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Social attitudes change with each generation. Women voting? Sure, why not. Gay marriage? Heck yes. Equal pay for men and women? Um, er…maybe we’re not quite there yet. One social trend which still has a long way to go in terms of acceptance by society is the role of the father being the stay at home parent and primary child carer.
When Mrs DADiator and I had the discussion about starting a family, the one question we knew the answer to was regarding childcare once she returned to work. Outsourcing it to a nursery, nanny, child carer etc. wasn’t going to be the route for us; both of us had the luxury of having one of our parents quit their job to care for us at home, and we wanted to do the same for our child.
Now for most families, the choice is fairly straightforward; the Dad tends to be the major breadwinner so the Mum stays at home with junior. In our case, and I have no problems in admitting to it, my wife is the major breadwinner and, even more importantly, working for a company that values her and whom she enjoys working for. This symbiosis made it a lot easier for us to decide that it would be me to put his career on hold (indefinitely?) and become that now, well-worn acronym; SAHD ( Stay At Home Dad).
When I mentioned to my mates that once my wife would return to work after 6 months of maternity leave and that I would take up the full time parenting baton, most were outwardly envious. Comments like, “You lucky git! You get to stay at home, watch TV and play all day” were plentiful. However, a few were more along the lines of “I wish I’d stayed at home when X was a toddler, I missed a lot of her milestones”. Taking the decision to give up full-time employment isn’t one to be entered into lightly by men, a recent survey on British Social Attitudes shows public support for dads staying at home is close to zero; only 5% of us think dads should work part-time and the vast majority of us (73%) say dads should work full time. Compare this with the 33% of us that think mums should stay at home; 43% say mums should work part time and 28% favour mums working full time once the kids start school. You don’t have to be a genius to see that Dads at home are very much a minority group.
The sterotype of the male being the hunter gatherer and “putting food on the table and a roof over our heads” is quickly becoming an outdated one for three reasons. Firstly, the number of SAHDs in the UK has risen to around 250,000 as they balance the primary caring with part-time work. Then there are those that work in the public sector (or for those unique private sector companies) that offer much more flexible working and as a result, earn more part-time than their female part-time counterparts. And finally there are the high-fliers who have made it in their respective careers very early on and as such can take a back seat or work freelance and the hours that suit them.
In any case, it’s a trend that’s only going to continue growing as long as employers offer the flexibility to its employees and moreover, as long as men want to take on the responsibility of being that primary carer.
Since my last post, quite a lot has happened both at home and around the world, notably the horrible events that took place on the 13th November in Paris and, the subsequent terror threats across the border in Germany and Belgium. Not wanting to be too dismissive, but life does go on. It has to.
Around the time I met my wife, but before I even considered starting a family with her, I read an article in the Daily Mail by political sketch writer and theatre critic Quentin Letts, on how the then Labour Government had carried out research into the benefits of offering a more flexible approach to paternity leave for us men-folk; the idea being that in order to have more equality in the workplace, men should be able to share the responsibility of bringing up junior so that mummy could go back to work sooner and continue in her ascent up the greasy career pole.
Now, the reason why it stuck in my head, was because I thought it was a great initiative. “I’d love to be a stay at home dad”, I’d say to my mates. Their answer was always the same, incredulity along the lines of why I’d voluntarily choose to deal with nappies, vomit, screaming, tiredness etc. My answer was painfully simple. I’m a big kid and I like to have fun. What better fun than being a kid with your own kid?
Of course, the early days are a bloody nightmare (at least they were in our case) although my wife bore the brunt of this for at least the first 3-4 months. When I took over from her after quitting my job, allowing my wife to return to work after 6 months, we were already entering the ‘sunny’ developmental phases of her life so far. She was sleeping through the night, having her naps during the day, eating like hungry hippo and generally being loads of fun to be around. I was able to see her become a ‘person’ right in front of my eyes.
This, of course, had always been my argument to one of us being the stay at home parent. It didn’t seem right somehow, that we should both go to work in order to afford a stranger to experience a string of ‘firsts’ on our behalf. After much discussion and weighing up the pros and cons, it only seemed right and fair that my wife be given every opportunity to return to work and continue life in a job she loves and consistently strives to be more successful at. Me on the other hand, I’d worked for 10 years more, had no real vocation or career path to speak of and had become quite cynical of the corporate world and all the office politic bullshit that comes with it. The choice for me was a no brainer.
Interestingly, since 2006, the paternity leave landscape has changed. The current Conservative Government introduced new legislation beginning in 2015 covering Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP). Together with announcements by large blue-chip companies, notably Virgin, more and more Dads are looking at taking advantage of being at home a little longer than they used to be able to. Now, whilst it’s not widespread and for many employers, not in the slightest bit possible, it is a starting point.
Curiously, the latest statistics from a joint study by My Family Care, a company that helps businesses introduce family friendly working practices and law firm Hogan Lovells, found 60 per cent of HR directors had received none, or a just a few requests to take up shared parental leave. One of the biggest barriers is the pay received, £139.58 a week or 90% of an employee’s average weekly earnings, whichever is lower. Needless to say, if you’re Billy Big Bucks working as a hedge fund manager in the city, it’s not an option worth considering. However, more and more companies are taking Richard Branson’s lead and offering enhanced Parental Leave and Pay.
Luckily, we’re able to do this financially (not that we’re rolling around in piles of cash or anything) but we live within our means. I know that for the the majority of families the choices are made for them. We also both know that this won’t be the status quo indefinitely. I’ll most probably go back to work once our daughter is old enough to attend nursery (doing what remains to be seen) but in the meantime, I’m fortunate enough to be able to be around my daughter during all of her waking hours and constantly reminding her that her mummy’s hard work and, above all, love is making this remotely possible.
Are you a Stay At Home Dad (#SAHD)? What’s your experience so far? Do you agree with SPL/ShPP? Please feel free to leave a comment below.
The first thing I noticed as a stay at home dad was the difficulty in being to arrange ‘play dates’ with other kids’ parents. Sure, going to BilinguaSing or Baby Sensory classes was a great way to get our daughter used to other children and interacting with them. But at the end of the session, the other mums would leave, perhaps to meet with other mums for a coffee and for their children to play together, whilst I would go back home and wonder how I would fill the rest of the day entertaining my daughter.
Now, I’ve no shortage of friends – male and female I hasten to add – but when it comes to the parent staying at home, I’m the only chap. So this puts me in somewhat of a unique position. Whilst I’m seen as somewhat of an oddity (possibly even a novelty) in an environment primarily dominated women, there still seems some reluctance for Mums to approach me and introduce themselves. Now, ordinarily I’d have no problem being the instigator as a career in sales has honed my ‘breaking the ice’ and networking skills to a tee. However, in this environment it feels a bit creepy if I were to do that; maybe it’s just me? I mean, is not like I’m a single man on the prowl in a bar. I’m a married man in my 40’s with a baby strapped to his chest. Not exactly threatening.
Thankfully, a handful of friends that my wife made whilst going to pregnancy yoga classes or baby massage, were happy to meet me for a coffee or go go swimming with our respective babies. As humans, our natural instinct is to find company amongst others like us. Whether it’s to talk, ask for advice, laugh or even cry on a willing shoulder. I think it’s fundamental to want to be part of a group.
Anyway, I just thought I’d put it out there as it has been playing on my mind for a while and I just wondered if any other Stay At Home Dads (#SAHD) felt the same or if any Mums have experienced a Dad being the only one in their baby and toddler groups, and what you did to make them feel welcome.