Working families: how do we get it right?

There’s been a plethora of studies and reports hitting the headlines recently talking about working fathers. I’ve been reading them and taking in the salient points, but one that came out this week really got me and plenty of others interested. I got messaged from quite a few people to tell me about the latest study by the charity Working Families. My parents called me up and said that 5 Live were holding a phone in and I should dial in. My reply to them was that I was taking my son to a playgroup and simply didn’t have the time to get involved…oh, the irony!

parents on shared parental leave


In this report, they said that nearly half of working fathers would like a less stressful job so they can spend more time caring for their children. They want to take more of the burden and realise that it is not simply the role of the mother. The talking heads chopped up the analysis and said that business should do more. Some were calling for Government to legislate.

Adrienne Burgess, the chief executive of the Fatherhood Institute, weighed in, saying that the current parental leave system needing changing. It always make me chuckle to think that the head of the Fatherhood Institute is a woman – nothing wrong with it, but it does put a smile on my face.

My wife came home to show me that the study had even been picked up by one of the groups she is a member of on Facebook. Women weren’t happy – the study was highlighting men…what about the women they were asking. Shouldn’t the issue be gender neutral?

That’s where I come in. I was someone who had a “stressful” job at a large multinational – I worked long hours, being sent overseas on occasion, and I moved away from that for my family. We’ve had to make decisions on how best to tighten our collective belt and choose how best to cope with the reduction in salary.

However, I’m there for our kids. I make sure they are well looked after and my wife as part of the bargain works the long hours and brings home the money. I’ve been looking for that less stressful job that they talk about.

So, what’s the upshot?

It has to start and end with this being a gender neutral issue. Kids need their parents and taking sides or pushing forward the father or the mother isn’t what is going to work. We need to give the flexibility for parents to decide what is best for their individual families. The law needs to support freedom of choice in the family.

Companies need to help support parents to work flexibly. Roles must be filled on the basis of who is best for it and the focus should be on getting the job done rather than making sure someone is going to be in the office for the given hours. Life has moved on from the 9-5 and I believe that parents are willing to make the sacrifice of working flexibly to ensure that the employer is happy with their performance if they are given the flexibility to be there for their kids in return. There are some employers who get this, but that needs to change to all.

Women and men need to work together on this issue. If we all truly believe in equality, then that’s the only way we’re going to achieve it.

*Dad in the Park is Richard Cahill. Follow him on twitter @RichardCahill19

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