The Daily Telegraph (11 August 2012) has recently reported on Australian Bureau of Statistics’ figures which indicate that both men and women would like to work fewer hours. However, while 42% of women want to work less so that they can spend time caring for their children, only 14% of men wish to prioritise child care over paid work. Rather, men (about one third of those surveyed) would like to work less so that they can spend more time on socialising or recreation. Another 25% of men would like to work less so that they can spend time with their families, but not in order to carry out child care duties.
As a woman and a mother, these statistics don’t really surprise me, even though I do have some male friends who are very devoted fathers. The statistics are, however, at odds with what male family law clients tell me about their wishes. Perhaps it is the case that while fathers are in stable relationships with their children’s mothers, they do not choose or see the need to prioritise parenting activities. When those same fathers’ relationships breakdown,
they often tell me as their family lawyer that their relationship with their children is of primary importance to them, they want to spend more time with their children and can reduce or rearrange their work hours to enable them to do so.
It is certainly possible that in some cases the man’s desire to spend more time with his children post-separation is motivated by his wish to increase the nights that the children spend with him per year, so as to reduce his child support obligation. It is sad, but true in my experience, that both fathers and mothers can be motivated by child support considerations when negotiating parenting arrangements for their children.
There is another possible explanation which may cast men’s motivations in a more positive light, namely that when faced with relationship breakdown men come to realise the importance of their relationship with their children and then choose to give it greater priority. If that is the case, perhaps it would be nice for the children and both their parents for those fathers to prioritise spending time with and caring for their children, above socialising or recreation, before their relationships breakdown.