When you become a dad, you and your partner will need to make some decisions about how to divide up your work and childcare responsibilities. This may prove to be a more complex decision that it initially appears.
Even in modern families, many parents still tend to drift towards traditional gender roles with men returning quickly to work and women staying home to take on primary childcare duties. As a dad, this can leave you feeling like the backup parent, on hand when needed but never at the forefront of parenting decisions (Gao 2018).
Take some time to discuss your hopes and expectations with your partner so you can each get a true sense of what the other wants. You’ll still need to make compromises, but it will benefit you to make the decision as a couple, and take on the roles that suit your family, rather than the roles you think you’re supposed to have (Jansen 2006).
Getting this balance right early on can help you establish a childcare routine that works, and this can give your relationship quality a positive boost.
It isn’t always easy to strike a successful balance between your work life and your family life. If you have to go back to work soon after your child is born, it can be a mixed experience. On the one hand, it may feel like a daily grind that takes you away from family life; on the other hand, the change of scene might sometimes feel like a relief from the stresses of home and family life (Brown 2017).
If you’re the one staying at home while your partner goes back to work, you may face a different kind of pressure as you remain on constant parenting duty without a change of pace. Whether you’re working, or on full-time childcare duty, you’ll probably have good and bad days. Try to remember that your partner is probably having a similarly tough time, even if you are tackling very different roles – you’re both going to need each other’s support.
If both want to keep working, it can be a struggle to balance things. Good quality childcare is often hard to find and isn’t always affordable. This may affect the options available to you around the decision to return to work. One or both of you may have to work extra hours to cover childcare costs, or you may find that it makes better financial sense for one of you to stop working and cover childcare yourself.
It can make things easier if you’re able to arrange to work more flexibly. Under UK employment law, you are entitled to request flexible working arrangements, but your employer is not obliged to grant it (HSBC 2012) – it’s best if you can present the request in a way that benefits your employer as well as your family.
Dads are still more likely to go back to work sooner than mums, which can leave them feeling less confident in their parenting roles. If you’re not around the baby as much as your partner, you’ll have fewer opportunities to practise your parenting skills and you may worry about getting things wrong.
If it’s available, an extended period of shared parental leave can give you both a chance to develop your parenting skills together. This early sharing of hands-on experience can set a precedent for a more equal involvement in long-term childcare, increasing your confidence and giving you a better understanding of what your partner is going through at home, if and when you return to work. All of this can help set up a more effective co-parenting relationship and, as a result, a happier couple relationship (Gao 2018) (Kolak 2007) (Rehel 2014).
If you can’t get the time off work, be prepared to learn things at a slower rate than your partner and try not to be put off by the fear of getting things wrong. Ask your partner to be patient with you. Explain that, even though you may not get things right first time, you do really want to help. By demonstrating that you’re willing to learn, you’ll be able to offer your partner more support in the long term.
Jansen, M. and Liefbroer, A.C. (2006). Couples’ attitudes, childbirth and division of labour. Journal of Family Issues, 27 (1), 1487-1511.
Gao, M., Du, H., Davies, P. and Cummings, M. (2018). Marital Conflict Behaviors and Parenting: Dyadic Links over Time. Family Relations DOI:10.1111/fare.12322.
Kolak, A.M. and Volling, B.L. (2007), Parental Expressiveness as a Moderator of Coparenting and Marital Relationship Quality. Family Relationships, 56(5), 467-478.
Rehel, E. (2014). When Dad Stays Home Too: paternity leave, gender, and parenting. Gender and Society, 28 (1), 110-132.
Forsberg, L. (2009). Managing Time and Childcare in Dual-Earner Families: Unforeseen Consequences of Household Strategies. Acta Sociologica, 52(2), 162-175.
Brown, T.J. & Clark, C. (2017). Employed parents of children with disabilities and work family life balance: a literature review. Child Youth Care Forum. 46: 857. https://doi-org.uos.idm.oclc.org/10.1007/s10566-017-9407-0
HSBC (2012). HSBC lends a hand to back‐to‐work parents: Employees guaranteed part‐time work after maternity or paternity leave. Human Resource Management International Digest, 20 (16-17) https://doi.org/10.1108/09670731211249341