January 28, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
A new survey of British parents shows that fathers, even more than mothers, are stressed about trying to maintain a reasonable balance between obligations at work and those at home. Read about it here (Journalism.co.uk, 1/27/15). The survey, called the 2015 Modern Families Index, asked 1,010 parents across the United Kingdom about a range of topics related to work and family.
One of the most telling statistics from the survey reflects just how unimportant people consider work when comparing it with family.
60% of working parents said family is their first priority, 24% said their relationship with their partner, while 7% picked hobbies, followed by work (5%) and friends and community (4%).
That’s right, a whopping 5% of parents who work (i.e. not the stay-at-home kind) place work at the top of their list of priorities. Almost 17 times that number picked some version of family as most important. In short, those Britons work because they have to, not because they prefer it. Needless to say, those numbers include a lot of fathers who chose family over work.
That preference for family over paid employment is reflected elsewhere in the study. For example, parents are happy to “call in sick” if necessary to meet familial obligations.
The 2015 Modern Families Index reveals that 36% of working fathers have faked being sick in order to meet family obligations, which researchers believe may include picking up children from school, covering for childcare breakdowns and hosting birthday parties for pre-school children. The study also reveals that 44% of working fathers have lied to their employer about their family for various reasons, which are thought to include concealing the true extent of family commitments or problems at home.
And of course the long trend of fathers doing ever more of the childcare continues.
53% of working fathers said they dropped the children off at school some or most of the time. Among younger working fathers, 68% regularly drop their children off at school, compared to 61% of mothers in the same age group (16-35).
That of course is a limited type of parenting, but, for a long time now, fathers have been upping the time they spend in hands-on childcare until it’s almost equal to that of mothers. In the United States, data from the American Time Use Survey of the Bureau of Labor Statistics have tracked the trend for many years. They indicate that, as of 2013, men caring for children spent about 101 minutes per day doing so while women spent about 128 minutes. When we consider that men spent exactly one hour more at paid labor than did women, we can see that men are increasing their stress levels trying to do more at home while maintaining their greater commitment to earning.
That’s the United States, but the same holds true in countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, of which the U.S. and England are two. Unsurprisingly, fathers reported to the Modern Families Index survey that their increased efforts to “have it all” are leading to the adoption of some bad habits.
Carole Edmond, Managing Director of Bright Horizons, said: "The 2015 Modern Families Index shows that today’s generation of working fathers have a stronger-than-ever desire to be involved with their children and families – these are the Phil Dunphys and Pete Brockmans who sometimes risk getting fired in order to spend time with their children and relatives. However, these increased expectations often bump up against working commitments, leading to stress and unhealthy lifestyles as they try to cram everything in."…
In the study, working parents revealed that the amount of time they need to spend at work leads them to make unhealthy choices – 36% said they eat unhealthy food often or all the time, 41% fail to take enough exercise and 33% rely on ready meals due to not having enough time to cook. Another source of stress for working mothers and fathers is their own parents – 40% worry that caring for their own parents will become a reality within 10 years.
One in three working parents said they do not work flexibly and 67% of working parents are concerned they are using either too little or too much childcare. 74% of working parents said they use their paid annual leave to support their childcare requirements…
37% of working parents said that work demands negatively affected their relationship with their partner often or all the time. Just over a quarter of working parents said work affected the amount of time they were able to spend caring for a dependent adult or elderly relative, with the figure rising to 50% among those with formal responsibilities in this regard.
Of working fathers, 50% said they would be nervous about asking their employer to reduce their working hours, while 34% said they would be nervous about asking their employer if they could miss work for a family event.
In short, as we’ve known for some time, both here in the U.S. and in the U.K., fathers have been stepping up to the requirements of childcare, but also maintaining their commitments to be the major breadwinner. That’s not a good combination. As the survey shows, it leads to lifestyles that can be detrimental to health in addition to that other threat to good health, stress.
So what does all this increased commitment to children and families get fathers? Apart from the aforementioned bad diets and increased stress, not much. For years, family courts and anti-father forces have argued that fathers don’t get an even break in child custody cases because they haven’t done enough hands-on parenting during marriage. But that’s been changing for years and the courts keep doing the same old thing – sole or primary custody to Mom, every other weekend visitation to Dad. And if Mom chooses to interfere with even that meager access, well, the courts are happy to look the other way.
The argument that mothers should get the bulk of parenting time because they did the bulk of hands-on parenting is wrong in a couple of ways. Most importantly, it ignores the best interests of children. What’s harmful to children about divorce is mostly that they lose one parent, usually their father. That’s damaging to them because they formed biological/emotional/psychological attachments to their dads early in infancy. To have him removed from their lives understandably injures their sense of self, self-worth, security, etc.
So most importantly, sole and primary custody arrangements are bad for kids, at least as long as both parents are fit. But the argument that mothers do essentially all the childcare and therefore should get custody of the children also fails because the premise is false. As the Modern Families Survey and many other datasets have demonstrated for years, fathers are doing almost as much childcare as are mothers.
But of course courts are happy to ignore the fact in order to continue with their standard orders that so harm the very children in whose “best interests” they’re supposedly acting.
We’ve seen in discussions of equal parenting, the judges issuing custody orders are almost entirely ignorant of what actually promotes children’s welfare. I’ve yet to see a single jurisdiction, with the exception of Arizona, in which judges are required to learn the basics of shared parenting and how children benefit from those relationships post-divorce.
The same seems to hold true when it comes to childcare during marriage. Judges claim they give custody to the primary caregiver, while remaining blissfully unaware that fathers are doing almost as much of that as are mothers. At some point they’re going to run out of excuses for removing fathers from children’s lives.
But at least those judges aren’t alone. The Modern Families Survey contains another tidbit suggesting that another part of society at large hasn’t yet gotten the message about fathers’ increased involvement with their kids.
97% of working mothers said that school or childcare would ring them if there was an issue rather than their partner.
Yes, it seems schools and daycare, like judges, assume fathers to be just some inconvenient appendage to a child’s life, to be ignored if possible.
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