In February 2019 we held a discussion with @womonetwork around managing motherhood and a career. The resounding conclusion was we need men to be involved in the conversation in order to feel a real change, So we decided to get host an event, getting men involved in the conversation.
We were joined for a frank discussion and practical advice from two couples who have successfully found a balance. Timewise Power 50 award winner Trevor Greetham works four days a week to spend more time with his children; his wife Alice is an author and teacher. They were joined by Cat and Henry Hoare, both in asset management, who shared parental leave for their two sons (read more about their experience in this blog post).
We were so pleased to have such an honest and engaged group, with many insights to take away on the many facets and challenges of finding a parental balance.
Here are the key takeaways that we noted:
1) We might be motivated by different things in the pursuit of a different balance. Some people may have had parents around as children, others not. But it is a decision as a couple to be brave and find your own way.
2) Only 1% of those eligible are taking up shared parental leave. It requires two companies to have supportive policies, which doesn’t always work in practice. Enhanced parental leave may help in the future.
3) There is likely to be a financial impact, but that is likely worthwhile for a better balance at home and work. For many that will outweigh the financial hit.
4) The big fear for men and women is the same – am I messing up my career path by taking time out? For most, the answer is no. But this is a concept that women have always grappled with and men need to get used to. You have to be determined and push through the perceived challenges.
5) You will face unconscious biases in the office and at the school gates. Men and women react in different ways, but there is often a sense that a father is just doing ‘daddy daycare’ and holding the fort rather than the female equivalent.
6) It is not always easy, and can be hard to say ‘see you Monday’ when you leave the office on a Thursday evening, or ‘have a good evening’ at 5 pm – especially when you are boss of the team. You’ll probably end up working harder especially in the evenings. But you’ll also be more efficient!
7) Guilt, both maternal and paternal, is much easier to handle if you know your child is in good hands with your partner for a period of time or some of the time. But there will still be guilt at the handover stage – it’s hard to not be the most wanted or needed.
8) A more even balance with children will make you more efficient. You both have the same level of knowledge and it prevents one parent (usually the woman) from carrying the emotional load. It also means quick decisions!
9) Things are changing. Flexible working, better parental leave policies and more men taking them up and setting an example all contribute. But that can be tempered by a culture of ‘always on’ and presenteeism.
10) Read the Idle Parent for great tips on what to not do. For example, don’t join any school PTA groups!
11) We are conditioned to putting family first, then relationship, then self. We should reverse that and look after ourselves and as a couple. Make time for the two of you. Happy parents, happy kids!
12) It will take time to find your balance. It doesn’t mean you have to share all responsibilities equally – you will each have strengths and settle into different roles.
13) If you can, try and have some overlapping time together. It will be precious and really helps the balance.
14) You have the right to request to work flexibly, kids or not. Jobs that are open to part-time and flexible working are getting more popular, and are increasing a good way to recruit top talent. The Return Hub is a good resource.
Our final observation. Too often the debate on childcare is focused solely on mothers. We need to see more men take parental leave and work flexibly for this conversation to move on from being considered just a factor for women. When employers start looking at men and women in the same way, considering that they both may want to take time off work, or change their working style, the opportunity for gender discrimination declines. Women will face fewer recruitment challenges through the key child-bearing age. That’s the path to real equality – we’re some way off, but we think we’re moving in the right direction!