Wednesday, October 22, 2008

6 minutes isn't even enough time to help my youngest go to the toilet

'One Minute Aussie Dads', the headlines screamed when I spotted it on the tram going home from my night class on Monday. Well, it was something like that, because I didn't pay very much attention. If it hadn't been on the front of the free, waste of old-growth forest glorified shopping catalogue distributed free on Melbourne's public transport that I saw from across the aisle, I may have paid a bit more attention to it – beyond wondering what beat-up about dead-beat dads it was beating up.

I'd been in work training in the city all that day, so no internet, no email and no blogs, and hadn't heard the news. But there it was again the next day when I did get on the net at work.

There was a whole bunch of news items reporting the research findings of social researcher Lyn Craig from the University of New South Wales that Australian fathers on average spend as little as one minute a day alone with their children – on weekdays. Or, on average, six minutes alone with their kids from Monday to Friday.

I'm not sure who these fathers are, or how these averages are calculated, but it doesn't sound anything like any of the fathers I know well enough. It certainly doesn't reflect my experience.

6 minutes didn't even cover the time it took me to help my second go to the toilet to do a poo this evening. Or to wash his hands.

(He's two and a half, and he started toilet training a week and a half ago, and he has been going wonderfully well this last week, with accidents getting fewer and further between. He has even moved on to doing a poo on the toilet this last couple of days, which is a great accomplishment, and which required my sitting in the hallway outside the loo keeping him company this evening before dinner, and more… Hmm, I bet that was probably a bit more information than you really wanted, isn't it?)

Then there's the bit of time before the loo thing that I spent with my two boys in the front yard playing cricket. And I didn't come home from work and yoga yesterday to immediately blog on these reports because I was putting the boys to sleep. And I bet you know (or can guess) how long it can take to get two boys to go to sleep.

I'm not trying to talk myself up, or request a round of applause. I guess I am saying that the research findings came as a bit of a surprise to me. Perhaps that is the shortcoming of assuming that many - if not most - other people are like yourself or the people you know.

But even where I consider the many the differences in socio-economic, cultural, and educational backgrounds and attitudes amongst the people around me, I find many who apparently share some traits with me – fathers who care about spending time with their kids and being directly and intimately involved in their care, and mothers who expect, encourage and enable this participation.

A lot of the reporting on the research was that fathers spend time with their children alongside the mothers of the children, and spend more time alone with their children on weekends. Another finding was that many fathers believed that the care for children was the responsibility of mothers, while for fathers it was a hobby.

It is probably true that many, many in Australia still hold such attitudes, and many for whom time with the kids is time as a family, rather than one-on-one or without mum around. And there are a lot of men who are struggling to balance work demands with their desires to spend more time with their families at all, let alone time alone with their kids.

But there are also lots of fathers who spend a great deal of time alone with their children, and relish it. And it's not just time spent playing sport and other 'blokey' things. This can be shuttling kids to and from school, or helping them with their homework, reading to them, drawing with them, putting them to bed, or just hanging out. And enjoying it.

By all means, do still take them to the footy. At least you've got that.

If we don't talk about the fact we are doing this, and
why, then the kinds of attitudes identified in the research, and the dearth of time fathers spend with their children without the mediation of mothers, will continue.

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At October 23, 2008 5:47 am, Blogger Tor Hershman said...

Say, Mark, you're a pretty smart guy sooooooo you may review moi's wee blog if'in you have some time to waste.

Stay on groovin' safari,

At October 23, 2008 12:36 pm, Blogger djfoobarmatt said...

Hi Mark, I'm also surprised by this research. Most of the dads I know do spend plenty of time with their kids (not that I know hundreds of them) but then again, I can understand that if you're in a job with a long commute, then the kids might be in bed by the time you arrive home.

Admittedly, it can be really boring spending time with them when they are not being very interactive. Playing with kids requires a certain amount of focus and imagination otherwise it is just boring. I think it has been a learning experience for me to develop the skill of being with my son and finding ways for us to interact that keep us both interested. Steve Biddulph (author of Raising Boys) says that boys are into their mothers pretty exclusively until the age of six but I've found my son looks to me just as much as his mother after I've made the effort to engage him in play.

Your comments about dead-beat dad beat-ups was pretty spot on. It's easy to pick on absent dads and fail to criticise that apart from taking the kids to the footy or park or administering the strap, there aren't many socially reinforced parenting roles for dads - we have to use our imagination and be very deliberate about it.

At October 23, 2008 3:47 pm, Blogger unique_stephen said...

Our roles are reversed a bit.
Alex earns the pocket money. So I'm the one that gets them up, and does everything up until I drop them off at school (day care).
After school I take them home, play with and feed them and depending on what time Alex gets home either have them in the bath or in bed.
That could be 3.5 to 4.5 Hrs of contact with them.

Granted it is usually pretty busy structured time but we do try and let them lust play when we can.


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