There was a time when dads were a rare sight at school, pitching up only for parent’s evening and sports day. Not any more. Now there’s a new tribe in town. We talk to three stay-at-home dads about the pros and cons of being home with the kids.
The social landscape at the school gates is changing. Today 229,000 men stay at home with their children – up from 111,000 in 1993. There are more beards at drop-off, and why should that be so notable? Because of the age-old stereotype of the working Dad and stay-at-home mum. But when all the toddler groups are called ‘Sing with Mummy’, all the advice comes from Mumsnet and Netmums, and all the women invite one another for coffee, but find the idea of hanging with someone elses husband a bit, well, weird, that can’t be easy. Jeremy Adam Smith, a former SAHD and the author of The Daddy Shift, says that these dads are pioneers, quietly mapping new territory for all fathers. We track down three thoroughly modern fathers to find out what life is really like for stay-at-home dads.James Mason, from Hampton Court, used to run an estate agency in Esher. He now stays at home with his daughter Allegra, 4, while his wife Michelle works in the City.
‘I fell into being a stay-at-home dad completely – I didn’t plan it. I was really unhappy at the company I was working for and left. I thought I’d get another job and we’d get a full-time nanny for Allegra, but I kept putting off going back. Suddenly it’s four-and-a-half years later and I’m off with her still. But it’s not that unusual for us. Quite a few of our friends are stay-at-home dads, or the wife is the breadwinner and works long hours.
I think being a stay-at-home dad is awesome. It’s very different now because I have more time. In the first instance Michelle went back to work and I was left at home with the baby. But we were very fortunate to have a night nanny so I had a routine from the get-go. We had playgroups, we saw friends – it was all very structured. I wouldn’t say it was easy, but it was straightforward.
The pros are pretty obvious. Very few dads are there for all the firsts: words, steps, school pick-ups. I got to experience sports day when my wife couldn’t get out of work. The cons are that you don’t get a lot of male time, and at groups the other mums ignore you as they presume you’re only doing a one-off.’
John Adams, from Surrey, was formerly a communications and PR specialist. He now stays at home with his daughters, Helen (6) and Elizabeth (2), while his wife Gill works in finance.
‘There are a few reasons why I became a SAHD. When my first daughter Helen was born, my wife and I thought we simply couldn’t afford to live on one income. When Gill’s maternity leave ended, she went back to work and Helen went into nursery.
After a while we discovered she was the only child her age there full-time. We also missed a few significant milestones, which made me uncomfortable. Plus I was having a bad time at work, so I suggested I take on the role of homemaker. Gill wasn’t convinced, but came round to the idea. That was in 2011 and I haven’t looked back. I categorically do not miss office life. Full stop.
The best bits are helping your children develop, learning new skills and having fun. Dads have a different approach to parenting. I know full well I give my kids the opportunity to take risks in managed circumstances, much more so than their peers. It’s not wrong, just different. My kids are more independent than their friends and I consider that a good thing.
But it isn’t always easy. Life as a stay-at-home mum is lonely. Life as a stay-at-home dad is lonelier still. Invitations to coffee mornings are few and far between. You also face a lot of unintentional, latent sexism. It can also be very stressful and demanding. Looking after two children, especially when one is a toddler and the other a schoolgirl with very different needs, can be very tough indeed.
Obviously my wife has taken on the main provider role and she does find this stressful. Likewise I sometimes get annoyed at her inability to keep on top of housework, something that wouldn’t have bothered me before taking on the homemaker role.
But the children know no different. They wave out of the window to mummy when she leaves for work, in the same way many kids wave to daddy. They’re quite happy to be consoled by either mummy or daddy. To be blunt, there’s nothing an involved, caring father can’t do that a mother can.’SEE ALSO: The Role of Fathers in Raising Boys
Mark Hendrikx, from Teddington, is a filmmaker and stay at home dad to Sebastian, 2. His wife is a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
‘I’ve been a stay-at-home dad more or less since Sebastian was born. I was a screenwriter and director with a sporadic income, while my wife had just made partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. We did the maths and realised it wasn’t financially viable to pay the exorbitant childcare costs.
And, as a director, I don’t have the same time constraints on my career – it’s hard to think of many film directors who were successful before age 35. Whereas had my wife taken time off, her career wouldn’t have taken off in the same way.
Being a SAHD isn’t without its pitfalls. It’s probably the hardest job ever. No one could ever have warned me how tough it is – I just wouldn’t have believed them. People have this concept of life as a stay-at-home dad being a breeze. It’s not a breeze. It’s constant attention and feeding the fire. There are continual curveballs thrown.
About seven months in we went through a very rough patch – I was completely on my own. We’d moved out to Teddington and I didn’t know a soul. It was very difficult for me to approach people as they’d give me a funny look. I was getting very frustrated and I can relate to the idea that, when a woman has a baby, she loses her identity completely.
It was very difficult going to playgroups and being surrounded by women. Then my wife found a dads and toddlers playgroup in Wimbledon Park. After three weeks of badgering me, I went and it got much better. To other dads doing the same thing, I’d say they must, must, must find a playgroup with other men – or create one. It’s imperative you get out, even if it’s an hour’s drive away, for your own sanity.
But I wouldn’t change it for the world now. We just got Sebastian enrolled in a German kindergarten and I know that for a few weeks I’m going to be wondering what to do with myself – unless number two comes along.’
* Statistics taken from ONS data from 2014