On how people react to a stay-at-home Dad
“He’s going to find it really hard, the poor man”
When I first told my parents that we were planning this lifestyle change they had a very genuine concern that I would be giving up a full time job and wanted to know if I was going to be taking on any part time work during this period. This is no poor reflection on them but they are of a generation where you just don’t give up a paying job and career.
It’s certainly been interesting experiencing other people’s reactions to my new role, I didn’t think I’d get any of the clichéd reactions but I did. For example, taking our eldest to her 27 month check at the local children’s centre, the lady taking us through the questionaire was from an older generation. During conversation with me and my wife she asked me what I did for a living, I told her that I had given up work to look after my children, her look of incredulity and surprise was priceless.
There were of course some genuinely lovely reactions from friends and colleagues. Some of my mates were understandably jealous that I was moving away from the rat race (although I often get teased about whether my wife has given me my pocket money this week and whether I’m allowed out. Comments like this infuriate my wife who is very keen for the stereotype of a downtrodden husband not to be attached to our relationship, the reality is that this is a relationship of equals, albeit not traditional) my senior manager seemed genuinely pleased for me and also told me he was very jealous.
Mind you I will say it’s not all coffee mornings and cups of tea while the little ones play happily together; I have never been more busy. At work I could at least respond to the occasional email from friends, now I only get to read them at the end of the day. Friends without children have asked me to organise social events for our group; “you can organise it mate, you’ve got loads of spare time during the day”. My day starts at 6.30am and doesn’t stop until the girls are in bed gone 7.30pm.
When both of us take our daughters to groups or events that I have previously been attending solo we find that my wife is still the one people address in relation to the girls. When Georgie was a young baby we felt that we had to ask if it was ok if I took her to certain classes. Sometimes we were told that the organiser would have to check with the mothers in the class to see if they were comfortable with a male attending.
Reactions of fellow parents has been mixed. I’m invariably the only male at baby/toddler groups and while on maternity leave my wife often came too. While it is easy for my wife to strike up a conversation on a mother-to-mother level, I find the mothers ignore me. Until they get used to me being there. Conversely I have sometimes been the main focus of attention from some mums, clearly making a real effort to help me fit in, which is lovely.
I’ve had observations that I appear to do a lot for and with my children as if it were an odd thing for a father to do. The way I see it, I’ve finished one job to do another job, the one of principle care giver to my children, and I work hard in that role accordingly.
I’ll leave my final observation to a reaction that has stuck in my mind particularly.
Every Tuesday I take the eldest to her swimming lesson, needless to say I am the only Dad in the class. One day a couple of months after the birth of Georgie, my wife came along with her to watch the lesson. After the end of the lesson we were all in the changing room together, I was holding Georgie while my wife dried Galla’s hair. One of the mums from the lesson looked at me holding the baby and did a double take, she asked in a rather surprised manner “where’s your wife?” I pointed to the lady drying Galla’s hair right next to her. Then she said “oh I assumed you were single”. Because no married Dad would be able to take his daughter to a midweek swimming lesson so I must be a divorced Dad on his access day?