Choose life, choose the family

If you want to live longer, become a househusband. By Anthony Tasgal
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The Independent Culture
WE ARE are constantly told that the average male worker wants nothing more than to improve the balance between work and home life, especially if it means spending more time with his children.

If any of us nearly-new dads needs encouragement to spend more time with the family, last week we were offered another blinding incentive. A new study shows that fathers who stay at home to help raise their children could actually live longer than their working colleagues.

Women live longer than men, that we know. But now it appears that it's the daily grind of going out to work that kills men. Any fool on the 6.10 intercity to Euston could tell you that, but now we have proof.

Let me contribute to the sum of knowledge and examine my stress levels since I decided to downshift in December last year. The last six months have been unlike any of the previous 15 years I spent working full-time. Not just for the prosaic reasons - the immediate sense of liberation from mutually arranged servitude is just as exhilarating now as it was then.

Besides, the litany of new and exciting personal fulfilments over the period would keep authors of self-help guides brimming with contentment: reading to Josh's class, ferrying Zach to his first days at playgroup and just being around baby Saskia. Who needs the internecine politics and poisonous cabals of office life when you can play tennis?

But wait a minute - does my new-found longevity bring stress-reduction too? Is my life not just longer, but also more peaceful and fulfilling?

Actually, no. Since downshifting, I have been subject to all sorts of new stresses. First is the nostalgia for the cause-and-effect chain known as the monthly salary cheque: you turn up; it turns up. Of course I have more time to enjoy my children, but now I live in fear that every day without work brings me nearer to selling one of them.

We all need structure and pattern in our lives. But downshifting disrupts that. With three children, my wife had established her own patterns and routines. Then came the decision to downshift and suddenly, from both of us being out at work, we were both home-based. My former routine fragmented instantly, so instead of being largely absent, I became a kaleidoscope of alternative appearances. I was either out working unsociable hours, in working unsociable hours, in and trying to work, in looking after the kids or out with the kids. The boundaries had moved and my wife no longer knew where her carefully structured life had gone.

One minute I was never around to make choices involving school, recreation, presents or parties. Then hey presto, what had been her fiefdom became a democracy, and nobody knew who was in charge. A lot of time was taken up with negotiation and discussion when previously a decision was simply made and action directly taken. I began to feel that instead of contributing, I was merely complicating things.

We have adopted a phrase called E-quality time: recognising we have a right to equal amounts of time to ourselves. Working from home combined with childcare might seem an idyllic alternative to office life, but unless you organise your time to minimise conflict, it's not going to lengthen your life by a day.