A study carried out by Oxford University claims that, although men desire to share parenting equally with their partners, the pressure of juggling a career and a family life is actually forcing them back into the ‘traditional’ roles that their own parents played.
A small sample group of middle class, first-time fathers were tracked for eight months from just before the birth of their children and researchers found that their expectations floundered as soon as they went back to work after their fortnight’s paternity leave. Initially the majority had claimed that they would not necessarily become the main provider whilst their other halves looked after the children, but fears for future job prospects eventually deterred them from taking a career break to help around the house, according to the study.
Obviously these men all became dads before the introduction of shared parental leave for parents of children born on or after 5th April 2015, which now allows the father to take over the leave period at any point, up to 12 months after the birth. That would possibly allay the job fears, but some commentators have pointed out that even with the new law, some companies offer enhanced parental leave packages to mums that they do not for dads.
The study is interesting but, as with all stories vying for space in the news agenda, it polarises a topic which is actually a far more nuanced collection of shades of grey. Just because a dad can’t be at home to do exactly 50 percent of the parenting (and how would you even measure that?), doesn’t mean he has to instantly turn into some kind of Homer Simpson character, strolling in at 6pm and demanding his tea on the table and a cold can of beer opened without even noticing the baby.
There are millions of working dads who are far more hands-on than previous generations, even with their time at home severely restricted. Whether it’s changing nappies, doing the breakfast routine, the dreaded night feeds, bathtime or bedtime, you do what you can but you don’t have to do everything (unless that’s what works, obviously).
The fact is that, in every two parent family, at least one parent generally needs to go out to work and earn money and will, therefore, not get to do as much baby wrangling as they’d like. In our society it is most often (but nowhere near always) the dad, for a multitude of reasons. Perhaps Shared Parental Leave will start to change that, perhaps it won’t, but no one should be feeling pressured to parent in any way other than what suits their family the best. It’s not all or nothing as the Oxford University report suggests.
Whether its mum, dad or both parents working, your ‘hands-on’ rating is earned by what you do when you’re able to be there, not what you can’t do for the 8, 10, 12 hours you’re at work.