Noble Husband on fatherhood and work

NS November 5th, 2010

I read this article in the Guardian today about how fathers are supposedly happier if a) they have two children, b) their partners work and c) they share the household chores.

More cynical women than me might think it a load of hogwash, but, personally, I found it heartening and heartfelt. If 82 percent of working fathers would like to spend more time with their families, as this survey found, then that is a fantastic thing.

But.

How much of this professed desire to be more domestically involved is all talk and how willing are men to put some action into making it happen? I really want to know!

So, under strict instructions not to be afraid that I would use his answers against him in a personal capacity, I asked the Noble Husband what his thoughts are on this subject. Here’s the result of our ‘interview’, which took place over email and IM. Note: I tried not to refer to myself in the first person because I wanted him to think objectively, though I slipped up a couple times in the IM conversations.

1) Do you believe that childcare is primarily a mother’s responsibility or are both parents equally responsible?

It isn’t necessarily any one parent’s responsibility, but in a relationship where one partner earns the bulk of the family’s income it is likely that the other partner will predominantly take on this role, certainly during the weekdays. At the weekend, it should be much more of even split, perhaps even swinging more to the breadwinner.

2) If you believe that it is both parents’ responsibility, how is the childcare divided between you and your partner? Are you happy with the current arrangement?

I try to spend time with the children when I get home from work, even if it is just half an hour. They like to play before bed, cook, watch a bit of a movie or read stories with me. At the weekend I try to take the kids out of the house, usually on my own, to give my wife a little time to herself or with friends. Alternatively she may carry out a few tasks that are hard to do when looking after the children during the week.

I wouldn’t say I’m entirely happy with it as I tend to only spend a couple of hours with the children during the week but this is unavoidable when commuting to a job in London. At least I catch up with the kids at the weekend.

3) Current research suggests that men with two children whose partners works full-time and childcare is shared are happiest and least stressed. Why do you think this might be? Are you happier when your partner works?

Spending time with my children is a great way of winding down from a stressful day or week at work. When I’m with them, any thoughts about work instantly evaporate. Thats not to say the thoughts don’t return after they have gone to bed, but children put me in a better mood the moment I walk through door.

[After submitting this answer via email, I asked NH on IM if he could talk about how he feels about my work, which is part-time and done from home]

I’m happy that you make a contribution to the household income and that you’re “using your mind” a little too. I remember how just dealing with kids day in day out almost drove you mad.

Me: So you think I’m happier for working [at a paid job] a bit?

No doubt

4) In an ideal world, and if work/financial constraints were not an issue, how would you balance your professional, personal and family commitments? Would you like to spend more or less time at work and with family?

Ideally, I would work at home 2/3 days a week and be more active in taking/collecting them from school and spending more time with them afterwards e.g. playtime and homework. However, I would still feel part of “the team” at work though, by being there on other days.

5) We all know that women have had (and still have) numerous struggles within the workplace and balancing their careers with their families. Do you see men having the same struggles within the home, trying to spend time with their children and be accepted as adequate parents?

If I did work at home, I too would worry that colleagues without children would be favoured for career opportunities.

6) In your view, are fathers genuinely interested in having greater flexibility between work and home?

I’m not sure. I think most men would like the idea of being more active at home during the week but may shy away from it a little if it actually became a reality. I can imagine how hard it would be to carry out some of my work from home with the distraction of children – its the old joke that men can’t multi-task. Also, detaching oneself from office interaction and culture would be quickly missed by most men as well.

[I asked NH to expound upon this by IM]

Me: Do you think women are less inclined to find working at home difficult and miss office life, or just that they’ve had to get used to it?

They are better at juggling work and kids. A stereotype perhaps..or maybe they do learn to deal with it.

Me: Yes, that’s what I was going to ask, if you think ‘juggling’ work and children is something women do naturally or only do because they have to? Of course, I think it’s the latter but am fine if you disagree. Be honest!

I don’t really know. I suppose it depends on the person rather than the gender but on the whole, I’d imagine that women would be better. I’m certain that you would be better than me. I know I get easily distracted and would really struggle to work on a complex report if I had the “Daddy, Daddy” treatment from the kids.

At this point he had to get back to work, as did I, so our conversation ended. I would have liked to explore a couple points more in-depth, particularly how he imagines I get my work done while looking after the children if he believes it would be a struggle for him. I guess he doesn’t realise a) how much I shout and b) how much the TV is on when I’m working. Hey ho, another day, another interview. Until then…

Your intrepid gender relations investigator,

NS (with special thanks and love to NH)

12 Responses to “Noble Husband on fatherhood and work”

  1. Interesting interview – I think my husband similarly thinks he’d like to be at home more but hasn’t realised the reality of how hard it is to juggle things and to get everything done

    I wonder what would happen if you asked him about a family where both parents work and both earn about the same – in that situation who should become the primary carer and why

  2. Expat Mum says:

    I’m a bit uncomfortable with the idea that the parent who earns “the bulk of the family’s income” should do less of the domestic stuff. Does that mean less hours or less pay, because we all know, if it were the latter, how that would play out?
    Re multi-tasking – I struggle to accept that it’s a gender thing. Surely if they were properly trained, men would be able to handle/think of more than one thing at a time. However, if my husband has a lot on at work and I ask him to do one thing or make one phone call for a domestic matter, he seems to think it entirely justified to come home and say he didn’t have time. Pah!
    PS. Are you coming to Chi-town?
    Expat Mum´s last blog ..The Family Dinner – Not That Simple SweetieMy ComLuv Profile

  3. JulieB says:

    Interesting piece. I think my husband would probably answer along similar lines. Interestingly, when our eldest was born, he did go to a 4-day week for a while (he subsequently changed companies so sadly had to go back to full-time), which I think opened his eyes to the realities of multi-tasking, childcare etc. I do think there is probably still more stigma around men doing childcare than there is even around mothers working.
    (Sorry, on phone so this may be rather disjointed)
    JulieB´s last blog ..Hear No EvilMy ComLuv Profile

  4. Kelly says:

    I think this is an interesting experience although nothing NH said was a surprise to me. Extend my thanks to him for his honest participation (and thanks to you too for putting some of the personal up there.

    NS, what for-pay work do you do from home? I’m sure you’ve detailed it before but it has slipped my mind?

    I posted my own interview on my blog. Thanks for the idea!

    NS Reply:

    @Kelly, I am a story editor for a news website, I do that every weekday for an hour or two. I also run my doula business so I have clients and admin to deal with for that.

  5. [...] Over at Noble Savage a husband and wife team discussed the implications of a report in the Guardian UK regarding housework, childcare and heterosexual partners working in-home or out-of-home. [...]

  6. Mercy says:

    I’m just pleased that finally articles about fathers and work are finally appearing. We’ve had decades of surveys about how mothers going to work isn’t ideal for children (do we live in an ideal world anyone?), dividing stay at home mums and working mums and laying on the guilt trips. Perhaps this will spark debates about the “work life balance” for fathers.

    The telling line in the article for me was the one about “employers ignoring the needs of fathers”, is this true or are fathers expecting employers to know that they’d like to leave on time and/or do flexible working because they’re still cowardly to actually ask and demand to know why this options aren’t available? Employers don’t volunteer flexible working options for mothers, mothers have battled for them. Fathers now have to battle for theirs.

    Dad Who Writes Reply:

    @Mercy, Research I did for a Masters on work and fatherhood a couple of years ago showed (and a lot of the literature backed it up) that IT or new media type employers generally talk the rhetorical talk of supporting family friendly policies whilst doing little or nothing to address the pressures that fathers feel to fit in. Fathers are made to feel different in many subtle ways and that sense of ‘difference’ puts their working identities under a lot of stress. Mothers are obviously made to feel very different too but because 1) these differences are far more blatantly institutionalised and regulated and 2) mothers trying to balance work and family is at least normative (if still heavily contested) I think they feel the pressure differently to men and have more structured and communal means of countering it. Big topic but to call fathers ‘cowardly’ is unfair – they’re battling thousands of years of identity construction as ‘providers’ on top of everything else.
    Dad Who Writes´s last blog ..Reading – Nancy Farmer- WIlliam Gibson- Jeanette Winterson and othersMy ComLuv Profile

  7. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Brad Bengtson, Alan Gee. Alan Gee said: WorkLife Noble Savage » Blog Archive » Noble Husband on fatherhood and work http://bit.ly/csEdJi from RSS [...]

  8. Andrea says:

    i like that the two of you can have very candid, honest conversations about so many topics and, in particular, the constant balancing act that is parent hood.
    Andrea´s last blog ..monday fundayMy ComLuv Profile

  9. More often than not it’s the woman in a relationship that steps back from a paid career to work part-time and flexibly…and thus who constantly struggles for the right work-life balance, even when earnings are on par. Do we have to do this or do we want to? If one half of a relationship is going to work part-time, does our maternal instinct really want it to be our husband? It’s tricky and in an ideal world I think both parents would work flexibly and share paid career/childcare responsibilities. Men do need to fight more for these options as women have done and are still doing.
    Tanya (Bump2Basics)´s last blog ..Making friends with CalpolMy ComLuv Profile

  10. geekymummy says:

    Very interesting! This is our life. I’m happier than my husband, most of the time though, i think. What he really wants to do is go back to being child free and 28!

    I know that when my husband talks to friends whose wives don’t work they do express envy that he has a wife who brings in a good income. The stress of being the sole provider, whether that is the man or the woman, is quite considerable. My husband has been able to leave a job he hated and strike out on his own only because I can also support the family financially, for example.

    I think there a lots of ways to be happy, but I had never read an article like this before, its intriguing, so thanks!
    geekymummy´s last blog ..Tales from the AcademyMy ComLuv Profile