This blog is based on my doctoral research entitled Jostling for position: fathers negotiating work and care. Conducted in the UK, it explores fathers’ understandings of their paid work and care practices. The research was conducted at the University of Leeds under the supervision of Prof Fiona Williams (OBE) and Dr Sarah Irwin. It was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). It ran from September 2004 – March 2009. It is based on interviews that were conducted between September 2005 and July 2006. I'd like to offer a big thanks to the fathers who generously gave me their time and stories.
Inspired by an ethics of care philosophy (Tronto 1993; Sevenhuijsen 1998), the two key starting points underpinning the research were that:
• care has been traditionally gendered and low-valued
• fathers are reluctant and slow to make changes to their work patterns.
Two key research questions guided this qualitative research:
1) What does work-life balance mean to fathers?
2) How do fathers think about and relate to ‘care’?
The analysis is based upon semi-structured interviews with 32 fathers who were earning and had at least one child under 12. An interpretive approach to data analysis was applied based upon an epistemological standpoint of ‘situated knowledges’ and explores fathers’ understanding of becoming a father, fathering and paid work, and their understandings and experiences of child care.
The research found that fathers identified with a contemporary concept of fatherhood which is more loving, emotional and present. This view of fatherhood requires a ‘whole package of care’ for children. However, many fathers struggle to provide this ‘whole package’ and it is frequently resolved by embracing the concept of dual care as care that can be shared by a ‘parenting’ team.
However, notions of sharing are also understood in terms of balance. Scheduling problems between paid work, childcare, and leisure time (both individual and family) raise potential conflicts between individual self-fulfilment and autonomy for others. This dilemma has been identified by other fatherhood researchers (Riley 2003, Henwood and Procter 2003) and within care-justice debates (Pateman 1988, 1989; Gilligan 1982, 1993).
Despite aspirations towards caring fatherhood and shared care, gendered ideologies of both work and care remain strong. While the idea of masculine breadwinning may have given way to the idea of adult earning by both genders, in practice, many fathers still link earning to a display of successful masculinity. On the other hand, the link between men and child care is tenuous.
It is suggested that while ‘caring fatherhood’ is more thinkable and negotiable, the positioning of mothers as primary carers continues to place fathers in a secondary position as parents. Whether chosen or forced, gendered ideologies of care and work mean that negotiating change involves a difficult (and therefore often unwanted) jostle for fathers. The incremental process of ‘slipping into’ roles is easier and more comfortable for everyone.
Therefore, a work-life balance policy package that supports involved fathering and equal parenting (rather than simply shared parenting) needs to popularise and legitimise both fathers’ leave-taking from work and men’s safe involvement in child care.