Men in the UK are feeling the pressure to “have it all”, according to newly published research.
The idea of “having it all” – ie. a successful career and family life – is one that has long been associated with women and has led to much debate about whether mums are trying to live up to impossible standards.
Now dads are hankering after the same unattainable ideals, according to research by men’s mental health charity The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) and The Huffington Post UK, which was released as part of the Building Modern Men campaign.
The report found that the majority of men (87%) wish they could spend more time with their children, whilst still being more likely than women to believe they must shoulder the burden of being the main breadwinner.
“The changing world of work and family life produces conflicting and additional pressures for men,” explained Joel Beckman, general manager at CALM.
“While men now want to spend more time at home and with their kids (and indeed are now often required to do so to jointly manage childcare arrangements), the classic expectations to be the principle income generator remains,” Beckman continued.
“Until these forces are equalised so that men feel that it is OK for income responsibility to be shared as equally as childcare, there will continue to be added, self-imposed pressures in managing day-to-day life.”
The dads questioned as part of CALM’s Masculinity Audit said they felt working hours, the pressure of work and commuting were the main reasons they couldn’t spend as much time as they’d like to with their children.
Women also reported feeling the balance between their work and family time was off kilter (72% would like more time with their kids). However while the number of women feeling this way has remained stable since 2014, the proportion of men has risen by 10% (from 77%), showing a shift in the amount of value men place on family time.
New policies, such as Shared Parental Leave, and the creation of organisations such as The Fatherhood Institute, which aims to help shape policy to ensure a father-inclusive approach, reflect a relatively recent cultural shift in the understanding of the value of the role dads play in their children’s lives.
However, despite this new appreciation of a father’s importance, many men are still feeling the responsibility to fulfill the ‘traditional male role’ of provider for their family – as 31% of men (compared to 19% of women) said they feel pressure to be the main breadwinner within the household.
David Bradburn, 27, software developer and contributor to Daddilife, worries he is not spending enough time with his four-an-a-half-month-old daughter Amber.
“By the time I get in from work I get roughly one hour with Amber before she goes to bed,” said the dad from Sunderland.
“Of course I would love to see her more, but hey – I need to earn so I can support my family.”
”It is stressful knowing I can’t make much more additional time for Amber,” added Bradburn. “Sometimes a thought passes my mind, which is that ‘one day I will come home from work, and Amber won’t recognise me and start crying’.
“I’ve read many reports of fathers going through such circumstances, and I really feel for them.
“For me I don’t think this will happen, thanks to the fact I had the privilege of taking Shared Parental Leave, which provided me with crucial bonding time with Amber. But the thought is one that really scares me.”
Jeremy Davies, head of communications at The Fatherhood Institute, agrees with Beckman that this dual pressure men feel comes from a wish for a state of gender equality that we haven’t yet achieved as a society.
“We have a perception that things have moved on more than they have,” he explained.
“Many men and women men aspire to be sharing childcare and financial provision 50/50. But although dads are doing more of the hands-on childcare than they were in the 1970s, they’re still not doing anywhere near as much as the women are.”
Research by The Fatherhood Institute, published in June this year, found that British men will spend 24 minutes caring for children, for every hour done by women.
“The gender pay gap means a dad is likely to earn more than a mum,” explained Davies. “And many offices are still set up to be more understanding of a woman needing time off for childcare, which means many people find themselves in more traditional roles than they aspired to and that can be frustrating.
“This is the opposite side of the coin to women fighting to be taken seriously in the workplace. It’s men fighting to be taken seriously as parents.”
A lot of the desire to “have it all” is internalised – 65% of the Masculinity Audit respondents said the pressure to be the breadwinner came from themselves – but that doesn’t mean it’s any less real and it can take its toll on dads’ mental health.
Dan Flanagan, 42, father-of-one and founder of Don’t Believe The Hype, has experienced the pressure to “have it all”.
“It isn’t possible most of the time. Something has to give,” he said.
“Whether that be the relationship or even your mental health issues caused by the stress of it.
“That’s what happened to me.”
”Last year I quit my job at a large media agency because I realised that I was almost a stranger in my own home,” Flanagan continued.
“I was leaving early on the commute and getting back just in time to see my son go to sleep. When I was at home my mind was always on work. At weekends I’d lavish my son with expensive treats to try and ease my guilt for not being around most of the week.
“Now I work from home. I do the majority of school runs and play an active part in my son’s day-to-day life.
“He is a lot happier because we spend so much time together. I am a lot happier because I am able to actively participate in his life rather than hearing about it second-hand.”
If you can’t make changes to your working day to enable you to spend more time with your family, Davies advises that there are ways to for men to feel more satisfied by their family time.
“Make sure you have one-on-one time with each of your children,” he said.
“When you’re working five days a week, it can be tempting to spend your days off together as a family, but you need some time alone with your children to develop your own relationship with them.
“It’s good for the kids to see you as an independent fully-competent parent in your own right, and it’s good for you because it builds up your confidence.
“Evidence also tells us it’s not quantity of time that matters, so much as the nature of your engagement with your child.
“Even if you’ve only got half an hour in the evening with them, spending that time fully engaged – so your phone is off, you’re eyeball-to-eyeball, you’re using really good listening and talking skills, you’re doing something constructive and enjoyable together, that’s more valuable than a whole day spent together when you’re distracted by work.
“Kids need to understand: ‘I can talk to daddy about what I had for lunch at school and he’’ll be interested because he understands that is important to me, because he’s getting onto my level when he’s with me’.
“That’s what kids need and when you get good at that – whether you’re a mother or a father – that’s when you get what psychologists would call ‘quality interactions’ and that’s what good parenting is all about.”
The Huffington Post UK’s month-long ‘Building Modern Men’ initiative aims to highlight the pressures men face around identity and to raise awareness of the epidemic of suicide.