Towards equal parenting

Workingdads.co.uk asked veteran dad blogger John Adams what the impact of being the main carer has had on his family and what he thinks needs to change to support more equal parenting.

Dads

 

John Adams writes the award-winning parenting blog Dadbloguk.com. Married to Gill, he has two daughters and has been their main carer since 2011. At times he has been a stay at home dad, sometimes he has worked part time and latterly, he has run his blog as a cottage industry and fitted it around his family commitments.

What prompted you to start your blog?

John Adams: I launched Dadbloguk back in 2012. At that point in time, I had been the main carer for our daughter, Helen, for a year and our second daughter, Izzy, was expected any moment. To be blunt, I was inspired to start the blog because I had spent a year dealing with latent casual sexism and I wanted to highlight what I was dealing with.

The world simply does not expect a man to be the main carer for his kids, especially if they are infants. This experience really opened my eyes to the amount of gender inequality we all live with; women and men. Gender equality is often presented by the media and politicians as an issue that only affects women. It blatantly does affect women – it would be stupid to argue otherwise – but it impacts on men and their ability to be hands-on, involved fathers.

Time has moved on and both my children are now at school. There’s more work to do, but I feel involved fatherhood is viewed more positively now. While I will always blog about positive fatherhood and masculinity, I write about a much broader range of subjects and my focus has shifted towards the school years because that’s what I’m dealing with as a dad.

What did you do before you became a stay at home dad?

JA: Way back through the mists of time I was a journalist. I did change career direction, however, to work in PR and Government communications. When I left full-time work I was working in the communications team of a new defunct Government regulatory body.

How much time do you spend on the blog and associated activities in a week?

JA: Hahaha! A lot. When the kids are at school, I’m working on the blog and social channels. We have now employed a cleaner to make up for my lack of domestic work. I think if I totted up every hour during the week, probably about 30 hours, possibly more.

There is a misconception that blogging is about getting free tote bags, free shoes and looking gorgeous on Instagram. I operate as a limited company so I have to file accounts and my business pays Corporation Tax. As a data handler I am registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office, I have to adhere to Advertising Standards Authority rules and so on. If done properly, blogging is an occupation like any other.

Have you ever considered returning to regular work?

JA: In a word, no. With both my kids at school, I am quite happy running my blog as a business and it’s a way of making money I can fit around my family commitments. That said, I wouldn’t rule it out at some point. It all depends what happens in the future!

If you did do you think the experience you have gained from the blog would be helpful for getting a job?

JA: In some way or other, in my professional life I have always been involved with the media. My blogging activities have given me huge experience in handling social media and I have witnessed first-hand the impact blogging has had on journalism.

That’s a long-winded way of saying yes! If I were to stay in the media world – and I’m sure I would – I think my experience as a blogger would be very valuable.

What do you think has changed with regard to social attitudes to fatherhood since you started the blog?

JA: I still believe fathers are disadvantaged as parents because there is such a focus on mums being the main carer of new borns and young children. That puts a pattern of behaviour in place: Mum takes on the main caring role and dad is rarely able to make the contribution he should to family life.

But…it’s not all bad. I have noticed attitudinal shifts. The arrival of shared parental leave was an evolutionary step. Take-up of the leave may not have been as high as we’d all have liked, but it’s definitely led to greater public debate about the role of fathers. I also sense men, especially younger men, are more open to asking for flexible working.

It used to be the case that men referred to themselves as “supporting” their partners. It seems to be more the case that men see themselves as central to family life, not merely supporting it. This is great for everyone because it offers more freedom to mum, the kids get an involved father in their life and dad gets to do more with his offspring.

What are the biggest challenges facing dads at work now and how could these be overcome? What do employers need to do? What do dads need to do to change things?

JA: I left the workforce because I couldn’t get the flexibility I needed to be an involved father. As gender roles become more fluid, employers need to accept the fact more and more men are going to react this way.

Employers also need to get out of the mindset that mums will take an extended period of leave following the birth of a child. With shared parental leave being in place, it could be dad. It seems the usual suspects have already adjusted to this (the big professional services firms), but I don’t think this mindset has filtered down to the SME community.

What do dads need to do to change things?

JA: We need leadership and we need to demand change. I want to see the male CEO of a FTSE100 company take nine month’s shared parental leave.

I want more men to start publicly discussing things such as childcare and breastfeeding. The longer such issues are treated as ‘women’s’ issues, the easier they are to ignore or treat as fringe interests and that benefits no one.

What needs to change about the way we talk about parenting?

JA: Much discussion about parenting assumes most families are mum, dad and kids. In truth, families have always been very messy, beautiful things. If I look at my background, I have been a stepson since a young age and my natural family is spread over several countries without one language uniting us.

Same sex couples are now very much a part of the parenting world. As are single parents, divorced parents, widowed parents, stay at home mums, stay at home dads. Custody following divorce these days is generally split between both parents, so kids are frequently shuttling between two homes.

The nuclear family is very much a thing, but it’s not as common as you think. I think we need to accept the fact children are raised in all manner of set-ups (….and always have been, it’s just never been acknowledged!).

What do you think you have learned most from your time as main carer in your family?

JA: Oh gosh, I have learned so much. I always knew it was going to be tough. I guess what I wasn’t prepared for was just how quickly kids grow up and how rapidly their needs change.

Children are also wonderful individuals. Their interests need to be nurtured and they need to be treated with respect and care. None of this “seen and not heard” nonsense. Having been the kids’ main carer for several years I can say with confidence I wouldn’t have wanted to raise them any other way.

How do you think having a closer bond with you has affected your children, compared to other dads you know who are not the main carer?

JA: This is something I used to worry about. I used to be very concerned that my kids might be disadvantaged because their dad was their main carer in a world where mums usually fulfill that role. In one way they have. They’ve not had the social opportunities other kids got, especially when younger, because mums and dads don’t speak to each other. It takes a lot to cross that line because, I think. None of us wants to be accused of inappropriate behaviour!

My eldest daughter is, interestingly, much more likely to speak up about gender equality issues. I think she understands her family is a little atypical.

As a father, I’ve taken the kids abroad, travelled overnight with them by train to Scotland, helped out at school events, helped in their classes, I take them to their weekly gymnastics classes and so on. Most dads don’t get to experience these things and that’s sad because they can exist in a different world to their offspring.

My wife goes out of her way to get involved in these things as much as possible. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect, but I think we do have a more balanced relationship than many couples for that reason.



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