Good luck, Janet.

Kids lose out when dad works long hours

EMPLOYERS should help fathers leave work early to spend quality time with their children, a parenting expert says.

Janet Cater believes disruptive and difficult children often feel abandoned by fathers who work long hours. Today she is calling on bosses to make it more socially acceptable for men to manage their careers, from shorter days to better paternity leave.

“I have worked with families throughout Australia and what I am finding is that children are often being difficult because they feel that their dad doesn’t love them because they don’t see him and he spends so much time at work,” she said. “It is a very real phenomenon.”

Janet Cater runs a business specialising in teaching parents and teachers to cope with “problem” children, and she’s calling for a change in culture which would knock holes in her bottom line – employers acknowledging and even encouraging fathers to take advantage of flexible working arrrangements so that they too can spend time with their kids. Because kids who feel that one of their parents has no time for them are not contented kids, yet that is what the current model work situation for most families imposes: families where one parent sacrifices the dignity of paid work for the family, and the other parent sacrifices the joys of family for paid work. Cater argues that it doesn’t have to be that way, and both kids and dads would be happier if that model of work/family imbalance changes.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show fathers in full-time jobs with children under 15 are working an average of 43 hours a week.

One in three works more than 50 hours a week and 16 per cent spend more than 60 hours a week under the hammer. More than half also regularly work overtime.

Yet only 30 per cent of fathers use flexible work arrangements to help care for their children, compared with 70 per cent of working mothers. And just 3.4 per cent of Australian families comprise a stay-at-home dad and working mum.

Those flexible work arrangements are just as open, legally, to men as they are to women. It’s the cultural openness which has to change. Some men are managing to organise their lives to achieve a better work/family balance.

Gareth Isaac decided to cut back on his 60-hour working week at the internet banking division of Westpac following the birth of his daughter, Caitlin, 16 months ago. He works from home one day a week and tries to get home at a reasonable time on other days.

“The bank has been great and that has made my life a lot easier,” he said.

“I know fathers who never get to see their kids. Caitlin is only young but it has still helped us to bond by me working from home.”

Good luck to you too, Gareth.

Categories: culture wars, relationships, work and family

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4 replies

  1. Terrific article. I really believe that 25 years from now work and family policies will be the norm in workplaces, that the pendulum will swing the other way after such a hefty swing towards “business needs”, but we will have a huge fight to get there because this too could be filed under “we’ll all be rooned”.

  2. It’s times like these I realise just how unusual my upbringing was (particularly for the 1970s and 1980s). My mother was a nurse who worked night shift on Friday and Saturday nights. She’d sleep all day on Saturday and Sunday. So, on the weekends, my father looked after myself and my younger brother. During the week, Dad worked a standard eight hour working day, and most nights, he had meetings to attend (for his job – he worked as the programme coordinator for a mental health non-profit organisation). But we saw a lot of both of our parents – Mum during the week, Dad on the weekends.
    It was a flexible work arrangement to suit the family, years before such things became common, or before the need for them was recognised. However, it was only possible because of some things which employer groups have been working very hard to remove, such as penalty rates for weekends and nights (Mum’s two nights of night shift earned her an amount equivalent to Dad’s five days of work plus meetings, simply because she was working weekend nights). The other thing which helped was that Mum’s job was a permanent part-time position. She was only going to work those two nights (although she did sometimes work the occasional Sunday night, if needed) but her job was pretty much guaranteed. These days, I’m looking for an equivalent type of work, and damned if I can find it – permanent part-time work is another thing which employers are doing their best to remove.

  3. Nice for you, Meg, but when did your parents get to see each other?!

  4. I approve entirely in principle, and I do try to get home as early as possible and occasionally stay long enough to see my children at breakfast, but the reality is that I’m earning the money.
    It isn’t really practical for my wife to do that since she is looking after the children and we are hoping to have more. The only option is for me to focus on earning more.
    So even though I only miss dinner about twice a month, I leave around six in the morning as often as not and sometimes earlier.

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