The number of families that are choosing to adopt less traditional gender and parenting roles is on the increase. It’s a theme that has caught the eye of the media recently with shows like House Husbands exploring the changing gender roles in modern families.
While stay at-home-dads are still in the minority, there are definitely more and more men taking on the role of the primary carer for their kids while the mums take on the responsibility of providing financially for the family.
Even in today’s ever-changing modern society, the stay-at-home dad can raise a few eyebrows and even face some resistance from sections of the community.
We spoke to Toby who has recently made the swap from bringing home the bacon to cooking it up for breakfast and asked him about the rewards and challenges he faces as a stay-at-home dad.
A big decision
“When we first had our son the idea that I could be a stay-at-home dad never even entered our minds,” said Toby.
“I guess we just accepted the ‘normal’ way of doing things and never really challenged it or considered alternatives.
“But 10 months after our baby was born my wife was offered an opportunity at her work that was too good to give up.
“She hadn’t been at work since quite early in the pregnancy and it was pretty hard for her to hide how excited she was at the prospect of going back.
“We discussed it extensively trying to work out the best course of action. We looked into day care but we both had our reservations and it just wasn’t practical from a financial point of view.
“In the end I felt that our son was still too young to not have a parent around and I knew just how great of an opportunity my wife had at work so I suggested that I would put in my resignation and stay home with the bubs.”
Toby was expecting to cop a bit of flak from some of the guys in the office for choosing to become a stay-home dad but instead he was surprised at the level of support and praise he received.
“My boss was pretty disappointed when I told him I was leaving but there were no hard feelings and I’m sure I would be welcome back if things didn’t work out,” he said.
“Some of my work mates were jealous I was going to be staying home but none of them have kids and I don’t think they realise just how much work a parent has to do.”
Despite some initial hesitation, Toby’s wife was happy they had worked out a solution that was beneficial to everyone.
“My wife did have some reservations at first,” said Toby.
“Not because she doubted my ability to look after our son but because she was worried about what people would think of her leaving her 10 month baby to re-enter the work force.
“I did my best to reassure her and to try and remind her that what we were doing was the best thing for our family at this time and it didn’t matter what other people thought.”
Convincing the crowd
Once Toby and his wife were comfortable with the choice they had made they set about telling their friends and family of the changes that were taking place in their house. Toby was surprised that not everyone was as excited as they were.
“Almost everyone was really happy for the two of us and offered their support,” said Toby.
“Our friends really supported the decision to switch roles. I guess people are seeing dads stay home more often now and any stigma that it suffers is starting to fade.
“But I did get a bit of lip from my own dad. He is a pretty old-school kind of guy and he didn’t really take the news too well.
“I’ve tried to broach the subject with Dad on several occasions but he isn’t really into expressing his feelings.
“I was worried that our relationship may deteriorate but it is actually starting to go the other way.
“Because I have had a lot more free time during the day I have been taking my dad and my son out together and I think he is starting to see that being a ‘house husband’ doesn’t make me any less of a man.”
Odd man out
“As much fun as my son and I were having, I definitely felt that we could both benefit from some social interaction,” he said.
“My wife had an informal group of girlfriends that would meet most weeks but I found it hard to get them to commit to plans with me. I don’t think they really wanted a bloke getting in the way of their catch ups.
“I also tried a couple different community playgroups in my local area and on both occasions I was the only guy there.
“Some of the mums I met there were really nice and would have a chat with me but the majority would just stick together in their groups and it made me feel like the odd man out.
“It never occurred to me that it would be hard to find a playgroup that had a good mix of mums and dads.”
Dads doing it for themselves
Being stranded without a playgroup left Toby feeling momentarily isolated but he says he never once regretted taking on his new role, rather he saw this as an opportunity to start a playgroup that suited his needs.
“I did feel a little disheartened, but after talking about it with a mate who stays home part time with his daughter, I had a brilliant idea,” said Toby.
“My mate told me that he experienced a similar thing when trying to find a playgroup so it made sense to me that we start our own dad friendly group.
“The thing was we didn’t really know any other dads that didn’t work full time so the first few meetings were pretty much just the two of us and a few mums that we knew were keen to come along.
“The mums at our playgroup really liked the fact that it was a couple of blokes that did the organising and they started spreading the word through their circles of friends.
“Now we have an average of about 12 or 13 people that meet once a fortnight and at least half of them are stay-at-home dads.
“We’ve even had a couple of dads take a day or half day from work to bring their kid along and catch up with some fellow fathers.”
Father and son grow a little closer
After becoming a full time dad Toby said he experienced a really positive change in his relationship with his son.
“When you start caring for your child day in-day out there is a definite shift in your relationship.
“You learn how to communicate better with your baby and you start to know instinctively what they need before they become upset, whether that’s food, a nap or games.
“You both become more comfortable. It’s not like it was uncomfortable before, it’s just a new level of trust and understanding.
Toby and his son’s relationship has gone from strength to strength since becoming a stay home dad but he says it’s easy to see just how excited his boy gets when mum gets home from work.
“He’s definitely mum’s boy still,” said Toby.
“I think it’s great for my wife because it lets her know that she is appreciated and that we miss her when she isn’t home.
“I know for sure that my wife is really enjoying being back at work especially in her new position but I can tell she does miss her baby. I know I did when I was working.
“That’s why I do my best to let her know how much we both love her.
“Little things like making sure that all the chores are done means my wife is able to spend more of her time with our son, if I’m really organised I will have dinner on too.
“On weekends I often encourage her to take him out to spend some time together which is great for their relationship and gives me some time to do what I want to do.
“Other times we will go out as a family and enjoy a nice breakfast at a café and chat about our week.”
Getting the right balance
“There is a lot of work that needs to be done and it takes a fair bit of planning and organisation to get it all right,” he said.
“Keeping on top of the washing and the dishes are the two biggest ones for me but I find if you make the most of nap times you can get quite a bit done.
“I like to be able to make sure my wife has a clean and comfortable place to come home to because I know what it is like being at work all day, the last thing you want to worry about is dishes, all you really want is a cuddle and a play with your baby.
“The playgroup now is a bit of a reward and release from the daily routine and as well as rehearsing and playing the odd gig with my band, I feel I have been able to achieve a good balance.”
“To be honest I don’t really miss my work, not yet anyway.
“There is a couple of blokes from work that call mates and we still catch up regularly but unlike my wife my work was more of a job than a real passion.
“I’ll wait to see how I feel after a year or 18 months of full time fathering and maybe reassess but for now I am loving every day.
“I think it is important for any families and fathers out there considering taking on the stay-at-home role that they just do what is best for their family and try not to worry too much about what other people might think.
“My experience has been overwhelmingly positive and I would recommend it to any dad that is thinking about doing it.”