Within a few months of becoming a first-time father, trying to balance the new demands of a needy baby, sleepless nights and a job that currently didn’t have all my focus I was pulled aside by my manager – someone who had no children - and told that “sometimes work needs to come before family”. That moment was the start of a new phase in my life where, suddenly, I was made to feel like I had to choose between my career and my personal responsibilities.
This week, new research from academics at the University of Plymouth found that, although more men than ever are now sharing childcare responsibilities with their partners, employers are failing to keep up with the pace of social change. The researchers found that men face a “fatherhood forfeit” when applying for part-time employment and are often met with questions over their commitment to their careers. Meanwhile, women are praised for proactively seeking work-life balance. And that’s exactly what I’ve experienced myself.
As a new mother, flexibility is almost expected from employers: extended maternity leave, dispensations for childcare drop-offs or school pick-ups, taking time out to attend parent and teacher interviews, and so on. If bosses don’t offer this they are vilified. But for the new father – and despite what many firms might claim – the reality is very different.
Like an increasing number of new dads, after my first was born I made the decision that my family will always come before work. I am now a father of three children and I am convinced this has been the right decision. But it has come at the expense of my career.
I left that first job I had while parenting as I could no longer work under a manager who did not see family as a priority. I was let go from my next role as my shared responsibilities for our children meant I couldn’t and wouldn’t put in the constant late nights and weekends that the other (childless) men in the team were willing to work.
And it wasn’t just the expectations of the long hours, which some wore as a badge of honour; it was the after work drinks, the social events, the long lunches.
Before I was a father I wouldn’t miss out on any of these – but then my priorities changed. At 5pm on a Friday, after a long week at work, all I want to do is go back home and have dinner with my children, not spend the night getting wasted with colleagues I’ve seen continuously for the last five days.
And so formed a predictable pattern: if I tried to balance my work and family life by working smarter, but not longer, than those around me, I was penalised as not being the “team player” or by having my commitment to the job questioned. In my search for flexibility, I was often the first out the door whenever the inevitable “restructure” came.
Time and time again I have been knocked back, passed over or kicked out because I’m the guy who isn’t able to be at his desk by 8am every day. Yes, my career has stuttered as a result. I find myself plateauing, moving from one contract to the next, while others around me who clearly have prioritised their careers over childcare responsibilities or chosen not to have children move up the career ladder.
In an effort to try and regain control I made some radical decisions: I moved overseas twice; I now demand flexibility clauses in work contracts up front; I often work at home at night, and have now set myself up as freelance consultant in an effort to control my own hours.
It has not been an easy path, and there have been times when I get knocked back or the work didn’t come and we hit rocky financial patches as family. But when we do so, I always come back to my children. I may not be able to buy them that big house or take them on expensive holidays, but I will always be there for them, now and as they grow up. And when I look back on my patchy career, I remember that my family is and always will be more important – no matter what my next manager may believe.
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