As a nation, we typically approach International Men’s Day in a very British fashion. Not entirely sure what the point of it is, and faintly embarrassed by any attempt to celebrate it.
It’s a global event on 19 November designed to recognise the positive value men bring to the world, their families and their community. I suspect our sheepishness lies in our uncertainty around what male “achievement” means today.
Traditionally, it meant meeting the financial needs of the family. Now that more households than ever have dual-career parents (apparently 75% of families with two children), partners need each other to share home and work responsibilities equitably.
Happily, more men than ever say they want to “breadshare” with their partner. Unhappily, organisations often frustrate and penalise this wish. Rare is the organisation in which policies intended to support working fathers actually do that.
Shared Parental Leave without financial backing, flexible working without senior role models, reinforce the expectation that men can share home/work responsibilities without actually providing the means to do so.
It is a tension which, if left unresolved, breeds resentment between couples, harms mental health and ultimately results in the relationship breaking down. It’s a sobering thought that rates of divorce and male suicide significantly drop in countries where couples share home/work equally. Meanwhile in the UK among heterosexual couples, working mothers still do the lion’s share of physical and mental activities that keep the family functioning.
While organisations play catch-up with their support for working families, what can men do to give themselves and their partner the best chance to succeed?
First-time fathers, sit down with your partner well ahead of your due date and discuss what you both want from your careers and home life. Plan what adjustments you need to make at work and at home to achieve this. Reassess and adjust this position each time your brood increases.
Line managers can be a great help or hindrance. If yours is supportive, have a constructive discussion about how you want to balance work/home life and what they can do to support you. Approach retrograde bosses with full knowledge of your rights and the support dads get from other line managers in the organisation.
Network with other dads both inside and out of work. It’ll keep you sane as well as provide useful ideas to successfully navigate career and home life.
Geraldine Gallacher is founder and MD of the Executive Coaching Consultancy
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