What did dads say when they were asked these two simple questions? “What would you like to do more of?” and “What would you like to do less of?”

In a postgraduate course at the University of Newcastle, we asked students to interview a dad, any dad apart from a relative, and ask these questions.

The dads could name strategies such as spending less time at the gym or forgoing some other social activity and being at home more to play with their children. They could identify changes in family arrangements, the way the childcare was shared between themselves and their partner in order to increase the hours that they spent caring for the kids.

Nearly all of the dads said they would like to spend more time with their children. That wasn’t surprising. What was a shock was the limited range of options they considered when thinking about how to have more family time with their infants or children.

In no case did they describe approaching their supervisor, HR Department or boss and asking for a change in roster a decrease in hours or any work change to give them more time to do what they said they wanted: spend more time with their children.

How comfortable would you feel asking for more family time or flexible hours?

In none of the interview transcripts did dads even wonder if they could get by with less income or if some new arrangement would allow them to change their work routine. It seemed that the work-world was fixed and any adjustments had to happen in the time leftover.

We don’t know if the pandemic has changed the work-family balance forever but this entertaining piece by Luke Benedictus in The Father Hood argues that COVID-19 lockdowns may have at least changed employers’ perceptions of their options.

How is your work-family balance going?

There’s no right or wrong answer, and the balance is different for lots of families. However, what we know is that it’s still up to dads to ask for family time.