Family groups - fathers - making divorce hard for fathers
Long hours at the coalface can prove a double-edged sword
for men if their marriages fail, writes Bettina Arndt.
Unlike many of her predecessors, the Sex Discrimination
Commissioner, Pru Goward, has resisted the temptation to use
her position to beat up on men. But recently there are signs
the anti-male culture at the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity
Commission might have got to her.
In the past few weeks, Goward has been weighing
into the debate on joint custody with remarks uncharacteristically
hostile to men.
At a speech last week to a women's employment
conference, she laid into the "unattractive face"
of the men's movement, complaining of men working very long
hours "apparently by choice".
She recommended the parliamentary inquiry into
joint custody should explore the question of whether "men
should have to put in equal parenting time while the marriage
is intact" if they want to be more involved after separation.
There might be fewer divorces if married men spent more time
with children, she suggested.
There you are, guys. It's all your fault for
neglecting your family by choosing to work those long hours.
That's why you deserve to be punished when your marriage falls
apart by having only minimal contact with your children.
Yet it simply doesn't make sense to blame men for the working
arrangements in most Australian families. The decision that
they should take the long shift is usually made by the couple
to enable mothers to work shorter hours to care for children.
There's clear evidence that this is a decision
most wives see in their own interests. Many men would prefer
to work shorter hours and spend more time with their families
but believe they are doing the right thing in remaining the
Look at recent results emerging from the Household,
Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey. Analysis
of HILDA data by Yi-Ping Tseng, of the Melbourne Institute,
shows wives with the highest life satisfaction in Australia
are in families where either the man is the sole earner or
working significantly longer hours than the woman.
Most families fit one of these patterns, with
a third (31 per cent) in sole-earner families and almost half
(45 per cent) with full-timer husbands and part-timer wives
(in these families the men average 48 hours per week paid
work, compared with 25 hours for the wives). In the remaining
one-fifth of families where both work full-time, wives show
less life satisfaction.
Tseng found wives in male breadwinner families
also report more satisfaction with their partners and are
most likely to see their partners as doing a good job as fathers
- more so than the two-full-timer families.
Researchers at the Australian Institute of Family
Studies recently used this HILDA data to look at men working
very long hours (60-plus) and found that when men were happy
working these hours, their partners seemed particularly content
with their relationships.
Fifty-seven per cent of these men would prefer
shorter hours with a commensurate salary drop, yet almost
a quarter were not happy with their workload but didn't want
a change in hours - a finding the researchers suggest may
reflect the need to preserve a salary level while resenting
time away from their families.
Dr Michael Bittman, of the University of NSW,
has found that fathers see their commitment to paid work as
the major barrier to being effective parents, with 68 per
cent of fathers unhappy about not spending enough time with
So women are hardly marching in the streets
demanding their husbands work shorter hours. Hell, no. It's
clear that most wives feel it is in their family's interest
to keep their husband's nose to the grindstone, even if it
means he misses out on time with children.
And men are also accepting of this arrangement
- until their marriages fall apart. For it is then the crunch
comes and breadwinning dads lose out badly.
That's the irony. The married men who once were
rated most highly by their wives - as partners and as fathers
- then have their willingness to support their families count
When it comes to a battle over custody, men
who worked those long hours are least likely to be allowed
shared care and usually end up as visiting fathers with fortnightly
In fact, the divorced father wanting to see
more of his children may be required by the Family Court to
keep working those long hours to maintain his ex-family in
the manner to which they are accustomed - a particularly cruel
Suggesting married men drop back to part-time
work to spend more time with children might set them up for
post-divorce custody settlements but it isn't going to pay
the mortgage or allow mothers time to be with their families.
It will be a sad thing for our society if this
debate convinces men that breadwinning is a mug's game and
they should look out for number one - just in case.
Your hosts Reg and Sue Price would like to hear your news
and views on the topics:
Mail: P.O. Box 28; Waterford Queensland 4133 Australia
Fax: (07) 3200 8769
Tel: (07) 3805 5611
A Fair Go For Mums Means Giving Dads Their Chance
Sydney Morning Herald - Tuesday, 12th August 2003, By Pru
Fathering is back in the news. And for once it is not about
conception. It has been discussed in a number of contexts
including the parliamentary committee considering the feasibility
of equal residency for parents after separation and the current
shortage of male teachers. There has been talk of a crisis
of under-fathering and a lack of male role models for boys.
Certainly there is unlikely to be much argument
from sole parents about the need to share the parenting load.
No woman I know who has been a single parent, for a week,
a year, voluntarily or not, says it's anything other than
hard. Crazy and brave, more like it.
When I say woman, I mean woman. The parenting
load is currently borne heavily by women: 83 per cent of sole
parents are mothers. Only 4.1 per cent of the Child Support
Agency's total case load involves equally shared care. The
result for women is fewer job opportunities, low paid part-time
work, all-round low incomes and low superannuation entitlements.
Encouraging men to be more directly engaged
in parenting gives more women a chance to provide for themselves.
There is widespread agreement that having fathers
more often and more directly involved in parenting would make
a lot of men happy and in most cases benefit children. Nobody
disagrees that it is always preferable for boys and girls
to have strong male relationships and for all to benefit from
family life and the love and attention of both parents, even
after marriage breakdown.
But there is a catch. A cost. Those who wish
to be more engaged as parents and still participate in the
world of paid work will find (as men who have done so attest,
and as women well know) that it may well mean giving up overtime,
promotion opportunities, often full-time work, a decent amount
of superannuation, business travel, most of your leisure and
even some of your sleep.
The majority of fathers choose not to undertake
this task. Over recent weeks a number of men have argued publicly
that undertaking the same sort of parenting load as mothers
just isn't practical. They've pointed out that men generally
earn more and so it makes sense for them to be the full-time
They've argued that men don't have access to
the same degree of family-friendly work practices and that
men who attempt to be more engaged as parents are viewed less
favourably for advancement and employment.
Surely this is the point.
We do not have to acquiesce to arrangements
that patently disadvantage men and their children. We do have
We need to enable more men to take advantage
of family-friendly workplace policies more often. After all,
men have access to a year's unpaid parental leave, just like
women. Ditto paid carers' leave. We need to encourage them
to take it. We need to challenge the work cultures that frown
upon and discriminate against men who seek flexible working
conditions or shorter hours, just as we need to continue this
battle for women.
Yes, as some argue, there are women who try
to keep the parenting for themselves, acting as the gatekeeper
and the arbiter of good parenting. Just as some men over the
past couple of generations have been slow to accept that women
have a legitimate position in the workplace, so, no doubt,
women will need to be encouraged to abdicate some control
of the domestic sphere.
We urgently need to address the work-time sacrifices
parents will be required to make, remembering that you need
to spend time with children to develop strong bonds and a
sure hand at parenting.
You need practice at solving a fight between
two children about sharing the computer, knowing who has eaten
their lunch and who threw it away, learnt their three-times
tables and what is really bothering them when they start skipping
school. Let's not even contemplate the Solomon-like qualities
and all round academic knowledge required for teenagers.
Without acknowledgement of parenting as a skill
and a patient art, as well as an act of love, then all that
encouragement we give women to go part-time, to leave off
worrying about the career and instead to put their families
first, will look like malignant posturing.
We all know how much most fathers love their
kids. That's not in doubt. This debate is not about proving
that. It is primarily about the interests of the child but
it has a challenging and timely subtext: to disprove the old
formula that women care for kids and men care about them.
Equality of parenting is the greatest remaining barrier to
equality between the sexes.
Pru Goward is the federal Sex Discrimination