“What a shame!” was the reaction of a male client of my former company when I told him, that the person he was looking for was away on a paternity leave. I was so shocked and unprepared for this that I became speechless. The paternity leave was only for two weeks, but I think replying “he’s on holidays for two weeks” would have been a lot more acceptable for this particular client. Not an unusual example – it’s a reality many are still faced with today.
Being a modern father is not easy and can be confusing. In the past, the role of the father used to be obvious: the man was the head of the family, had to take decisions for the well-being of the family and was the main provider. He was expected to work outside the home and earn money to be able to provide for the family’s physiological and safety needs, while the woman was the one in charge of the house and the children.
Nowadays in our modern societies, not only men can provide for their families: many women work full time and earn enough to ensure their family needs. The allocation of roles is not clear, as the line between the role of the mother and the father is now a blurred one. In many parts of the world, the mother is often still responsible and involved in taking care of the children and house, but she is also expected to contribute to the family’s means.
Where does that leave the father then?
We often talk – rightfully! – about the discriminatory place of the women in our society, when they are still not yet the equal of men in many areas. However, we talk less about what this new allocation of roles does to the men. Redefining the role of the women in our society to be more on equal grounds is fundamental and women should continue to claim for equal rights in every aspects of their life, but it also means rethinking the role of the men, especially in the family.
If one parent spends a lot of time outside the home circle for work purposes, then somebody else has to fullfill the previous responsibilities and tasks that still need to be done at home. Luckily, in most cases, children have two parents! And this is where the father can claim back some responsibilities and redefine his role at home.
Easier said than done. It is not a simple task! Why?
Because most of the time, fathers continue to work as if they were still the only provider. The reasons could be that they can’t see themselves doing something else and/or they don’t really know what to do at home (because nobody truly taught them)
Because of our society: a man staying at home to take care of the kids and the house, even part time, would not be recognized as a strong, interesting man.
Because even when the father wants to be more involved in the children’s education and life at home, he’s often stopped or slowed down by the mother who cannot let go and thinks she can do all better than him!
And this is precisely why it is difficult to be a parent (a mother or a father) nowadays.
The pressure is on for women to feel that they accomplish in all areas of their lives, as a wife, a mother, working woman – “wonder woman” in one word, and makes it impossible to excel in every position. This result in women often feeling that they are not good enough.
On the other side, the father doesn’t have the recognition of the society and sometimes of his partner as well, to fulfill more responsibilities at home that the mother once bared solely on her shoulders.
In the end, everybody pays the price of this situation, the first ones being the children.
To improve the situation, if we want as women to be more involved in the working life outside the family, we have to accept to let go part of our previous territory at home (taking decisions for the house and children), and men need to accept that being more involved at home is not a downgrade of their position.
Of course, this will take time to achieve, where each family can find a balance that is just right for all the family members (and might be different from the family next door).
How can we do that?
By helping our boys to be more in connection with themselves and their emotions, without being ashamed of what they feel or who they are
By helping our girls not to feel inadequate to be strong-minded and decide for themselves,
By showing to boys and girls that no task or responsibility are gender specific but we should work as a team in a family and be grateful when somebody accomplish a task.
By helping our boys and girls to recognize what is right for them so they can find the best balance without feeling judged for their choices, being taking care of children and home, having professional carriers, or a bit of both,
By being more compassionate towards all parents who are doing their best no matter how difficult is the environment and the pressure of the society.
We are in a transition phase that requires non-judgmental open-minds to make life for every women, men and children more fulfilled and enjoyable, so everybody can thrive!