Increasingly, traditional parenting roles are being revised. No longer is it just mums who switch to part-time work or give up work altogether to stay at home to raise children. Now fathers are getting involved as the primary carers.
For a variety of reasons including the cost of childcare, women’s increased earning power and the desire to create a lasting bond with their children, more and more fathers are choosing to stay at home while their partners goes to work. Meet three local stay at home dads who look after their kids while their partners work full-time.
With four children aged 10, 7 and 4-year old twins, Anthony has been the primary caregiver since his first child was born. He explains that his wife has a demanding career that often extends past usual business hours. Without family support nearby, this required that one parent be at home to look after the needs of the family.
As a couple, they decided that the higher earning, more career focused partner should return to work. Anthony was supportive of his wife’s desire to thrive in a competitive field. “Her earning potential is also greater than mine, so the financial decision was obvious.” He outlines that over the ten years, their work arrangement has changed to suit the needs of their family as well as career opportunities and they’ve worked interchangeably in both full-time or part-time carer or work roles.
As his wife works full-time, Greig balances being the primary carer with working two days a week at work. With a 6 year-old daughter and a 3 year-old son, Greig explains that he has been the primary carer for five-and-half years now, less a 1-year interruption when his wife was on maternity leave with their second child.
Greig was keen to be involved as much as he could in his children’s upbringing while his wife wanted to contribute more in the workplace. As a couple they discussed how much daycare they would need, and how many days they would want to be home with their child. After looking at the flexible work arrangements at his job, Greig and his wife decided that he would be the stay at home parent while his wife returned to work full time.
With one child aged 6, Ryan has been a stay at home dad for six months while his wife works full-time and. Before that he worked 4 days a week before his son started school looking after his son on his day off.
As a couple, Ryan and his wife decided on him being the stay at home parent as his wife has a busy full-time job. With Ryan planning on commencing full-time university studies next year as part of a career change, they agreed that it would be best for Ryan to stay at home to spend time with his son, get some work done on the house and focus on his studies.
The Benefits of Being a Stay at Home Dad
For these dads, being able to spend lots of time with their kids was a key factor in their decision to be a stay at home dad.
Greig highlights being able to have time with his kids while they’re young. “The best thing about being a stay-at-home dad is that I get to spend a lot of time with my children. Josie is Year 1 now, her second year at school and I can’t believe that the time has gone so quickly but I am very grateful that I had the chance to be with her for a large part of that time.”
Ryan appreciates helping his child develop and grow. “The best thing about being a stay at home parent is spending time with Robbie and watching him and helping him to develop in all aspects of life (as I am sure in the future there will come a time that I will not be cool enough to hang out with anymore).”
Anthony is thankful for the opportunity to be a stay at home dad due to changing expectations around gender roles. He recognises that modern dads have the opportunity to stay home unlike their fathers and grandfathers. “I’m fortunate to be able to do something that my father either didn’t have the choice to do or didn’t want to do. This may have been for financial reasons but I suspect it was due to different societal expectations related to gender roles at the time. We’re fortunate to live at a time when these ideas are evolving and there’s a greater acceptance of the role dads should play in raising children. The numbers of men undertaking the stay-at-home role is increasing (even though the figures are still astonishingly low).” In fact Australian Bureau of Statistics reported in 2013 that the number of stay at home dads rose from 57,900 to 106,000 in a decade.
Stay at home fathers also provides powerful examples to kids about redefining gender roles. As Greig mentions kids learn that both mums and dads can be primary caregivers at different times. “Because our arrangement is still an unorthodox one, we have had lots of discussion about what it means for us and our children and how things might change in the future as the children grow up.”
The Drawbacks of Being a Stay at Home Dad
Staying at home to look after kids is not without its negatives though as these stay at home dads are well aware. As well as the challenges of parenting, there’s also societal expectations affecting these dads.
Anthony learned firsthand how relentless and mundane parenting can be when you’re home with kids and your partner works long hours. “I think it’s remarkable in looking back and the decision I made to stay at home. I was proud of myself at first for all the new skills I had acquired, but, as time went on, I wasn’t prepared for the relentlessness of the role which can be taxing and have serious impacts on self-esteem.”
Greig cites the pressures of parenting. “As a stay-at-home dad I am responsible for getting the children to their activities or school on time. I must admit that I don’t like the pressure of rounding them up and getting them into the car to try and make it on time. This includes getting to school too as well as trying not to be late for pick-up times!”
There’s also issues in dealing with societal expectations and the difficulties in finding a support network similar to that available for stay at home mums. Anthony mentions the challenges of attending mothers groups. “Often there can be a different dynamic at ‘mums’ groups also and I think this is entirely understandable. Some of the responses I’ve had range from the completely defensive to the completely accepting and these probably relate to the level of societal expectation others feel. If you see a dad at your playgroup, make him feel really welcome (he’s challenging societal norms as well as finding his feet in a new role).”
There’s also comments from other fathers to deal with. Greig tells me about comments he’s received from other dads such as “How did you score that?!!?” or “I fancy some time at home I might have to talk to my wife about that.” These comments illustrate how some working fathers underestimate how much energy and effort is involved in being at home raising kids.
Stay at home dads also challenge the traditional role of men being the main breadwinner in a family. Now it’s the female partner who is the main income earner and it can be an adjustment for some stay at home dads. As Ryan states “To be honest I really cannot say there is anything that I dislike about being a stay at home parent. The only negative is that some days I would like to be able to swap with my wife so that she could spend time as the stay at home parent and I go off to work to provide for my family.”
Impact on Relationship
Being a stay at home dad can also impact on a couple’s relationship. Partners may have different expectations around parenting and household chores. Communication and compromise are the keys to resolving this issue.
“One particular impact on our relationship is that we have had to have discussions around expectations of the role” Greig explains. “My wife and I do things differently. We have different personalities so we have both had to compromise, change and accept the reality of the situation. I have had to make some changes in the way I do things, and my wife has also had to accept that things don’t get done exactly how she would do them if she was the primary carer.”
Anthony admits he occasionally finds it difficult being the stay at home parent. “There have been times when I’ve felt envious of my partner heading off to work every day whilst I was left holding a screaming baby. It was probably the structure of a job I missed or contact with other adults or the kudos you get at work. An important way to address some of these issues is to continually reinforce the value of the work the primary caregiver (whoever that may be) does.” He also stresses that it’s important to spend time with each other without the kids around to nurture your relationship. He suggests organising date nights such as going out for a meal or seeing a movie.
Advice to Other Dads
All three dads were very positive about their experiences of being a stay at home dad and encourage other fathers to consider an arrangement.
In terms of setting up partnership that works, Greig emphasises that a frank discussion with your partner is crucial. “Talk with your partner about the logistics of making it happen and then go for it! My advice is to have a discussion, compromise if necessary and agree on expectations of the role. And in those expectations, factor in the fun times so you don’t get overwhelmed by keeping the household running. Just remember, you don’t have to be perfect, good enough is fine.”
Anthony recommends that stay at home father find something to challenge them. “I would also recommend that you find something enriching for yourself. For the first couple of years, I focussed solely on childcare but found I needed something more. I started to compile a family history and later, I enrolled in an online university degree and now, in between family duties, I spend my time writing.”
Anthony also stresses how important it is for stay at home dads to have support when they are home raising children. “It’s essential to have a support network both online and, most importantly, offline. If you don’t have family nearby, then you need to cultivate these friends. They can be found in parent’s groups, sometimes early learning centres or in your neighbourhood support centres.”
Ryan adds “For other dads out there that are considering being a stay at home parent, I would say do it. The last six months have been very rewarding. It is not easy but at the same time it is very enjoyable.”
Anthony puts it best as he describes his role as a stay at home dad.
I think the amazing thing for me is that I’m fortunate to have this phenomenal life experience where I can look back in 20 years time and go: ‘That was the hardest job of my life at times but … how cool was that?’
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