As working from home becomes increasingly common, other cultural shifts are also starting to emerge. More dads are now taking on the childcare duties and dealing with the work-life juggle more commonly associated with women. How we view the role of working dads is changing and many are clamouring to have a more active role in family life.
Words: Ian Dinwiddy, founder, Inspiring Dads
Our family is ‘unusual’. I’m the lead on the full range of parenting activity. As one of a growing number of work-from-home dads, I do the school runs (both ends of the day), I do the shopping, the online shopping, the cooking, the after-school activities, the buying of birthday cards and presents. I’m in the school year WhatsApp group. I make sure we don’t leave all the homework to Sunday afternoon.
Note though that I said I’m the lead parent, not the only one. We’re active joint parents. She’s in the WhatsApp group. She accesses the homework page so she knows what needs to be done. She gets the school email and the swim class email. We decided back in 2009 that I would be the one who would always ‘be there’. But that decision didn’t abdicate my wife of responsibility.
How dads need to communicate with themselves
In my line of work — coaching working Dads — I talk a lot about communication. Both in terms of men communicating with themselves, being honest about what sort of life they actually want to live, then communicating effectively with their partners, designing a life together that works for the whole family.
My clients are usually men who are feeling torn between being a great dad AND having a great career. In many ways, they are facing the challenge that women have become used to: How to “have it all”.
The difference is that as a rule, men aren’t so good at communicating with themselves —let alone with others— about how they really feel about their circumstances. Plenty of men will tackle their challenges by being brave, stoic and ‘the rock’, exhibiting traits associated with and admired in men.
It isn’t surprising that mental health issues can arise when new fathers face the twin pressures of being a breadwinner and wanting to be actively involved in young children’s lives. But they often unable to express that pressure to anyone. They bottle up their emotions and delay tackling difficult issues.
Getting honest with what you want for yourself
My coaching process begins with getting honest. When I work with men in a coaching and mentoring capacity, we start with a ‘Wheel of Life’ before moving onto a thorough understanding of:
• Who they want to be
• What they want to do
• What they want to have
Understanding these priorities gives them the start point to have honest conversations with their partners. When we listen to what men, and especially working dads, actually want, we find flexible working and family-friendly work patterns are really important.
“Our study found that nearly two thirds (63%) of dads have requested a change in working pattern since becoming a father.”daddilife.com
What is the mental load and why does it matter?
Work from home dads or men who work flexibly report a far greater understanding of the pressures and challenges that women have more typically faced — “the mental load”.
The Mental Load is the activity of organising family life. Even in families where both couples work, the load falls disproportionately on to women.
In The NY Times piece called “What ‘Good’ Dads Get Away With”, they pointed out that it would be “another 75 years before men do half the work.”
Mental load matters because it takes time and energy and acts as a barrier to female participation in the workplace. When men understand it and experience it first-hand, it makes a real difference to rebalancing family life.
Empathy by men for the scale of the unpaid caring role that women in ‘traditional’ relationships typically take on makes a huge difference in a society that considers Prince Harry to be a great dad because he changes nappies. The bar is set painfully low but it can be changed.
Tips for effective family communications
In the same way that I urge men to open up about the type of caring roles they want to take on, it’s equally important for their partners to tackle the inequalities that can easily build up in family life.
• Create a safe space for working parents to talk through pressures.
Be open and honest — and for men in particular — make it ok to express the desire to be a caring parent and have a great career. Let go of the guilt and create or reaffirm family objectives…
To read the full article and the entire communication issue of The Homeworker magazine, find it here.