works fantastically well for many. What I am saying is that the same passivity that previously assumed that mum would simply stay at home also works in reverse today in assuming that dad will continue to work and is unlikely to spend as much time at home.

No matter what route you take don't rob yourself of the opportunity to invest time and love in your children. You only have your children once, so no matter what arrangement you make, make sure you are making the most of it. And if you are continuing to work full-time but your hours are long or your job is particularly stressful/tiring it may be worth reflecting on whether that's impinging on your ability to be the best dad you can be?

As a dad, whether you work full-time, part-time or not at all you can still be a fantastic dad. Having a child does re-align things and shakes up so much of life. Interestingly for many men though the world of work is one place that is often left relatively untouched. This may work brilliantly for you and your partner (great!) or it may be an ongoing nightmare for one or both of you (time to do something about it...). But whether working life looks markedly different for you and/or your partner or whether it's business as usual after the arrival of your little one, make sure that you've intentionally organised your work-life to suit you, your partner and your little one as much as possible.

Dave

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"Man at Work" photo by Mount Pleasant Granary is licensed under CC BY 2.0