Housework for a happier dad

It will be music to the ears of
working mothers everywhere: fathers are happier when they do more of the
housework themselves, spend longer with their children and have working
partners who are in the office just as long as they are, a major new study has
found.

The best way to de-stress a father
is for his partner to share the weight of domestic burdens with him, rather
than ironing his socks, making his breakfast and taking the lion’s share of
responsibility for the kids.

Researchers hope the interim
findings from the study, called Work Life Balance: Working for Fathers? will
prompt employers to re-evaluate myths about work – so that women cease to have
their careers blocked by bosses who assume they will be primary carers of
children, and men are given more opportunity to change their work-life balance.

“The way we ‘do’ family has changed
– not only because mothers are more likely to go out to work but also because
today both mothers and fathers want close relationships with children as they
are growing up,” said Dr. Caroline Gatrell of the Lancaster University
management school, the lead researcher in the two-year project carried out for
the charity Working Families.

Dr. Gatrell and her team spoke to
more than 1,100 working fathers to find out how they combine work and family
life. Their findings reveal that the desire for more “family time” is
widespread, with 82 per cent of full-time working men saying they would like
this.

“It is becoming increasingly
evident that the expectations that fathers have of the way and amount they are
involved directly with their children is altering. Fathers want to spend more
time with their children and are doing more of the direct care for them,” said
Dr. Gatrell.

Attitudes changing

The team also found evidence that
social attitudes towards childcare are in a period of profound change: fewer
fathers than mothers, for example, believe that it is a mother’s job to look
after children. “The problem is that although families are changing, this is –
largely – being completely ignored by employers,” added Dr. Gatrell.

“This is creating a massive problem
for both men and women. Women are having their careers blocked by employers who
assume that, once children come along, their commitment to the workplace will
be severely compromised. But the same myth is also disadvantaging men who find
themselves being their child’s main or only carer, because employers aren’t
offering them work-life balance choices. It is time workplace attitudes changed
to recognise the massive changes that have taken place in family practices in
the 21st century.”

The findings also include that men
are very often “seriously stressed” and those who have one or three children
are more stressed than those who have two; fathers who do more housework are
less stressed than those who do a smaller amount; and fathers whose partners
work full-time have a better sense of wellbeing than those whose partners work
part-time.

“New fathers are likely to be
completely unprepared for the impact a child has on their lives. When number
two comes along, they know what to expect. But number three is another massive
change, especially with the extra squeeze on income and costs,” said Dr.
Gatrell.

She added that, even though there
is an “equalling up” in the domestic sphere, women still do most of the
domestic work and childcare, partly because fathers are “hitting some limits”
in the time they have for work and family.

“Although fathers have expressed a
desire to work more flexibly, they do not do so in the same numbers as women.”

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