The power of dads working part time and talking about it

The power of dads working part time & talking about it

“If more organisations could support men to work part-time, it would make a huge difference to families and our community.”

I nearly wept with joy as I devoured the words of Sydney Paediatrician Dr Chris Elliot in the Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday.

Men openly engaging in a public dialogue about their own efforts and struggles to combine their career with families? I can hardly believe the day is upon us where this is happening. Not because plenty of men haven’t tried or struggled to ‘have it all’ but because it has remained an entirely private pursuit.

It has very very rarely been discussed in the public arena: the default has been that men can have it all to the extent that their home life will be supported by whomever they live with.

This isn’t always the case obviously and it certainly isn’t what every father wants.

The resignation of Tim Hammond, and specifically his statement that he simply cannot work as a federal MP and be the father he wants to be to his three small children, is what prompted Dr Elliot to write:

“The costs of negotiating family and work is territory familiar to every wife, mother and daughter around the world. However, despite the rise of men working part-time, it is still uncommon to see a man publicly engage in a significant career change in order to spend more time at home.”

Indeed. Which is why the power of seeing and hearing from men like Tim Hammond and Dr Elliot who have made the choice to either step back entirely or work part-time or work flexibly, so they can be present for their family cannot be overstated.

It paves the way for other parents to make similar choices – it flags that there are other choices for fathers – and will chip away at the stigma that still dogs dads who work part-time.

Out of a desire to be the best dad he can be to his three small children, Dr Elliot works  three days a week. His wife, who is also a doctor, works three days a week as well. It is an option he acknowledges isn’t available to all families but it is an option that allows him to have the relationship with his children that he wants.

It is an option that ought to be more readily available for Australian families.

Dr Elliot says working three days a week comes at some cost. Aside from the financial side of things missed opportunities and seeing other colleagues progress further and faster is not nothing for an ambitious individual. But nor is being an engaged parent.

The number of men in Australia who work part-time has barely moved in a decade and women are still three times more likely to work part-time as men.

Some might argue this is because that’s the arrangement that suits most families. I would argue it’s because that’s the arrangement that has historically been supported and encouraged, and thus perpetuated, by our attitudes, our work places and our cultural practices.

Disrupting that is no small task but men like Tim Hammond and Dr Elliot being open and honest about the decisions they are making for themselves and their families is a welcome start.

The sooner it’s seriously acknowledged that under the current arrangements “having it all” (which I use as shorthand for combining work with the responsibilities and joys of life)  –  is quite unsustainable for many Australians – not just women and not just mothers – the sooner change will be forced.

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