New fathers are struggling to cope with the emotional pressures of juggling modern day life, according to a new survey by Calpol®. The news that fathers are facing unprecedented pressure coincides with the recent launch of the first ever post-natal support line specifically for fathers.
Fathers are having to cope with the financial, emotional, practical and career demands placed on them both at work and at home. As the pressure of modern day parenting takes hold, fathers are struggling to cope without the wide support network available to new mothers – including post-natal support telephone lines, groups such as the National Childbirth Trust & regular contact with healthcare professionals such as the midwife and the health visitor.
Professor Cary Cooper, organisational psychologist from the University of Lancaster says, “Women are generally better at coping with the stresses of home and work life and are generally far better at coping with worry because they’ll go and seek social support such as chatting to a friend. Men tend to go for the physical outlet like going to gym classes,” he says. “But a woman’s way of coping is much better because, in the end, physical activity alone can be an avoidance strategy.”
Calpol’s survey comes just weeks after the Government admitted nine in ten men are not requesting flexible working hours after having a baby, one of the new statutory rights now available to them.
Professor Cooper believes that the long hours culture in the UK may lie behind some of the results. “Today’s work pressures mean there are fewer people doing more of the work so it’s up to employers as well as individual employees to do more to reduce the modern plight of the long hours culture,” says Professor Cooper. “Until we start working smarter and not longer, work will keep impacting on family life.”
Although the Calpol 2003 survey revealed 68% of dads said they would take up paternity leave when it was introduced, the reality is very different. Financial commitments are cited as the main reason that dads don’t take advantage of their new two-week paternity leave entitlement (41%), followed by a significant lack of awareness among 1 in 5 new parents (23%). Of more concern is that a fifth (21%) of all employees felt that their employers would not allow it.
“The first few weeks after a baby is born are crucial, not only for providing time for the father to bond with his new baby but also for him to get to grips with learning the new practical skills involved,” stresses Tim Mungbeam from Parentalk, the leading charity for campaigning on behalf of parents. “Immediate involvement helps a new dad build his confidence and establish good habits for the child’s future development.”
The impact of juggling new parenthood and modern day work-life pressures is being felt by mothers too. During pregnancy and straight after the birth of the baby, fathers have good intentions but soon after, the level of support drops dramatically. When new mothers were asked about how supported they felt by their partners, 60% said they felt ‘looked after’ but one year on only 34% felt a similar level of support. Seventy four per cent felt emotionally supported immediately after the birth of their baby, but this dropped to only 41% feeling supported one year on.
‘The reality is that by the time fathers get home, they are physically and mentally exhausted, this is due to the day to day work pressures, which often involve long hours and competitive conditions. They appear to be fine about providing practical support, with aspects such as housework, but have less to offer emotionally because they just want a break!’
The pressure on fathers is compounded by mothers being forced back to work due to financial constraints. More than three quarters of the mothers surveyed (77%) said they were going back to work full or part-time – over half of these within six months of their baby’s birth. Nearly half (43%) of the women questioned would have liked more flexibility when returning to work, with flexible working hours (51%) and reduced hours (38%) being the top priorities.
And the economic reality of mums having to return to work seems to be having a knock-on effect on their routine, with 40% saying they rarely or never spend time relaxing on their own making home life potentially more stressful for all concerned.