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  • Rachel Doyle

Women aren't the only caregivers. Often it's their partner's workplace that doesn't recognise this!

Dad's want to look after their children too

Recently I stumbled across a post from a friend who was complaining about the fact that her husband’s business didn’t seem to accept that she isn’t the only caregiver to their children. One of their children had tested positive for COVID and together they had devised how they would cover the care needs whilst their child could not attend school. If you aren’t aware, children have to spend at least 5 days away from school after a positive COVID test and can only return after 2 consecutive negative tests after day 5. All told, their children were off school for 10 days each, at separate times.

Her frustration with the situation was that she had spent time away from the office already caring for her child, she had taken 3 days off with them and it was now her husband’s turn to help with the childcare, which he was more than willing to do. The blocker however, sat with the business that he worked for. Their immediate response was: Can’t your wife do it?” Seriously in 2022 and with COVID, this shouldn’t be the case, response or reply. This does nothing for the wellbeing of any parent and tells you a lot about the business you are working for.

The responses to her post were immense! It seems many men and women face this sexism all of the time and it’s not as if the husband or partner weren’t keen to get involved with the child care either. Seeing your child poorly is stressful at best, the situation is far out of your control and being able to help them and care for them is something that both mums and dads want to be able to do. With isolation periods still being enforced by schools to help to stem the spread of the virus, children are not allowed to return to school outside of the isolation period and it doesn’t matter how poorly or well your child is. This is putting additional stress and pressure on parents, particularly where they work for businesses that don’t allow work from home flexibility.

Wellbeing days aren’t enough

With businesses focusing on wellbeing, they seem to be missing the point that the biggest stresses with work is the challenge posed by being a working parent. Never is that more obvious than in the middle of a pandemic/epidemic and when it is necessary for children to isolate for a minimum period, the challenge that a large number of parents are facing is that it still doesn’t feel widely accepted that men will have (and actually want to have) a large part to do with this. The expectation is that the wife will be the main caregiver and take care of anything to do with their children, sickness, school runs and attendance for plays, school events and more. In fact women report that their employer does offer them more flexibility to manage childcare events and situations but it is men who are reporting a lot less support to be able to take time out of the office to take care of their children, or for events relating to their children. Which then means that it falls disproportionately to the woman to cover more of the childcare duties.

Working flexibly needs to extend to give both parents the opportunity to take time out as necessary and to take part in their family duties yet this still doesn’t seem to be happening. This is often what leads women to quit working either full time, or worse altogether, because of the lack of support from their partner’s business leaving the responsibility solely at their door. So here is another source of the talent drain.

Change of culture and thinking

There is a worrying trend that those men who had taken time out to support their families had felt that it had harmed their opportunities with the business that they worked for. Others reported simply being unable to take the time out without having to take unpaid leave, or facing a challenging situation with their line manager. Only situations such as hospitalisation or extreme emergencies were given the green light, everything else seemed to not be accepted as their responsibility where it was known that they had joint parenting responsibilities. It didn’t seem to occur to the partner’s businesses that the parents had already sat down and agreed the schedule of who would cover what and worked it as best around important meetings and project deadlines. This then led to an imbalance where females also felt that they were being hampered by ending up taking more time out of the office and that it impacted negatively on their future prospects.

In 2022, there is a real need to have better family friendly policies within businesses. This may also be something that will give you the edge over your competitors when looking to attract talent to your business. There are some businesses that have their own child care provider or creche on site. However, by being understanding of the pressures faced by families as well as respecting that when two parents are working, they are trying to minimise disruption to their respective employers, whilst balancing what is the most important focus for them.

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