Fathers under 24-hour pressure

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The Independent Online
WORK AND family pressures are putting modern fathers under strain. New research claims that they are not receiving the support and recognition they need to combine their role of breadwinner with their home life.

The findings, published today by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, show that the perceived role of fathers, as the main provider for the family, has not changed since the 1950s, while their contribution to other aspects of family life goes unrecognised.

Fathers who are unemployed or who work very long hours are at the highest risk of being seen as failures, because they are not able to provide for their families or to spend enough time with them. Some commentators believe the Government could help reduce pressure on men by enforcing the 48-hour week and introducing paid parental leave for times of family crisis.

While most mothers wanted men to be more active in family life, the researchers found that many of the ways fathers were involved, such as acting as a taxi service to and from daily activities, went unrecognised. Many fathers also said that they received continual demands from their children to provide money for items that were part of the teenage consumer culture, which added to their levels of stress.

"Men and women have very different ways of interacting with their children. One-to-one sessions with Dad going to football or tennis lessons were highly valued by children," said Charlie Lewis, professor of psychology at the University of Lancaster and co-author of the study.

Nearly 100 families and their children aged 11 to 16 were interviewed by researchers, who found that the traditional view of "providing" fathers and "caring" mothers was deeply entrenched among young people and their parents. "Work for many women, even if they work full-time, is not perceived to be the source of families' economic stability or survival. It is thought to be for extras like holidays," said Professor Lewis.

But a separate study, published in the British Journal of Psychology, shows that youths aged 17 or 18 rejected the traditional image of "dad" as largely absent and wanted to be more involved in all aspects of child rearing. They imagine spending lots of time with their children as well as being the main breadwinner.