More money does not make you a better dad

Life often throws up tough choices – the pull between providing for your family, and being there for them, is a real doozy.

Dad working on laptop with toddler

It’s no big secret that having kids is an expensive exercise – in a lot of cases, dads are faced with the constant pressure to earn more and more money, just to keep the family afloat.

It’s a very common concern, according to a study from Monash University, which found that almost 90% of dads feel the weight of this burden – but that only a third feel it’s ‘natural’ for a father to be the primary breadwinner.

It’s often kids themselves who unwittingly put pressure on dad to make more money – especially around Christmas or birthdays, when they want new bikes, or a PlayStation, or some other expensive gizmo that’s well outside the family budget. But their mates all have them, and what kind of dad would you be if your kids couldn’t keep up with the Jones’s kids down the street?

This sort of pressure drives many dads (myself included) to pick up extra hours, or take higher-paying jobs, which has the f—–d up result of you having to spend even more time away from your family.

It’s easy to get caught up in this spiral without ever stopping to ask yourself whether it’s all really worth it? What’s the ultimate cost?

Shortly after my first son arrived, I was working full-time, and lecturing three nights a week. I missed out on a lot of time with him in those first few months, precious time that I can never get back – and the little time I did get to spend with him, I was bone-tired and less than enthusiastic about it.

It sucks to work so hard to provide the best for your kids, only to feel like you’re missing out on all the best bits of being a dad.

Something’s gotta give

It’s natural to want the absolute best for your kids – to stumble into the pitfall of upping your work hours to afford the lifestyle you want to give them. All the opportunities you never had.

But all this comes at a cost to your family. Among the obvious, is the impact not getting enough time with your kids has on your relationship with them. Among the not so obvious, is the impact that not getting enough time with dad has on your kids.

We’ve already published an article about dad’s important role in a baby’s development. But it’s not just the early stages of development that matter.

Researchers from Curtin University recently found a link between dads who work more than 55 hours a week, and bad behaviour in their 5-10 year old sons – including “acting out, being aggressive, not controlling emotions and disobedience”.

And that’s just one example, there are countless other studies that show the positive impacts dads have when they are more involved in their kids lives.

But what about your career?

The good news for dads, career-wise, is that having a child can actually offer rewards in the workplace.

Researchers from Cornell University found that if your resume indicates you are a dad you will be perceived as more competent, more committed, more likely to be ‘management material’ than if it doesn’t mention your children at all – and that you are slightly more likely be seen as a good hire.

The bad news – it’s the precise opposite for women. According to the same study, mothers will be rated lower across the same criteria than non-mothers. Women are almost half as likely to be seen as a good hire if they indicate that they have children. And the pay gap between between mothers and non-mothers is even bigger than the pay gap between men and women.

Meanwhile, men who have kids earn about 6 per cent more than men who don’t.

With mums being paid less, and less likely to be hired, the pressure ramps up again for dads to make ends meet – which makes things hard for dads who are trying to find, or maintain, the right balance between parenting and working.

Things don’t have to be this way, however. More progressive countries, like Sweden, have realised that gender and pay equality in the workplace also requires there to be gender equality in the home, and have introduced policies to encourage and support dads to take more time off when they first have kids.

Not surprisingly, Swedish research has found that when dads share parental leave, mums’ earning power rises. In fact, for each additional month of parental leave dads’ took, mums’ future salary rose by almost 7%.

Getting your priorities straight

Australia has a long way to go to catch up to countries like Sweden, and dads here still have to battle to spend enough time with their kids.

A 2010 paper from the Australian Institute of Family Studies found that, on average, babies up to one year old spend just 30 minutes a day alone with their fathers on weekdays – and only 2.7 hours a day with both mum and dad together. That increases to around 42 minutes of alone time with dad on weekends, and 5.3 hours with mum and dad together.

Think of all the shitty meetings you sit in for 42 minutes. For many of us, we spend more time sitting alone in traffic than we do quality alone time with our little ones.

All this highlights the need for us dads to think carefully about the choices we’re making when it comes to working, and being a parent. Are the extra dollars really worth it, or could your time be better spent elsewhere? Like with the family you are working so hard to provide the very best for.

Kids don’t care about money

It’s worth remembering that kids don’t care about actual money. Sure, their eyes light up if you give them a couple of dollars to put in a piggy bank – but for most small children, the concept of money as we understand it is simply too difficult to grasp.

If they’re anything like my two boys, the answer to “no, we can’t buy that because it’s too expensive” is pretty simple: just go to the ATM and get some more money.

The pressure that kids put on you (and that you put on yourself) to buy them things may seem like a big burden at times, but it’s only short-term pressure – it shouldn’t outweigh what it is that kids actually need: more time with dad.

My father worked six days a week selling cars when I was little, and Sundays were generally the days when we would get to spend time together. I looked forward to Sunday every week – no matter how rinsed out from work dad was, we’d do something together.

We spent countless hours with each other while he taught me how to fish (a pastime I am still exquisitely bad at) – I’d sit by his side at a wharf overlooking Sydney Harbour, while dad reeled in fish after fish, and I did my best not to fall in the water.

They were day trips that cost my dad the price of a block of frozen prawns, which back then would have been somewhere around 50-60 cents, if memory serves.

They were day trips that I still think back on, more than 40 years later, and which remind me of how much I love my old man – I can’t wait until me, him and my boys get to wet a line again soon.

When I think back on fond memories of my childhood, I don’t think of the things my dad bought me. I think of the things we did together, and the time he spent.

There’s an old saying: “Nobody on their deathbed ever says ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.'”

While it’s hard when you’re in the thick of ever mounting bills to see past the immediate need to earn more and more, sometimes taking a step back and assessing what really matters, will reveal far better places you can make cuts, and will pay off dividends in the only currency that really matters, in the long term.


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