September 5, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
As in the United States and throughout the English-speaking world, it looks like New Zealand’s fathers are stepping up their parenting game (New Zealand Herald, 9/4/16). And they’re doing it despite not reducing their work time. In short, they seem to be attempting to “have it all,” i.e. be good providers and hands-on dads at the same time. That’s a noble aspiration, but in the long run, a recipe for burn-out.
The linked-to article is a study of data on 4,121 fathers and 6,853 children in the Growing Up in New Zealand dataset. It finds fathers doing much of the child-rearing and the great majority of the earning. Meanwhile, many would prefer to see more of their kids, but can’t due to the demands of the workplace.
Half of Kiwi dads say they are missing out on family activities that they would like to take part in because they are chained to their work.
The first in-depth research with 4121 fathers of children in the Growing Up in New Zealand study, which is following 6853 children born in the year to March 2010, has found that the vast majority of Kiwi dads are now heavily involved in childcare.
Five out of six (84 per cent) say they help with personal care such as bathing and dressing the children, and 73 per cent say they are more involved with their children than their own fathers were with them.
But they yearn to be even more involved. Half say their work means they miss out on "home or family activities that they would prefer to participate in", 58 per cent want to be more involved in their children's lives, and 33 per cent of those in work would like to work fewer hours…
Four-fifths (82 per cent) of the fathers said they ate evening meals with their children, 81 per cent were involved with their children's school, 65 per cent read books to their children and 53 per cent helped with their homework.
The dads want to work fewer hours likely because they average 47 hours per week bringing home the family’s bacon. With commute times, that doesn’t leave a lot of hours or energy to be active, hands-on fathers, but they seem to be managing.
A third worked in the weekends.
Most (61 per cent) of the working dads felt their work had "a positive effect on their child and family life generally", but 35 per cent said their work left them with "too little time or energy to be the kind of parent they want to be".
It’s a familiar story. Fathers are far more directly engaged with their children than in generations past, but the institutions of society don’t seem to much care.
"Increasingly we are seeing more shared parenting," said study leader Dr Susan Morton.
"But perhaps in the workplace there is less acknowledgement that dads have a role at home as well as at work. We see that more for mothers, maybe we should see that as a parent thing."…
Morton said the dads who reported the worst work/life balance were more likely to live in deprived areas, work longer hours, have less flexibility at work and generally have "less sense of control over their job situation".
"Those feeling that they have less control over their lives, dealing with more chaotic situations, tend to have less choice about how they spend their time and less choice about how much they are involved in their children's activities," she said.
"We need to think about more flexible working environments that can enable fathers to engage more with their children."
The article, and Dr. Morton who’s quoted, see this as a matter of workplace flexibility and, to an extent that may be true. But the lack of flexibility in those fathers’ lives may begin at home, not at the office. Throughout the English-speaking world, mothers are far more likely than fathers to not work for pay at all or, if they do, work part-time. Even among full-time workers, women work fewer hours on average than do men.
The same holds true among Kiwis. As this document from Statistics New Zealand says,
About one in three employed females work part time, compared with just over one in ten employed males.
In short, among people with jobs, women are over three times as likely as men to work part-time and only 67% of female workers work full-time versus 90% of males. Meanwhile, this Statistics New Zealand document (click on Excel table #2) shows men earning about 63% of family earnings versus 37% for women. But those figures include “government transfers,” i.e. various forms of welfare payments. Those are mostly (59%) paid to women.
It’s no surprise that mothers often opt out of work in order to care for children. When that happens, fathers pick up the slack at the expense of their time with their kids. So one way in which “society” could be more flexible in order to allow dads more time with their children would be for mothers to work and earn more. After all, the fathers in the study say they want more time with their kids, so why not let them have it?
But of course paid work isn’t the only area that prevents kids from having more time with their fathers; family courts do as well. Family courts have, for decades now all but entirely ignored fathers, both those who spend more time with their children and those who don’t. The percentage of fathers with primary or sole custody of their children has remained essentially unchanged for over 20 years and probably longer. Regardless of how much fathers do for and with their kids, they’re all too likely to be rewarded for their efforts with the usual two days every other week and a few hours one day per week when the adults divorce.
Needless to say, that doesn’t exactly encourage fathers to spend more time with their kids.
Be it the workplace or family courts, the institutions of society need to catch up to the times. They need to acknowledge the reality of what fathers do and what kids need. We applaud these fathers who work full-time, provide the lion’s share of the income to their families and still manage to do all the things these New Zealanders did with their kids. But we should stop asking dads to be superheroes. That’s not what children need. They just need parents, plain old everyday parents.
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Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.
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