Being a working dad is harder than being a working mum. We have to balance out a high-pressure work environment with ever growing demands and needs at home without anything like the amount of sympathy and support offered to working mums, all without the network of local mums and friends to back us up and support us. Working mums on the other hand have it easy; plenty of sympathy and flexibility to deal with family crises, established support networks and usually a partner who is always on hand to tell them how awesome they are and how they could never balance life as well themselves.
There. Now I’ve got an incendiary first paragraph out of the way, all of the indignant ranters and “you-don’t-know-how-hard-it-is-being-a-working-mother-s” can jump straight to the comments section and tell me how wrong I am. They’ll therefore miss the part where I say now that of course it’s not harder, nor is it a competition; this is obvious to anyone with a modicum of sense. What being a working dad however is bloody hard, and in a different way than I expected.
Six months ago my wife got her first full-time, salaried job since before our now-11 year old was born. Great, thought I; she’s going to fly! My wife is far smarter than I am and with a work ethic to die for. With a new career potentially in front of her she would do great things, and between the two of us we’d transcend into some sort of power couple that would put Frank and Claire Underwood to shame (if you’ve not been watching House of Cards then you’re missing out). Onwards and upwards; after years of struggling financially and never quite getting there, we would now see nothing but plain sailing! Everything would work out!
For the first month or so the novelty carried us through. I was doing my bit as a working father! I was doing the actual school run, every day!!! I think I even put a wash or two through the machine, just to see the look on my wife’s face when she came home. I was modern man incarnate. I was SuperDad.
The novelty soon wore off.
It’s a grind. It’s a never-ending, soul-destroying, schedule breaking, pressurised grind, with nothing but compromise every which way I turn.
I am lucky enough to be able to work from home as much as I need to, barring unavoidable face to face meetings which happen from time to time. I’ve taken advantage of this hugely, working from home three or even four days a week sometimes so I can do the school run in the morning and collect the children from nursery and the childminders at the end of the day. When it works as intended this actually works very well; I am typing away by 9.00am and log off at 5.00pm to start the pick-up runs, often working through lunch with some overly-British belief that as things are so comfortable at home I need to make up for it in some way.
Even then though, that hour after work is manic. It takes about 35 minutes to do the round trips to get our four kids, after which I need to quickly get some food on the table, get them all changed, get lunchboxes unpacked and uniforms in the washing basket and have them eating something remotely nutritious (or at least hot and quick). Then my wife walks through the door, mentions how untidy the kitchen is and asks why none of them have done any homework yet before they have to start getting ready for bed. Throw in the obligatory disagreements with my 11 year old about using small screens to consume several days’ worth of YouTube videos each night, shouting from my 3 year old about needing a new nappy, my 5 year old getting upset because I’ve not got time to read with her and my 9 year old gluing himself to Minecraft or FIFA and progress is challenging.
The increase in workload at home hasn’t affected my workload from the office of course. I’m still expected to perform every bit as well and as flexibly as I ever was. In fact, I’ve recently stepped up into a new role so if anything I am expected to perform at a higher level than ever before. Getting a report in late because one of my kids has chicken pox and I’ve had to pick up another from school as she’s been throwing up is just not an option; nothing but high performance is good enough.
Now I have to balance work programmes with washing loads, deliverables with dinner plans, service delivery with school runs and board meetings with bedtime routines.
And pretty much, I’m on my own. Unlike the other parents in the playground, I don’t have extensive networks of mums to call upon for a bit of help. Morning drop-offs need to be militarily planned if I’m able to get off and make a morning train to get to a meeting so there’s no chance to have a leisurely chat or make plans for a cup of coffee later in the day. I can’t go to daytime playgroups or library sessions as I’m either chained to a phone or running between offices to cram in as many meetings as I can before rushing off to beat the traffic, so all those informal support structures aren’t ones I can tap into. Even if I could, have you ever tried to break into the inner circle of an established group of mums?! I’m a man in a playground; as an oddity I’ll be tolerated; as a true peer I’ll never be accepted.
Talking of peers, where are my role models for all this? Where are the normal, working dads who manage to balance being joint income-earner and primary care giver? Look online for support as a working mum and there are countless blogs and forums out there, but most of the articles on being a working dad are discussing the concept of what a working dad actually is and the fact that they are important. I know that already! Now, who can show me some good examples to get some inspiration from?!
Things in general are getting easier – these days when I say that one of my kids is sick so I need to be at home to look after them I no longer get asked why my other half can’t do it instead. Well, I don’t have that verbally asked, anyway. It’s there however; an underlying societal norm that says I should be focussing on work and not family, while if there’s any need to rush home that my wife should be the first port of call. It’ll take decades to break this and I’m not sure we’ll ever get there, but we’re so early on our equality journey that there’s no hope at all for me to not experience this before grandchildren come along.
Women have it hard in the workplace. They are paid less to do the same work, face more difficulty securing promotions and recognition, are branded as “dominating” and “bossy” if they speak up in meetings and are generally discriminated against by their bosses (even if their bosses are themselves women).
Men have it hard at home. We are expected to maintain our day job performance without a hint of drop-off while picking up more than our share of the household chores. We are expected to fit these chores into the time we are working from home, and provide emotional and intellectual support to our working partners. We also need to pick up almost all of the daytime responsibilities previously picked up by our other halves who previously filled their days doing nothing but this.
And we’re expected to not moan as “women are expected to do all this anyway, so now it’s your turn”.
I’m saying balls to that.
Balls to not being able to moan and say it’s a bloody tough job.
Balls to being expected to be a full-time worker and a full-time parent at the same time.
And balls to feeling bad for doing well in either of those and not the other.
A good friend once told me he would have been a much better chief exec if he hadn’t been a parent, and a much better parent if he hadn’t been a chief exec.
What a choice for any of us to have to make.