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Men Are Finally Learning What Women Have Known Since Ever

Men are finally learning one more thing women have known for a long time: it’s almost impossible to juggle long work hours and successful parenthood.

We’re clearly a little late to the game.

Women have been asking, since way before Germaine Greer and Carrie Bradshaw… “Can we really have it all?” The answer has always been a firm “no”.

Now, as more and more men are either deciding of their own volition or being dragged by the ear to take a more active role in parenting their own children, we’re discovering it's sort of tough to have a full-time job and shoulder equal responsibilities around the house.

University of Queensland researcher on gender and fatherhood Laetitia Coles is currently collating a wide-ranging series of interviews with Australian men on fatherhood and work-life balance into a doctorate.

The big, hairy thing standing between men who work full-time and being a great carer is the entrenched attitude men should be staunch, hard-working family providers.

“Our culture of men working long hours makes it really difficult for men to be primary caretakers of children,” Coles says.

While it may be tempting for women to point and laugh and say “Suck it up!”, as men face the same issues they’ve battled forever, it’s probably less than helpful, she said.

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It is at the core of Australian masculinity to be a staunch provider first, a fun daddy second. More than half of employed fathers in Australia who are working full-time top 45 hours a week, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Coles says there are three critical things that impact a man’s ability to spend time with his kids when he’s working these long hours.

Number one is his own attitude. Clearly, he has to want to do it and understand the value of it to his children, his partner and himself.

Number two: his partner needs to be in paid work as well. It’s the shift in attitudes to women working over the decades causing increased anxiety about work-life balance in men. Work-life balance was clearly was less of a problem for men when she stayed home all day, breastfeeding and ironing in an apron.

Number three is workplace flexibility.

For a man to be able to knock out 45 hours a week and still be someone his kids recognise requires his employer to let him spread those hours around a bit.

Being accountable, not for every minute, but rather for agreed output, is important.

“One man I interviewed asked his employer for a laptop so he could work from home in the evenings. When I last spoke to him he’d been waiting for it for two months,” Coles says.

It’s the men who are stepping up to their responsibilities who are reporting that it’s hard. Life is a lot easier for those men who, for various reasons, are less likely to spend long hours with children, like fathers in male-dominated industries and those from non-English-speaking backgrounds.

Personally, in my past corporate life, I have heard men my own age talking about having to “babysit” their own kids, as if they’re helping out with someone else’s job.

More shamefully, I’ve also seen the all-too-common practice of men staying late at work, playing on the computer or going to the pub to avoid the “shitstorm” that is trying to do dinner, bath and bed for a few kids under 10.

I was recently contacted by a bloke on Twitter who had just attended his school reunion. He works from home and looks after his kids. His wife also works full-time, out of home. He was devastated by what other men said to him. They said it was “not a job”. They were incredulous. “All the time? I couldn’t do that,” they scoffed. He was even asked what kind of man he really was, to spend all that time with children.

The performance of being a man plays out powerfully in our lives, as we strive to follow the impossible rules of manhood. Being a hard worker for our families, providing, and being able show how well we’ve done on the capitalistic battlefield is core to our manhood.

Nowhere are there any rewards for family happiness, joy and emotional wellbeing.

Fatherhood is one of life’s deepest joys. It is critical to our family happiness and the development of our children. Working gives us value and relevance. It makes us happy too.

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Can we have both? Not yet. But the more men start slinging nappies and making school lunches as soon as they get home from work, the easier it’ll be for all of us. Employers will get better at flexibility. The attitudes of other men will slowly change.

Nothing good is ever easy. But this is worth the effort.

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Phil Barker is the author of The Revolution of Man.