Last week I was fortunate to see the movie, The Boys are Back, thanks to Hopscotch Films and Cath, aka SquiggleMum. I was looking forward to supporting a predominately Australian made film and I was not disappointed. Inspired by a true story, the film tells the story of a previously part-time father (played by Clive Owen) thrown into a hands on parenting role following the death of his wife. Whilst struggling with his own grief he must get to really know his young son and learn how to be a parent to him. The arrival of his older son from a previous relationship challenges his ‘just say yes’ parenting approach and acts to further illuminate the complex nature of relationships between father and sons.
The film spoke to me about the differences between male and female parenting approaches, the importance of relationships between fathers and their children, and the time needed to forge authentic relationships with our own children. Following the screening, Cath and I shared an online chat about a number of the implications of the themes of the movie for parents. Here are some snippets from our chat;
Christie: I found it really poignant when the Dad told his mother-in-law that his young son didn’t really know him, that they needed time to get to know each other and how to relate to each other.
Cath: Yes, it made me wonder how many fathers would have to “get to know” their sons in the same situation. And also made me wonder as a mum how I can facilitate my husband “knowing” my kids right now…
Christie: I think men generally relate differently to their children, and I think this generation of fathers especially have had a whole new set of expectations place upon them.
Cath: I think this generation of fathers genuinely want to be Dads, want to spend time with their kids and want to be involved – but making it happen is hard.
Christie: And society keeps pushing all of us to work longer and harder as members of the workforce which does not facilitate better family relationships in any way.
Cath: That was really highlighted in the movie: a dad pushed so hard at work that he chose to leave his kids overnight to save face with his employer. No dad wants to be in that position.
Christie: So, how do we support our husbands to help them have the time and opportunity to be involved?
Cath: I think we have to take a step back sometimes. As mums we can be control freaks!
Christie: That is very true. I think it is important for a child to have time one on one with each parent, as well as time together as a whole family.
Cath: I agree. And while I absolutely think that parenting works best when both parents are on the same page, I think mums need to let dads do things their way without us criticising.
Christie: I also believe, it is about that being time truly being together too, not just watching the TV or doing chores around the home but having fun, laughing together, getting out and sharing unique experiences.
Cath: So will you do anything differently, or view anything differently as a result of the flick?
Christie: I think it is all about balance. Balancing each role and recognising that both mother and father are equally important. And balancing expectations, there are times to relax and have fun but there is also much to be said for structure and routine.
Cath: Absolutely, I completely agree with you there.
Christie: And have as much fun together as you can, that is what families should be about.
Cath: It was a very real movie. It reminded me that life is fragile, and that we all need to enjoy each stage of our family life – as husbands and wives, as parents, as a whole family.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that on average mothers spend more time on child care activities than fathers. No great surprise there. What amazes me is the following statistic – on average fathers spend 8 hours a week parenting their children (this statistic applies to couple families). I find that number disturbing. Even if I eliminate parenting from Monday to Friday because Dads work long hours, most children would (on average) be awake for at least 24 hours over the weekend (7am-7pm). What are these Dad’s doing for the other 16 hours of their children’s weekends?
Maybe it is a matter of Dad’s not knowing how to spend quality time with their children? I was astounded to read an article from the Charlotte Observer entitled, ‘Dads get lessons in fun, fatherhood,’ where Dads were advised to schedule in time for their children and taught to hug their children to encourage them. This in response to a U.S. Census Bureau estimate that only 36 percent of children spend a significant amount of time bonding with their fathers.
As I said to Cath in our chat, we need to find a balance. Work/life balance and mother/father balance. Our children need (and deserve) the input of both parents to develop into well rounded adults. How do we achieve this? What can we do to maximise opportunities for parenting time and family time?
I would love to hear how your family aims to achieve this balance.