When I was born, my parents, as most parents do, had to make a decision about who would stay home to care for me and who would return to full-time work. It was a straight-forward decision for them and until recently, it is not something I had given a lot of thought to. My father (a Doctor) would work part time to care for me, and my mother (also a Doctor) would return to fulltime work. It was a convenient and mutually agreed upon decision that suited everyone. So why was it met with such resistance and what does this tell us about how society treats stay at home dads?
“Male friends (who were also high-powered doctors) started mostly talking to your mum when we had time together as they had more in common now … and my boss would say ‘how’s that high-powered wife going?’,” says my Dad who got the impression that his boss didn’t understand a dad choosing childcare duties over a career. “My own parents, especially my mother, thought I wasn’t doing the right thing and that as a man I should have been doing more,” he says.
Fast-forward 25 years … Is society still saying ‘no’ to stay at home dads?
Although, the number of stay-at-home fathers has doubled since the 1970s, society still seems to be struggling with the idea. A recent British Societal Attitudes Survey revealed that public support for dads staying at home is close to zero with only 5% of us thinking dads should work part-time and the majority of us (73%) believing dads should work full time. Outdated attitudes at work don’t make things any easier for dads either as they are twice as likely as mothers to have flexible working requests turned down.
As for our mums, 33% of us think they should stay at home; 43% say mums should work part time and only 28% favour mums working full time even after their kids start school. So despite the increase in working mums and stay-at-home dads, it seems much of society still thinks it’s a woman’s place to raise children and a man’s job to bring home the pay cheque. But here at Obelisk we hear a different story. We see countless dads who have chosen the flexible working route to spend more time with their children and loads of mums eager to maintain their hard-earned careers around their families.
And why shouldn’t this be the case?
From an employer’s point of view, flexible working options for men and women can only be positive. A recent IBM survey showed that 33% of people with flexible timetables had been promoted twice (or more) in the last five years, but only 24% of those who worked regular full-time hours had done the same.
And as far as I’m concerned, my upbringing was a blessing. I grew up with a strong, career-driven female role model who showed me that gender doesn’t restrict achievement. I also had an amazing male role model who taught me to embrace creative pursuits, to reject gender stereotypes, and that whilst work is important, there are more essential things that define a person. There’s no right or wrong way for mums and dads to share childcare duties – what works for one family may not necessarily work for another. So let’s stop saying no to stay at home dads or working mums and start empowering parents to have their kids, and career too.