Role modelling matters for working dads in so many ways

Ian Dinwiddy explains why working dads role modelling at home can change the future for their sons and daughters


I saw a comment on Facebook recently, it was a mum talking about the importance of career role modelling for her daughter, showing her a future where she could smash the glass ceiling, to be anything she wanted to be.

It got me thinking. We don’t use the same language when we talk about dads. Yes, we describe the benefits of dads being great role models for healthy masculinity for their sons, but I’m not sure we ever say the same about role modelling for daughters? 

I’d go as far to say that role modelling itself is often gendered. Mums role model for daughters, dads role model for sons.

I think we are missing a trick here.

What dads do and role model at home is of vital significance to the chances of their daughter’s career success and to the health of their son’s future relationships.

The challenge of the second shift and mental load

The reality for many working mums is that paid work is followed by a “second shift” of unpaid housework and emotionally demanding mental load. The UN estimates that globally 75% of unpaid labour is carried out by women (about three times as much as men).

When you discover that same-sex couples have a much more equal distribution compared to heterosexual couples, it becomes clear that gender expectations are involved in these discrepancies. 

The second shift is a hurdle that creates limits on the time and energy that women can devote to their careers, limiting their mental capacity as Amanda Newman from the Career Mum FB group explains: “We know that mental capacity is an important leadership trait, and I may be putting two and two together and making five – but couldn’t this mental load that we carry diminish our mental capacity at work? I just don’t have the privilege to dedicate my whole thinking to work issues. I do the best I can though whilst also carrying a significant mental load”.

A good news story

In the chaos of the last 14 months of the pandemic, dads have done more unpaid work than ever before:

The Fatherhood Institute research Lockdown Fathers: the Untold Story  found that in two parent households

  • 78% of fathers spent more time with their children
  • 68% spent more time on home-school / homework and 
  • 59% spent more time on cleaning laundry and cooking

This is a great story, though tempered by the knowledge that women increased their unpaid work by an even greater amount and were more likely to be furloughed or lose their jobs altogether.

Children and chores

The inequality experienced by women is mirrored by girls, who have traditionally untaken more household chores than boys and saw more of an increase during lockdown.

Did you know boys earn 5% more pocket money than girls? Sadly the gender pay gap starts early…

Implications for dual income couples.

With 75% of women with dependent children being in work, dual income couples are very common, the cost of modern life frequently making two salaries a necessity.

Imagine, two people preparing for a big pitch. One of them can devote all their time to working on the pitch, while the other has multiple domestic responsibilities to complete before they can start work, it’s late at night when the get the head space to think about the pitch. Who do you think will be better prepared? 

In many ways it doesn’t matter what sort of equality there is in the workplace, if women need to put in a second shift at home, it’s not a level playing field. And if your family’s income is dependent on your partner’s progression then it’s important to get this right, especially when it can bubble over into stress and tension in relationships.

Five reasons why equality at home should matter to you. 

The truth is that the status quo, where men have an estimated 5 hours a week of extra leisure time, favours men and on the face of it, it might not be obvious why creating a more equitable relationship is worth it.

Here are five reasons why it matters:

Solo childcare builds bonds with your children.

I heard a story recently, very sad in several ways – a young eight-year-old boy in hospital for leukaemia treatment, he only wants his mum. So, his mum is by his beside 24 hours a day. 

Off the back of increases in time spent with children during the pandemic, The Fatherhood Institute Lockdown survey found 65% of dads reported a better father-child relationship following lockdown.

Supports progress and financial earning capacity for women.

Reducing the financial pressure on ‘primary’ breadwinners and raising the living standards and opportunities for the family.

According to a Harvard Business Review report, “Women with equal partners at home are more successful at work. When people are less concerned with the impact of their job on family responsibilities and able to focus and commit more fully to their work, it’s no surprise that they’re more productive and able to take advantage of growth and advancement opportunities.”

Improved relationship with your partner

As this article and research points out – Men + childcare = happier couples. “Results indicate that men’s performance of childcare is generally associated with more satisfaction with the division of childcare, more satisfying sexual relationships, and higher quality relationships.”

The Father Effect

This piece in pointed to a number of beneficial effects on children from present and engaged dads.

  • Less likely to drop out of school. 
  • They tend to avoid high-risk behaviors and they’re less likely to have sex at a young age. 
  • They’re more likely to have high-paying jobs and healthy, stable relationships when they grow up. 
  • They also tend to have higher IQ test scores by the age of 3 and endure fewer psychological problems throughout their lives.

Solo childcare builds your parenting skills, insulating you from the impact of relationship breakdown.

How often do you hear the story – ‘He can’t share custody he doesn’t know what he’s doing?’ Harder to say if you have a track record of looking after children on your own.

What can you do to support equality at home?

Recognise that just reading this and improving your knowledge is great start, next step is to make a list with your partner of all the things that happen in the home and think honestly about this question:

Who physically does the work and who plans the work?

And if you want to go deeper into the thought process you could consider these 4 steps, described in this BBC article.

  • anticipating needs, 
  • identifying options, 
  • deciding among the options and 
  • then monitoring the results.

Have a think about your beliefs. 

Those two are a great place to start before thinking about designing a working pattern that works for the whole family and advocating for and explaining your needs at work.

Or you could you rather look back and have the regrets that Toby has…“If there’s one thing I wish we’d done better, it would have been to have those really honest discussions – rather than the more off-hand comments and observations – about the work life balance for both of us, including as a couple and as parents. 

“But hey – we live and learn, eh?!”

Get equality right

My coaching work with dads is never about telling dads how to live their lives but providing a framework to make great decisions and shine a light on understanding the challenge that are typically faced by mums and might well go unnoticed or misunderstood by men in heterosexual relationships, leading to relationship tension and trauma.

Get equality right at home and your sons will grow up to have healthy relationships while you promise to your daughter that she can be anything she wants will match your own role modelling.

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