Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Men balancing work with caring for children

Are you a father who finds it difficult to juggle the demands of your work with your desire to play an active part in raising your children? Well, according to another new report on the difficulties of the 'work/life balance', you are not alone.

The latest research by Barbara Pocock, a South Australian academic and leading researcher on work-life balance, and her co-author, Natalie Skinner, found that over half those surveyed "felt that work sometimes, often or almost always interfered with activities outside work."

By "activities outside work", I think you can take a fair chunk of that includes raising children and having a relationship with your partner (if you have one), or even visiting your parents or siblings, and the rest of it could include other things like taking out the rubbish, doing the dishes, cooking meals, reading the odd book or two, catching up with friends, and fitting in a trip to the museum or the footy.

The researchers also found that men working long hours are suffering from the pressures of balancing work and life, but that women working the same hours are suffering more.

Again, that is no surprise because women are still expected – by far too many men – to take the lioness's share of caring for children and keeping the household from turning into an avalanche of sludge.

But I'm sure you don't need another research report to tell you that it's a struggle to balance the demands of work with the needs and desires of raising children and keeping family life on track. But the key thing that I'm picking up from this research, and the teetering tower of research that has gone before it, is that men are finding it a crunch.

Yes, this means that people are
generally finding work pressures are getting worse, including the pressure to work longer and harder. But what is noticeable is that men are noticing how the crunch is affecting their family lives – because they want to have a family life in the first place.

I'm sure we cannot say that a majority of men are up doing this yet, but I know that there is a growing number of men who take an active role in the raising their children – because they
want to.

By this I mean more than just playing with our children on weekends and perhaps reading to them at bedtime, but also being involved in their school issues and homework, sharing in ferrying them to and from school or child care, playing with them, taking turns to cook meals for the family and do the household chores, and more importantly taking and active part in supporting and caring for our children's developing inner, emotional life.

Fathers are not just appendixes. We are part of the crucial anatomy of family life and raising children.

But there is no denying that it is hard to juggle all the demands of life - especially the often competing demands of work and family life. But all
is not doom and gloom. Many men are choosing to scale down their work demands, including working part time, forgoing promotions, or choosing to work in organisations that don't put as much pressure on th workers to put in long hours at the expense of personal and family life. And, admittedly, this often comes at the expense of financial security and ease.

I highly recommend Cast Iron Balcony's fantastic post responding to the same research. Drawing on her observations from her workplace, Helen writes of the changing situation of men taking on the responsibilities of caring for children and notes that it is not just possible, but quite plausible to cite family responsibilities as reasons to leave work early, arrive late, or take time off so that fathers can pick up their kids, care for them or just take and active part of the family.

Mark Bahnisch at Lavartus Prodeo has also posted briefly on the
new research on Work/Life balance. One of the commenters at the Lav post points out that the SMH's coverage of the story focuses on a high-achiever, a woman who manages a large staff, as a case study. Interestingly, The Age's treatment of the story in its Insight Saturday supplement (26 July – sorry, I can't find the story online) focuses its coverage on the case study of a high-powered male lawyer who went part time – 3.5 days – in order to stay home and care for his young children on his non-work days, which also allows his wife/partner to pursue study.

But, it is worth remembering, because is helps put this story into perspective, that this is something that has been discussed and covered in the media for a long time, been long advocated for by the union movement, and frequently been something of a political hot topic for opportunists on both sides of parliament.

However, many of us aren't just waiting for the media, government, policy-heads or other people to keep cycling through this conversation. We're doing it – now.

Would you like to share how you are juggling the work-life balance?

[Men at W.o.r.k. image gratefully pinched (sorry, borrowed. Yeah, I'll give it back, promise.) from Helen at Cast Iron Balcony. Can't keep a good idea down.]

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At July 30, 2008 5:32 am, Anonymous Helen said...

Thanks for the lovely comments Mark - but I'm not the one to thank for the image.
See here:

Carman-Ainsworth Community school

I'd email them for more details, but their website is a bit patchy - no online contact details!

At July 30, 2008 10:28 am, Blogger Ann O'Dyne said...

yes of course - 8 hours each, for work rest and play - the unions in conjunction with Mars confectionery.
Think 'outside the square' because the hurdle is that school and work are in different locations, starting and finishing at different times.
schools run by the employer.
Workers bring child to work with them and take child home at quitting time.

yeah yeah, 'utopia'.

At July 30, 2008 12:20 pm, Blogger unique_stephen said...

I'd love to spend more time with the kids. I have a job at a uni where I work 35 hrs week and not a second more.
I spend all of my time outside of work with them or immediate family except for rare trips to the gym or doing something that would be dangerous for them to be involved with such as using powertools.

My wife has earns substantially more than me so it makes more sense for me to look after the kids as much as possible to give her the time she needs at work. She gets a lot more personal satisfaction than I do from work so it works out for both of us to arrange thing around her work and carer more than mine anyway.

Currently they are in long day care on campus. School is a hurdle we will get over when we get there (2 years away)

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