In contemporary Britain the main responsibility for parenting still tends to fall on women; trapping fathers in the role of provider, nobly sacrificing quality family time to meet the needs of his employer.
Nearly 3000 parents contributed to a recent survey by the Modern Families Index. Around fifty percent of the working fathers involved claimed they would love to take a job with less stress, primarily so they could have more time to care for and generally be with their kids.
The charity, Working Families, reports that other men feel the same, with around a third of fathers in employment even willing to go so far as to sacrifice some of their salary for the chance to have a little more time at home.
Not all employers are sympathetic to fathers in this situation, expecting men to prioritise their jobs, and work overtime as required, regardless of family commitments. According to the charity, this attitude could well lead to a situation termed the ‘fatherhood penalty’, which describes the situation of dads who are forced to take a lower skilled job with less pay than they usually would in order to be the kind of parent they want to be. This is something women have, of course, faced for many decades.
Attitudes to parenting are not static throughout history, and in the 21st century being a hands-on father is not unusual. Although women still tend to be the more active overall, more and more men are opting in to full-time parenthood.
As the employer focused organisation, the Institute of Directors (IOD), points out, all the good intentions in the world mean nothing if there are no policies and no legislation in place to support them. Flexible employment opportunities, along with independent access to parental leave, would allow parents to share childcare duties more equally, which in turn benefits not just the families themselves, but also businesses and the economy.
Unfortunately, as Adrienne Burgess, chief executive of the Fatherhood Institute, points out, The option of ‘shared parental leave’ has been hyped as a real move forward, but in practice less than half of all couples actually qualify.
Perhaps it is time to stop paying lip service to the employment support fathers are asking for, and overhaul the system from the bottom up.
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