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What Men Really Want after Paternity?

I watched a dad in Cabinteely playground stand patiently encouraging his daughters to push themselves to conquer the climbing wall. At times he had an arm outstretched behind them but he didn't touch them. He knew he'd catch them if they slipped. At one stage one of them wanted to stop.

You could hear her fear believing she couldn't do it. Despite her placing her foot in the same wrong place over and over, he kept at it with her. After a few attempts she got it, but only because her dad convinced her to keep trying. She was thrilled with herself. Everything was done quietly, naturally, without drama. Over the few minutes I observed, the girls got better and grew in confidence with one of them even getting brave enough to tackle the bigger climbing frame. It was something you'd see in a playground any day of the week. It was a nothing but it was everything. Teaching, building self-belief, setting stretch goals, all done in a happy environment. Father-ing for the 21st century. Fully involved and no big deal. Did I mention this was a Tuesday afternoon?

Another day I was on the bus into town where I saw two dads bringing their sons to Montessori. The kids seemed great pals and giggled away for the best part of an hour as the bus lurched towards Dublin city centre. Not a gadget in sight, just messing around and clearly well used to this trip. The dads chatted the whole way in about all things kids. What they were up to, how was sleep in each others households, had a junior infants place been secured yet. And so it went on.

And then there are the dads that I coach. Some organisations provide workplace paternity coaching as an employee benefit, giving a clear message that they see the transition to parenting as an employee milestone, not a female issue. I have yet to meet a working father who doesn’t want more time with his children or who doesn’t feel the constraint that comes with being a working parent. Listening to The Ibec Podcast “The rise of dual career couples, with Jennifer Petriglieri” she noted that

1) Ambition for careers and

2) Desire for engagement with family life, has really levelled out between men and women.

Petriglieri goes on to mention that;

“Research in under age 45 professionals showed no difference in the guilt men and women feel when they travel and leave children at home; and no difference in men and women’s desire to spend time with children when they are growing up”.

When I coach dads I’ll sometimes hear a justification for needing to do the creche drop off, whereas when I coach mums I’ll more often hear a slight apology for wanting to continue their careers. New mums returning to work after maternity leave are often asked if they would like to change their working pattern now that children are in the mix. I wonder how often new dads are offered the same conversation? Surely the obvious answer at this stage is that men and women want balance! Flexibility, work-life harmony and professional satisfaction are important to the majority of people, regardless of gender. And we know by now that when genuine flexibility is in place, productivity goes up. People want careers and they want decent time to spend with their families. They don’t want to be to the wire at every pick up or feel dread that their boss will schedule a last minute 5pm meeting. They don’t want to skip lines in the bedtime story in a desperate attempt to get their child to bed so they can open their laptop in order to show their ‘commitment’. And they don’t want to feel side-tracked at work because they aren’t glued to their desks. That has to stop because everyone is losing.

So this International Men’s Day with the theme: Making a Difference for Men and Boys', let’s make it the norm for dads to be empowered and to fully engage in their roles as fathers. Let’s look for more male role models at all levels in the workplace to start promoting job sharing, flexible working patterns and to own their desire to have more time with their children. Let’s accept that everyone needs balance because I think that would make a real difference to men and boys.

I work with employers to support their working parents, offering 1:1 Maternity & Paternity Coaching, People Manager Support, Workshops and Talks. More information is on my website and I would love to hear from you.

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