Fathers want to play a more active role in family life but lack the necessary skills and confidence to do so, according to a report published by the think-tank Demos. The Other Glass Ceiling: The domestic politics of parenting, argues that fathers should be encouraged to play a more active role in child care and development through ‘bring your dad to school’ days and other proposed initiatives.
The report finds that women continue to take greater responsibility for housework and looking after children, particularly when the normal routines of family life are disrupted, such as when a child is ill. However, women are at least partly responsible for the unequal division of labour in the home, and many women interviewed for the report admitted that they struggle to let go of control over the home.
“Women face a second ‘glass ceiling’ in the home and continue to shoulder the burden of family life,” says Sophia Parker, Deputy Director of Demos and co-author of the report. “Many fathers lack the confidence and support to play a more active role in family life, while women are often reluctant to let go of the reins of family life.”
According to polling carried out by NOP for the report, 44 percent of mothers said they would take the day off work if their child was unexpectedly ill and couldn't go to school, but only 3 percent said that their husband or male partner would take the day off work in these circumstances.
The report also argues that policy makers have focused on helping parents in the workplace at the expense of supporting them in the home. Demos proposes a range of measures to support families in the home, such as ‘family life vouchers’, which could be put towards a range of activities, from help with cleaning the home to extra-curricular activities for children.
“The current obsession with ‘hard working families’ misses the point,” says Sophia Parker. “We must look beyond the workplace in order to support family life. Rather than focusing on paid work and formal childcare provision alone, policy makers need to support the everyday lives of families, particularly when the support that parents rely on is disrupted.”
The report also finds that mothers and fathers feel under growing pressure to be ‘perfect parents’, and are concerned about ‘doing it wrong’. As traditional family networks of support and advice fade away, parents are increasingly turning to popular television formats and the Internet for advice on bringing up children. Its authors argue that policy makers should learn from television programmes like Wifeswap and Supernanny to shape new policies that support families.
The report includes ethnographic research carried out in homes across the UK, and identifies seven household types that reflect the ways that different families manage the competing pressures on work and family life, including:
- Frustrated feminists – Couples who expected to be able to balance the arrival of children with successful careers, but have been thwarted in their efforts to share the burden of looking after home life.
- Art of motherhood – Where mothers continues to dominate the domestic environment and fathers fulfill a traditional male breadwinner role.
- What money can buy – Families who have managed to balance life at a price that most people can’t afford, by outsourcing childcare, cleaning and day-to-day management of their home.
The report will be launched by Deputy Minister for Women Meg Munn MP and Minister for Children, Young People and Families Beverley Hughes MP on Tuesday 25th April.
Notes to editors
- The Other Glass Ceiling: The domestic politics of parenting by Hannah Green and Sophia Parker, is published by Demos on 25th April 2006. Copies can be downloaded from www.demos.co.uk/publications/theotherglassceiling or ordered from Central Books on 020 8986 5488.
- The Other Glass Ceiling will be launched at The Unicorn Theatre, 147 Tooley Street, London by Deputy Minister for Women Meg Munn MP and Minister for Children, Young People and Families Beverley Hughes MP on Tuesday 25th April, 18:00 – 20:00. Please register for the event by emailing email@example.com
- Hannah Green is a researcher and Sophia Parker is Deputy Director of Demos.
- Demos is the think tank for everyday democracy. It has a long-running interest in families and their role in building stronger communities.
- The research was supported by Sanufi Pasteur MSD.