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making divorce hard for fathers

The Labour Of Love That Makes Divorce Harder Work For Fathers
Sydney Morning Herald - Tuesday, 29th July 2003. By Bettina Arndt

Long hours at the coalface can prove a double-edged sword for men if their marriages fail, writes Bettina Arndt.

Unlike many of her predecessors, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Pru Goward, has resisted the temptation to use her position to beat up on men. But recently there are signs the anti-male culture at the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission might have got to her.

In the past few weeks, Goward has been weighing into the debate on joint custody with remarks uncharacteristically hostile to men.

At a speech last week to a women's employment conference, she laid into the "unattractive face" of the men's movement, complaining of men working very long hours "apparently by choice".

She recommended the parliamentary inquiry into joint custody should explore the question of whether "men should have to put in equal parenting time while the marriage is intact" if they want to be more involved after separation. There might be fewer divorces if married men spent more time with children, she suggested.

There you are, guys. It's all your fault for neglecting your family by choosing to work those long hours. That's why you deserve to be punished when your marriage falls apart by having only minimal contact with your children.

Yet it simply doesn't make sense to blame men for the working arrangements in most Australian families. The decision that they should take the long shift is usually made by the couple to enable mothers to work shorter hours to care for children.

There's clear evidence that this is a decision most wives see in their own interests. Many men would prefer to work shorter hours and spend more time with their families but believe they are doing the right thing in remaining the major breadwinner.

Look at recent results emerging from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey. Analysis of HILDA data by Yi-Ping Tseng, of the Melbourne Institute, shows wives with the highest life satisfaction in Australia are in families where either the man is the sole earner or working significantly longer hours than the woman.

Most families fit one of these patterns, with a third (31 per cent) in sole-earner families and almost half (45 per cent) with full-timer husbands and part-timer wives (in these families the men average 48 hours per week paid work, compared with 25 hours for the wives). In the remaining one-fifth of families where both work full-time, wives show less life satisfaction.

Tseng found wives in male breadwinner families also report more satisfaction with their partners and are most likely to see their partners as doing a good job as fathers - more so than the two-full-timer families.

Researchers at the Australian Institute of Family Studies recently used this HILDA data to look at men working very long hours (60-plus) and found that when men were happy working these hours, their partners seemed particularly content with their relationships.

Fifty-seven per cent of these men would prefer shorter hours with a commensurate salary drop, yet almost a quarter were not happy with their workload but didn't want a change in hours - a finding the researchers suggest may reflect the need to preserve a salary level while resenting time away from their families.

Dr Michael Bittman, of the University of NSW, has found that fathers see their commitment to paid work as the major barrier to being effective parents, with 68 per cent of fathers unhappy about not spending enough time with children.

So women are hardly marching in the streets demanding their husbands work shorter hours. Hell, no. It's clear that most wives feel it is in their family's interest to keep their husband's nose to the grindstone, even if it means he misses out on time with children.

And men are also accepting of this arrangement - until their marriages fall apart. For it is then the crunch comes and breadwinning dads lose out badly.

That's the irony. The married men who once were rated most highly by their wives - as partners and as fathers - then have their willingness to support their families count against them.

When it comes to a battle over custody, men who worked those long hours are least likely to be allowed shared care and usually end up as visiting fathers with fortnightly contact.

In fact, the divorced father wanting to see more of his children may be required by the Family Court to keep working those long hours to maintain his ex-family in the manner to which they are accustomed - a particularly cruel twist.

Suggesting married men drop back to part-time work to spend more time with children might set them up for post-divorce custody settlements but it isn't going to pay the mortgage or allow mothers time to be with their families.

It will be a sad thing for our society if this debate convinces men that breadwinning is a mug's game and they should look out for number one - just in case.

Your hosts Reg and Sue Price would like to hear your news and views on the topics:
Email: support@mensrights.com.au
Mail: P.O. Box 28; Waterford Queensland 4133 Australia
Fax: (07) 3200 8769
Tel: (07) 3805 5611

A Fair Go For Mums Means Giving Dads Their Chance
Sydney Morning Herald - Tuesday, 12th August 2003, By Pru Goward

Fathering is back in the news. And for once it is not about conception. It has been discussed in a number of contexts including the parliamentary committee considering the feasibility of equal residency for parents after separation and the current shortage of male teachers. There has been talk of a crisis of under-fathering and a lack of male role models for boys.

Certainly there is unlikely to be much argument from sole parents about the need to share the parenting load. No woman I know who has been a single parent, for a week, a year, voluntarily or not, says it's anything other than hard. Crazy and brave, more like it.

When I say woman, I mean woman. The parenting load is currently borne heavily by women: 83 per cent of sole parents are mothers. Only 4.1 per cent of the Child Support Agency's total case load involves equally shared care. The result for women is fewer job opportunities, low paid part-time work, all-round low incomes and low superannuation entitlements.

Encouraging men to be more directly engaged in parenting gives more women a chance to provide for themselves.

There is widespread agreement that having fathers more often and more directly involved in parenting would make a lot of men happy and in most cases benefit children. Nobody disagrees that it is always preferable for boys and girls to have strong male relationships and for all to benefit from family life and the love and attention of both parents, even after marriage breakdown.

But there is a catch. A cost. Those who wish to be more engaged as parents and still participate in the world of paid work will find (as men who have done so attest, and as women well know) that it may well mean giving up overtime, promotion opportunities, often full-time work, a decent amount of superannuation, business travel, most of your leisure and even some of your sleep.

The majority of fathers choose not to undertake this task. Over recent weeks a number of men have argued publicly that undertaking the same sort of parenting load as mothers just isn't practical. They've pointed out that men generally earn more and so it makes sense for them to be the full-time earner.

They've argued that men don't have access to the same degree of family-friendly work practices and that men who attempt to be more engaged as parents are viewed less favourably for advancement and employment.

Surely this is the point.

We do not have to acquiesce to arrangements that patently disadvantage men and their children. We do have a choice.

We need to enable more men to take advantage of family-friendly workplace policies more often. After all, men have access to a year's unpaid parental leave, just like women. Ditto paid carers' leave. We need to encourage them to take it. We need to challenge the work cultures that frown upon and discriminate against men who seek flexible working conditions or shorter hours, just as we need to continue this battle for women.

Yes, as some argue, there are women who try to keep the parenting for themselves, acting as the gatekeeper and the arbiter of good parenting. Just as some men over the past couple of generations have been slow to accept that women have a legitimate position in the workplace, so, no doubt, women will need to be encouraged to abdicate some control of the domestic sphere.

We urgently need to address the work-time sacrifices parents will be required to make, remembering that you need to spend time with children to develop strong bonds and a sure hand at parenting.

You need practice at solving a fight between two children about sharing the computer, knowing who has eaten their lunch and who threw it away, learnt their three-times tables and what is really bothering them when they start skipping school. Let's not even contemplate the Solomon-like qualities and all round academic knowledge required for teenagers.

Without acknowledgement of parenting as a skill and a patient art, as well as an act of love, then all that encouragement we give women to go part-time, to leave off worrying about the career and instead to put their families first, will look like malignant posturing.

We all know how much most fathers love their kids. That's not in doubt. This debate is not about proving that. It is primarily about the interests of the child but it has a challenging and timely subtext: to disprove the old formula that women care for kids and men care about them. Equality of parenting is the greatest remaining barrier to equality between the sexes.

Pru Goward is the federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

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