What does a father do when he can’t balance work and family life? As gender roles have become more fluid and men become more active on the domestic front, this has become an issue that increasing numbers of families face.
For a little while now I’ve been keen to look at this issue in more detail. I’m a firm believer that necessity is the mother of invention and so I thought I’d try and find out how men are addressing these pressures.
As a blogger who sometimes writes about equalities issues, I’ve spoken to many mums who, struggling to balance work and family life or wanting to have an interest outside the family home, either retrained or set up their own businesses. I had a sneaky suspicion there must be a lot of men out there who had done the same.
As I recently revealed, I’ve been collecting stories from dads who have done just that: Walked away from the workplace because they couldn’t balance the needs of their family while keeping an employer happy. When I asked for examples from men who had done this, I was amazed at the response I got.
Some of these guys have turned the most incredibly creative ideas into successful businesses and almost all have made use of technology to give them more flexibility. To a greater or lesser degree, all faced issues with tedium, boredom, inflexible employers and a society that still doesn’t accept that a man might want to be present for his children.
I am delighted to be kicking off a series of articles focusing on men who have found greater work / life balance by venturing off on their own with the story of Mike Picketts. Mike’s story definitely falls into the creative category.
Having started off working in sales and marketing, something Mike admits he struggled with, he last year set-up Raver Tots. These are full-scale family-friendly raves attracting big-name DJs like Slipmat and notorious party animal Brandon Block.
There are bubbles, face painting, balloons and hardcore dance music. Somehow Mike has managed to combine all these elements to create raves that families love.
As regards family, Mike is a dad to two boys aged two and three. He is a single dad with the kids splitting time equally between him and their mum. Here’s what Mike had to say.
First of all, please do introduce Raver Tots
“Raver Tots is a family rave where kids and grownups can hit the dance floor and let off some steam together! There are tons of fun activities including face painting, UV lights, bubbles, balloons, confetti and giant parachutes in a rave style atmosphere.
“Some of the UK’s top DJ’s including residents Artful Dodger, Brandon Block, Slipmatt & Nicky Blackmarket join us to guarantee the best rave music. Our events have attracted up to 1500 people at a time!”
We now know about Raver Tots, so you’d better introduce your family.
“I have two boys aged 2 and 3. They’re both at nursery for 15 hours a week.
“It’s amazing how they can be so challenging and rewarding at the same time. The other day I left the butter on the breakfast table when I popped out of the room and came back to find my living room painted with butter.
“Despite the devastating mess to the carpets and soft furnishings and how annoying it was at the time, I find these things funnier than I’d care to admit. I hope I’m not the only parent who has to turn away to laugh when I’m trying to give a serious telling off.”
What job did you have before starting Raver Tots.
“My first roles were in sales and marketing positions which although I did reasonably well, I struggled with working a normal 9-5. I eventually went on to become a rave promoter, first of all as a hobby and later as a career.”
Is it fair to say you left you previous roles to achieve a better work / life balance?
“This probably has been the biggest motivation for me, to be with my children and play an active role in their day to day life and care for them. No other job I’ve known would have given me this much flexibility, and the kids always come first.”
What inspired you to set up Raver Tots? Without wishing to sound repetitive, was it a desire to balance work and family life?
“I really wanted to bring together the two biggest passions in my life, my children and music. Plus it’s a great excuse to wear the kids out and get an early night for everyone!
How do you organise childcare with the boys’ mum? Is it a 50/50 thing or how do you make it work?
“Me and the mother of my children are like best friends and consider each other family. Our children live with us both equally 50-50. We have worked hard to get to this stage and it hasn’t always been easy but we’ve always put the children first. Shared parenting is something I’m really passionate about and would encourage any separated parents to aim for where possible as a starting point.”
What freedom does running Raver Tots give you that being an employee doesn’t?
“One of the main things is being able to choose my hours. I’m really disciplined with my time with the children for example and won’t pick up my phone or email until I have them settled in the evening. It does mean a lot of late nights catching up on work and sometimes I do miss just flopping in front of the telly in the evening but that’s a distant memory now.”
Do you believe the Fatherhood Penalty is going to become a huge issue in years to come (IE dads downgrading careers, so they can strike a better work / life balance)?
“It seems like an issue of assumptions made in society, which falls into the 1950’s views on what a family ‘should’ look like. Although times have moved on and things have got somewhat better, it’s apparent there is still a long way to go for both men and women.
“Sometimes I’ll get comments when I’m with the kids such as; “just giving mum a break are ya.” Although this isn’t meant to be pejorative, ultimately it displays quite a sexist attitude towards parenting.
“Equally, I know many mums who are frowned upon for simply going to work or having an evening out. I hope a time comes where parents can mutually agree on the best childcare and work life balance for their own family without feeling pressure from the sexist and out of date expectations of the past.”
Anything you miss about being an employee?
“Most of all? The 20p soups from the vending machine in my old office. They contained your whole daily allowance of salt, which for just 20 pence I thought represented very good value for money.”
Presumably your kids must love going to work with you?
“They do! But more to my surprise, so do their grandparents. I’m thinking of starting a ‘raving Nan of the week’ competition.”
Can you ever see yourself going back into the workforce?
Anything further you’d like to add?
“Yes, I hope you can make it to a party soon, and if you are worried about people seeing your Dad dancing, don’t worry, it’s a safe place and we promise not to judge!”
More to come
I think from Mike’s response about vending machine soup, we can safely say he will not be returning to the life of a salary man. While Mike clearly enjoys what he does, I was struck by his response about there still being a sexist attitude to parenting.
It’s this attitude that I really wanted to highlight in this series of articles. More and more men are trying to balance work and family life like Mike, yet men still face comments and attitudes like this. It shows that many people still expect dad to be the provider and for mum to be the caregiver and these expectations are unfairly placed on both genders.
That said, Mike clearly has an enormous sense of fun and who hasn’t had to bite their lip while telling off their kids? Having attracted such large audiences and big names like Brandon Block to Raver Tots, it’s clear he’s on to something and I wish him well.