Modern dads and the difficult conversations ahead

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It’s been a very interesting time for working dads recently. First, the good news – the recent election was the first time I can remember in my lifetime where dads, and working dads in particular, have been referenced directly across all the main political party manifestos.

Statutory paternity leave has been far too low for too long and it was a very encouraging sign that this was referenced alongside themes around shared parental leave and flexible work. Though the election result itself may have brought more questions than answers overall, it was encouraging to see new light shone on the life of the modern day dad.

It’s clear that much has changed about fatherhood in the last decade, and as dads look to create a more balanced role across work and home, recent research by Working Families showed just how much of a driver a more active home-role is for dads.

In a poll of 300 dads, the survey found:

  • More than a third of fathers (36%) say their current working arrangements don’t support them to fulfil their childcare responsibilities.
  • Four out of 10 fathers (40%) want to play a more active role in the upbringing of their children.
  • One in five fathers (18%) want to share childcare responsibilities more equally with their partner

A more active role – a sense of wellbeing

It’s that middle statistic in particular that is telling: 40% wanting a more active role is a big figure. More recent research has revealed that this isn’t just a nice-to-have for dads, it’s a core desire that’s starting to affect their wellbeing too.

A recent US study of 1,200 dads found that dad guilt was markedly on the rise, with dads feeling guilty when they spend too long at work at the expense of time with their children and when they spend too much time at home, to the detriment of their roles as breadwinners. It found:

  • 20% of dads suffer directly from ‘dad-guilt’.
  • 28% felt guilty about not making enough money to provide for their families in the way they’d like.
  • 63% of working dads with stay at home partners envied them.

A kind of guilty father syndrome is developing and we need to start finding better ways to address the tensions it raises.

A 2015 US study also showed dads were much more likely than mums to say the time they spend with children is never enough.

Kim Parker, director of Social Trends Research at Pew, commented on the study: “When it comes to parenting, dads are harder on themselves than mums are, especially dads who say they don’t spend enough time with their children.”

Difficult conversations we can’t shy away

Clearly there’s a need for a much different conversation between dads and employers than is currently happening. One dad who’s been looking at that very thing is Rob Bravo – director of wellbeing at Talking Talent. He says dads need to have more of the following kind of conversations:

  • It’s time to be more courageous – we need to have those slightly more difficult conversations with our line managers.
  • Dads need to go into those conversations saying – ‘It’s important for me to be that part of myself. And this is what I need from you.’ It might be that dads just need managers to know it. That includes more flexibility, without fear that their performance will be judged unfairly.
  • Equally line managers need to recognise that they have to give the same level of support to new fathers as they do to new mothers.

It’s all about being aligned to what’s important to employees as people.

We often talk about the importance of being present, and with the world seemingly changing on a daily basis, dads need to prepare themselves for having those brave employer conversations as well as the difficult conversations with their families to keep the right balance going at all times.

*Han-Son Lee is founder of Daddilife, a blogging site for dads. He says so much has changed about fatherhood, which is why DaddiLife is there to help modern-day dads throughout their journey with tips, advice, community and much more. 

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