Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Work cuts half of Kiwi dads out of family activities

Half of Kiwi dads say they are missing out on family activities that they would like to take part in because they are chained to their work.

The first in-depth research with 4121 fathers of children in the Growing Up in New Zealand study, which is following 6853 children born in the year to March 2010, has found that the vast majority of Kiwi dads are now heavily involved in childcare.

Five out of six (84 per cent) say they help with personal care such as bathing and dressing the children, and 73 per cent say they are more involved with their children than their own fathers were with them.

But they yearn to be even more involved. Half say their work means they miss out on "home or family activities that they would prefer to participate in", 58 per cent want to be more involved in their children's lives, and 33 per cent of those in work would like to work fewer hours.

"Increasingly we are seeing more shared parenting," said study leader Dr Susan Morton.

"But perhaps in the workplace there is less acknowledgement that dads have a role at home as well as at work. We see that more for mothers, maybe we should see that as a parent thing."

Auckland couple Paul and Mahani Jones, whose 6-year-old son Kingston is one of the children in the study, have found a way to share parenting equally.

Paul, who runs family-owned fireplace manufacturer Living Fire, works from 6am to 2.30pm so that he can pick up Kingston from school and daughter Ivy, 2, from daycare, while Mahani gets the children off to school in the mornings before going to her job in graphic design.

"We do stuff - sports, going to the library, food shopping - and I make dinner," Paul said. "So we have a balance that works."

The Growing Up study, based on families recruited in Auckland and Waikato, is the first large-scale long-running study of NZ families since two studies in Dunedin and Christchurch in the 1970s.

The sample of 4121 fathers or father-figures, including 3 per cent who are not the children's biological fathers, is only 60 per cent of the 6822 mothers in the study because some mothers did not provide contact details for the fathers and some fathers declined to take part.

"So there is some bias in the sample. They are obviously people who are connected into those children," Morton said.

But the findings were still impressive. Four-fifths (82 per cent) of the fathers said they ate evening meals with their children, 81 per cent were involved with their children's school, 65 per cent read books to their children and 53 per cent helped with their homework.

Almost all (94 per cent) of the dads worked, for an average of 47 hours a week.

A third worked in the weekends.

Most (61 per cent) of the working dads felt their work had "a positive effect on their child and family life generally", but 35 per cent said their work left them with "too little time or energy to be the kind of parent they want to be".

Morton said the dads who reported the worst work/life balance were more likely to live in deprived areas, work longer hours, have less flexibility at work and generally have "less sense of control over their job situation".

"Those feeling that they have less control over their lives, dealing with more chaotic situations, tend to have less choice about how they spend their time and less choice about how much they are involved in their children's activities," she said.

"We need to think about more flexible working environments that can enable fathers to engage more with their children."

- Herald on Sunday

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