Fathers juggling work-life time bomb struggling to nurture parent-child bond

IT IS a paradox of the times. Fathers want to be more involved in raising and caring for their children but pressures from work are pulling them in the other direction.

A book to be released next week points to the long hours worked in Australia and the even longer hours worked by fathers of preschool-aged children. For women with young children the time pressures are harsher still with the common juggle of both part-time and unpaid work.

The book, Time Bomb: Work, rest and play in Australia today, says half of fathers with young children work more than 45 hours a week, regarded as ''long hours'', compared with 29 per cent of workers overall.

It is a pressure that building designer Chris Buchhorn, 24, feels. He arrives home from his job with architects CK Designworks about 6.30pm, after an hour's cross-town commute. He helps two-year-old daughter, Mindamarie, with her bath.

After dinner, he bundles his three-week-old son, Zackary, into a baby harness and boots up his computer. Rocking the baby on his chest, he spends a couple of hours working on private drafting jobs.

''With the reduction in money when my partner went on maternity leave, I took on more jobs I could do at night, to make up the extra load. It's a bizarre time in a way, but it gives him some attention and it gives me the time to get things done.''

Spare time? Not really. ''I had an hour to myself last Sunday to watch TV, but there is simply no downtime to myself at all.''

In Time Bomb, authors Barbara Pocock, Natalie Skinner and Philippa Williams note that for working fathers the pressure is getting worse and for those with preschool children, paid work rose by an average 5.7 hours in the decade to 2006. But the time pressure is higher still for mothers with young children, although they work far fewer hours of paid work.

The book draws on research by the University of South Australia's Centre for Work + Life, where the authors have worked, which shows that 73 per cent of women with preschoolchildren feel rushed, compared with 57 per cent of men.


Professor Pocock said that often, as men's careers take off in their early 30s, the children start to arrive. Men were experiencing the ''coincidence of a certain moment of their life cycle and career cycle alongside those early years of a child's life.''

She said changes to the labour market were intensifying that pressure with big growth in professional and managerial employment, and a prevalence of unpaid overtime. A generation ago many more men were in blue-collar work where you could clock off at a regular time.

''What we're actually seeing is it's getting tougher for fathers,'' she said.

Many mothers, she said, now say that they feel ''his hours turn me into a single parent''.

Professor Pocock said women expected a more equal division of the unpaid work but there was little change in the sharing of that burden, with women doing nearly twice as much as men. The book argues that today's fathers, born in the late 1960s and 1970s, grew up in an age of ''major progress'' in gender equality but asks ''how much has really changed?'' to the male breadwinner model of work.

And despite Australia's reputation for being laid-back at work, hours for those in full-time jobs are high. Australia ranked sixth-highest out of a survey of 28 OECD countries, the book notes, while one in three women and one in four men wanted to work less.

Research points to persistent long hours adding to the risk of mental and physical health issues. Professor Pocock said that while there had been enormous change to the labour market and industry over the past 30 years, there had not been changes in flexibility to allow workers to have greater control. ''There's enormous talk around flexibility,'' she said. ''[But] the talk has run ahead of the reality.''

This article Fathers juggling work-life time bomb struggling to nurture parent-child bond was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.