Robin de Jong is a 33-year-old father of 2 boys. Together with his girlfriend, they became parents 8 years ago. Since then much has changed in their lives. Robert is a board member and trainer at Stichting voor Betrokken Vaderschap (VDRS)
How did fatherhood impact your career?
Since I became a dad my priorities changed. I was focused on my career and relationship.
But when my oldest son was born this shifted. I wanted to spend more time with my son and noticed that I couldn’t make it work with a fulltime job. This meant that I had to make a choice. So I decided to work one day a week less.
What are the biggest challenges that fathers face in today’s world?
Fathers in the Netherlands still have to make a choice between a career and parenthood.
There are many companies where it is not acceptable to work less than full time and take responsibility for your family. This is seen as a “career-killing” move.
The biggest issue for a father with ambitions is that employers start to treat them as a second-grade employee.
If a father chooses for his career, this has significant consequences for the development of his kids. Did you know that if a dad reads bedtime stories, a child’s vocabulary will increase by 1000 words than when only mothers read?
You work for VDRS. Can you tell us about the foundation and its mission?
Our sole purpose is empowering fathers to take a role in the upbringing of their children.
We provide education to professionals like the Consultatiebureau, pediatricians, midwives, kindergarten teachers on how to address fathers.
In the Netherlands the mother is the first contact. This gives fathers the message that they are less important.
This has to change. Together with our partners, we want to create awareness of the role that fathers play in a family.
What’s like to work for VDRS? Is the team made of fathers only?
At this point, we are mostly fathers. There are some mothers who help us but VDRS is a real man’s world.
This is not by design. It’s just that since dads are our target audience, they are the first to approach us. Mothers are really important to us because they spread the word much faster than the dads ever can.
We have many female followers on Twitter and Facebook and we love them. They keep us sharp. If we get too much in our “man cave” they will call us on it (laughs)
But seriously, we are growing. At this point, there is more work than we can handle so we actively try to find extra help.
What gives you satisfaction and fulfillment in your life as a working father?
Other than my work for VDRS, I would have to say, the moment I get home and my kids come outside to greet and hug me. My oldest is 8 years and runs towards me. The youngest is 1,5 years and starts calling: PAPA PAPA (dad in dutch).
Even if I had an awful day at work, that moment makes my day every time.
How do you find your own balance between family and work?
It was pretty difficult to find the balance. I started with cutting my working hours but still felt like I missed too much at home. When my oldest started school I could shift my hours to pick him up and drop him off 3 days a week. Then the youngest was born, and I am still trying to find the right balance between both kids, work and my girlfriend.
There is one thing I try to do every day and that is to put the phone away. I need to be home when I get here. This means no emails, no phone calls or anything work related. Family time is sacred.
What is your view on the new changes in Dutch law with regards to extended paternity leave?
I think it is a very good first step. Still, 2 weeks of 6 weeks are not enough. The minister of health was presented a book from a researcher which states that the first 1000 days will have an effect on the next 32000 days.
This means that it is very important to be there. And I mean really be engaged. Don’t text and feed your baby or work on your days at home. I can only hope that the government will take more action and give fathers more space at the start of their children live.
How can we further help fathers thrive at work and at home?
First of all, dads are just like moms. It is good to know that they want to be involved.
There is a biological change in men when they become dads. On the other hand, men are also pretty susceptible to success, respect from colleagues. Sometimes they need to be reminded what really matters.
Professionals need to know how to address dads, employers need to see that dads are more productive when the day can balance work and parenthood and the government needs to provide the culture in which it is ok to be an involved dad and a successful employee and a good partner and……etc. But foremost dads need to know that what they do matters in the upbringing right from the start.
What’s one wish you have for your children?
My wish is that they get to grow up to be the persons they are and can be.
In our home, we speak the words: “Wat fijn dat jij er bent.” Which is difficult to translate because the word “Fijn” is Nice but that doesn’t do it justice. It is so much more than nice. It is the feeling when you hug your child after a long day. Fijn dat je er bent translates to: it’s nice to have you here.
With the message underneath that, they are perfect the way they are.