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Modern dads: ‘Being in the room doesn’t mean much if you’re on your phone’

The role of the father has changed dramatically in recent decades. Like mothers, many dads are feeling the pressure of trying to juggle work and family life

It has long been recognised that working mothers have a lot on their plate – trying to ensure that family life ticks over smoothly (or as smooth as most chaotic households can be) and also do their job efficiently at work. It can often feel like an impossible task.

For many women, the juggling act continues apace, but as the role of the modern father has changed dramatically in recent decades, many dads are also feeling the pressure and are struggling to be there for their children and partner, do their equal share of household chores and maintain a successful working life.

Steven Murphy ran relate to this. The 39-year-old, who is married to Lorna and has one daughter (Indi, aged two) and another baby on the way, says trying to manage work and home life is difficult, particularly as he runs his own business, Fresh Cuts Clothing.

“Being a business owner is somewhat different to a 9-5 job, as it’s a lot harder to turn off from work and be present due to external factors and issues which might be happening outside the traditional work hours,” he says. “The online shop is open 24/7 and the retail location [in Castle Market in Dublin] is open seven days a week – and I always feel in work mode.


“But since Indi was born I have had to make sacrifices at work, such as leaving the phone in a different room when I’m with her in the evening and being present. I work six days a week so being present while I am there is the most important thing. Lorna really taught me the value of this as being in the room doesn’t mean much if you’re on your phone.

“Being present and engaging with Indi for the time I am with her is the most important thing. At this stage of her life I am happy to sacrifice those hours [to be] with her and work when she has gone down for the night. You have to prioritise to balance it all.”

Despite spending as much time as he can with his daughter, the Dublin man says that his wife “runs the show”.

“We have a good structure in place in that I get Indi up every morning, give her breakfast and get her ready for the day,” he says. “I’m at work six days a week and as the shop is open late, don’t get home until 7pm, but I give her a bath, spend some time with her and put her to bed every night. Sunday is the one day we take as a family and I try my hardest not to do any work and spend the day with family.

“I think there’s a lot of financial and work-related pressure on families at the moment – and with both parties generally working, it’s hard to find the hours in the day to do it all. It’s different for each home, but as we are both self-employed, finding the time to get it all done is the issue. Everyone needs to chip in on everything – life with kids is just busy and I don’t think it’s going to get any easier for us, particularly with another on the way.”

Benji Bennett is also a self-employed father. Living in Dublin with his wife Jackie, they have three children – Harry (22), Robbie (17) and Molly (15) – their other son Adam died in 2007, when he was just four years old. The children’s author and MD of publishing company, Adam’s Cloud Ltd, says that life is very busy, but he tries to allow equal time for both work and family life.

“Because I work from home (apart from when I am travelling), sometimes family life and work merge into an unstructured sequence of interruptions, distractions and a multitasking ball of mush where it is difficult to say with any level of confidence how any day is split between work and family-related activities,” he says.

“But I believe that work needs work, and family needs work. So, I just focus on doing a good job on both and don’t worry about keeping score – both jobs need to be done, and enough time needs to be created and allocated to both jobs, which are of equal importance.

“Of course, in saying all that, work will naturally get more of my time in the long run as bills need paying. The hardest part is when work and family place demands on you that are of equal importance, and you simply can’t prioritise. That is when we divide and conquer and work as a team where I’ll focus on work and Jackie will focus on family, or we summon the troops and call in a favour from a friend or extended family member to help.”

The Dublin man says that, on weekends, he and his wife divide their time equally, but, during the week, she does the lion’s share of the household chores. Ultimately, though, they both help each other to ensure everything that needs doing, gets done. “At weekends it’s a 50/50 split – family walks with the kids, particularly when they were young, were usually prioritised over everything – including, personal time and socialising.

“When they were exhausted from running around, we would work on getting any pressing house or work-related jobs done before relaxing for the evening or going out.

“Weekdays are different and Jackie takes 80 per cent responsibility for co-ordinating and ensuring all family and household-related jobs are identified, scheduled and allocated, while I take 80 per cent responsibility for all business and personal finance jobs.

“But while taking responsibility is one thing, when it comes to actually completing our respective tasks, the split can be anything from 50/50 to 90/10 as we help each other out. So I often help with household chores while Jackie helps with business stuff. The end goal is that all work and family jobs, each of equal importance, are done one way or another through equal effort from both of us.

“We never get into any discussion on which job is harder or more important, we just try to do our best to make sure family, home, our relationship and income all work in harmony, despite the inevitable stresses, worries, disagreements, and crankiness that often spend uninvited time in our house.”

The author says that being a parent, partner and provider for a family is hard for every man and woman. “Through the ages, men had to deal with the challenges of their time, and our complicated modern society is no different,” he says. “What differentiates those who can cope from the ones who struggle, lies in their inner strength, resilience, drive, ambition and self-awareness – as well as social and emotional intelligence.

“Unfortunately, not every man gets an equal dose of these attributes as they are acquired while growing up and depend on various factors. I feel blessed that I came from a stable, loving, happy and secure family background where I was exposed to a positive outlook and work ethic and learned that the only person who is responsible for my happiness and wellbeing is me.”

He says his “family first” philosophy helps him to prioritise his family’s needs ahead of personal needs, which has allowed him to achieve a happy balance. “The family is like a heart, with four chambers beating as one,” he says. “If one chamber decides to beat to its own rhythm by slowing down, speeding or missing a beat, the entire body suffers and becomes less efficient, unproductive and, ultimately, sick.

“I believe that family works under the same principle, so every family member needs to work together, equally in rhythmic harmony, to get the combined work and family job done.”

Psychologist Peadar Maxwell says fathers, their children and their partners will all benefit from dads being able to spend more time with their families. “In modern families, it is likely that the traditional roles of provider and protector are shared,” he says. “Fathers and their children will benefit hugely from the experience of him being a co-carer, helper, teacher and encourager. These parts of the parenting role are embraced more and more by men much to the assistance of their partners.

“Having enough time is often cited as the reason we can’t do certain things – but we can look at the time we have and ask ourselves what we want to prioritise. Fathers, like mothers, need to prioritise self-care, exercise, time with their partner and with their child, all in addition to working. Balance is the key, so dads should try to include moments with their child such as enjoying walking or driving home from school or collection. Bedtime, bathing, even homework can be normal moments to share together – special time does not have to be something exceptional.

“When one parent gives the other a break from parenting we are helping them charge their batteries but we are also stepping into a role that might be new and different for some men. That is special for our children, whether in some families that means father reading at bedtime and mother heading to sports, it is positive for children to see their parents as flexible.”

Maxwell says that whether one or both parents work outside the home it is important, and fair, that each chips in to allow the other to rest or pursue an interest. That keeps couples balanced.

“If you are a father and the caregiver side of parenting feels awkward to you, give yourself a chance,” he adds. “Try it and be patient with yourself. Being an emotional coach for your child is as important all the other more traditional ways of how we see fathers.”