‘I’m the only man at parent and toddler groups. Mothers can be odd about it’

Two fathers discuss what they enjoy most about their role as stay-at-home dads

For as far back as we can remember, being a parent involved very gender defined roles – the mother stayed at home and looked after the children’s day-to-day needs, while the father went out to work to earn an income and support the family financially.

As time evolved, this thankfully began to change and more and more couples began splitting household and parenting tasks between them while they both went out to work and even enjoyed some leisure or social time independently.

But despite this shift in dynamics, in households where one parent stays at home to look after the children, it is still overwhelmingly female with CSO figures from 2017 showing that just over 11,000 fathers took full responsibility of the day-to-day needs of their children.

However, this number is almost double the figure from 2001 when just 5,700 men classed themselves as stay-at-home dads (SAHD) and it seems to be rising slowly with an increasing number of men wanting to have more of a hands-on role in their children’s lives.

We spoke to two fathers who are at the parenting helm, to find out what they enjoy most about their role and why they would encourage other fathers to do same.

‘I think the way we parent has changed’

Ross Good lives with his wife Mel and their two daughters, Mia (10) and Elle (7), in Dublin. He has been a stay-at-home-dad since 2016 when he was diagnosed with heart disease and realised that he needed to make some changes to his life. Now his days involve taking care of all of his children's needs, along with the household chores while his wife works from home.

The 44-year-old who has a blog called thestentedpapa.com says since he has started looking after his children full time, he has definitely seen an increase in other fathers doing the same thing.

“When I became a SAHD, I also started blogging and got to know a few other full-time dads who also blogged. I also see dads being very active at my daughters’ school every day with drop-offs and collections, and while I can’t say for certain that they are minding the kids full time, they are very active and it’s great to see.

“I think the way we parent has changed and for me and any other dad I know, we are all hands-on because we want to be involved and part of the equation, not just when mum isn’t available or has gone away for a weekend break – dads are parents too.

“Also, I think that society has changed. The days of the traditional roles within the family unit aren’t the same as they used to be and we want to be involved more with our children every day. That’s not to say that all of todays’ parenting styles are on point as some people think the older ways are better and others think those ways are barbaric.

“So, I think it’s about trying to strike a balance and marry the best traits from older parenting styles with the best bits of current methods. Of course, I don’t get it right all the time – but I am trying and I think it is good for the family if both parents are on the same page, supporting each other through both the good times and the rough times, and working together as a team. The kids will benefit as a result – that, I’m sure of.

“My advice for someone who is about to become a SAHD would be to try to be present in the moment because it really and truly flies by so fast. Learn from the experience and try to enjoy it. And when things get tough – which they will for sure – talk to your partner and your friends and take breaks because kids will try your patience. They will push your buttons and it will frustrate the life out of you at times. Try to keep your patience as they are only children and don’t understand their actions, for the most part. And when all else fails, there’s always wine.

“I’m currently building a new business behind the scenes aimed at helping dads be present with their family so they can enjoy that time to the max. I’m calling it ‘The Good Dad Academy’. It will be a hub or community for dads of all kinds and will include online courses, and dad and child activity events. There will also be fitness classes, furniture making courses, dad and baby massage groups, hiking sessions and so much more.”

‘The days of dads just being the bread winner are long gone’

James Daly is also a stay-at-home-dad as for the past three years he has been holding the fort while his partner goes out to work. He says that he "feels privileged" to be sharing his children's childhood with them and has no desire to go back into the workplace for a good few years.

“When Jennifer and I got together initially, it was always me who wanted children, while she was busy starting out on her career path. I guess it was probably down to the fact that she has a good job as a solicitor, which she really enjoys, while I was on contract work in various companies looking after technical maintenance.

“So when we were expecting our first child, I suggested that I would take time off to look after him while Jen went back to work and she agreed straight away as she earned more money than I did, her job was secure and she really didn’t want to be a stay-at-home mother.

“Right from the start, we knew it was the best decision we ever made as I really enjoyed being home with Zach, looking after him and watching him grow, while Jen was able to continue with work and come home in the evening in time for the bedtime story.

“When we discovered that she was pregnant again, there was no question of anything changing and when Leah was born, our little crew at home just got bigger. The kids are still very young and Zach won’t be going to pre-school until 2023 and Leah the year after, so until then I am going to be here for them every day – they are only children for such a short time so I am incredibly grateful that I am playing a big role in their lives.

“I enjoy their company and find them fascinating – the only thing which can be a bit strange is that I’m always the only man at the playground or parent and toddler groups. Some of the mothers can be very odd about it and while most are fine and will at least say hello, there is always one or two, who nearly clutch their children to them as if they think I’m going to do something.

“This makes me sad and angry – I’m a father with my kids and have as much right to be there as they do. I know there aren’t as many dads looking after their children as there are mothers – but those of us who are, shouldn’t be made to feel unwelcome. People need to realise that dads love their kids too and the days of them just being the bread winner are long gone.”

‘Fathers can feel out of place in creches or playgroups’

Child psychologist, Peadar Maxwell agrees and says while the number of fathers in full-time care roles is still quite low and many may feel outnumbered and out of place in female-centric environments, it is important to try and overcome any feelings of awkwardness as their children will benefit from their involvement.

“Fathers can feel out of place in creches or playgroups but I would advise them to try to get used to those environments and would ask others in those settings to make an effort to be inclusive and welcoming to fathers trying to figure a new parenting role,” he says.

“It is very healthy for children to see their parents embrace some fluidity in their roles and fathers are very capable at fulfilling the emotional and care needs of their children; if they make an effort and if the other parent encourages their partners.

“It is a trap to think that the mother has to do all of the caring and nursing and that the father wouldn’t know how to show that level of care. We learn by trying new things and parents can make an effort to support one another to care and guide their children.”

Maxwell says every parent has a unique bond and relationship with their child and having a male role model is very important for their development.

“That bond can be as much based on personality as on gender roles,” he says. “Fathers are invaluable to their children and in some families an uncle, grandfather or stepdad fills that role. When men allow themselves to express their feelings and emotions they are showing their child how strong and confident they are in their masculinity and as an individual.

“Expressing love and pride in your family or disappointment and sadness at a loss are normal and natural, and can be modelled by fathers to their children so that they see that grown men have feelings too. It models for boys that expression of feelings is healthy.”

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