What does ‘having it all’ actually look like for fathers?

As I have followed (avidly) this year’s Tour de France, I have wondered about the challenges for those men riding in the tour who have families. Pro cyclists such as those in the Tour, not only spend three weeks on the road during the Tour itself, but spend a vast amount of time during the racing season at races across the world, and when not racing, at training camps, which are often away from home. For some of these athletes it means (long) spells of time apart from their families, including their children, when they are working. Whilst I’m sure the excitement of being a professional cyclist is a big motivation and makes adopting this lifestyle more palatable, being on the road and away from must be a difficult situation for those men, and their families.

Lots of families may face similar situations, with one parent working away (although perhaps with less Lycra involved), and thus spending the majority of their time away from the family home. It is hard to know exact numbers, as the way in which the ONS (Office for National Statistics) collects information about families offers us more simplistic breakdowns around family formations. More recent research in the social sciences has started to focus on couples who ‘live apart together’ (LAT) which offers us insight into families who organise their living arrangements differently from the perceived ‘norm’ of families all living under one roof.  According to research in this area, 1 in 10 couples are now opting to LAT, and many of these couples may have children to factor into the mix of how they divide their time and their locations.

The option to LAT then impacts on how people parent, and on parent child relationships, and whilst research around LAT explores how and why people opt to LAT, less appears to be known about the daily impact on fatherhood or motherhood in terms of these type of relationships. Similarly, research around fathers who work away appears to scarce within the social sciences, some work exists, but is small in scale and focuses on how children cope predominantly (Hiew, 1992).

In an era where people are now starting to talk about men ‘having it all’ in terms of work and active fatherhood, we need to more carefully consider what ‘all’ looks like, and how families can be supported to achieve the difficult balance of work, paying the bills, and managing not only childcare, but enjoying family life. The option of being part time may not be a means to enable the juggling of work and family as is the case for the men featured in Guardian article mentioned above for all families, indeed one party working or living away may be the best means for allowing work and family to be balanced; ‘having it all’ can then have many faces.

‘Having it all’ appears to be reducible to the idea of compromise for parents, sacrifices of some description have to be made, whether that’s a lot of time away from home for parents whose jobs require them to work abroad as in the case of the example of professional cyclists, or reducing hours and sacrificing pay as the men in the recent Guardian article appear to have done. Careers and families are then difficult to balance, and for some couples, LAT might be an option for making both of these aspects dovetail. As is so often with many aspects of families, and particularly fatherhood, we need to know more about the experiences of men and their families, being able to understand how families experience working away or living apart and the balance of career and children would enable society to better appreciate what ‘having it all’ can look like, and thus the needs of families and how societal structures could support them.

Hiew, C. (1992). ‘Separated by their work: Families with fathers living apart’. Environment and behaviour. 24 (2). pp206-225.

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