As the new school year gets underway I look back at two years as a Stay at Home Dad; the highs, lows, tears and laughter.
At this time in 2014 I was bidding my wife farewell as she returned to work full time in a new, more senior role, leaving me to look after then 18 month old Tilly. This was it: I was in sole charge of our daughter for 11 hours a day, five days a week. It would throw me into no end of entirely unfamiliar and occasionally uncomfortable situations and I’d often be the sole dad in rooms full of mums. Nevertheless, I had a job to do and a family to manage and this was the path we decided on.
Why did I become a stay-at-home dad?We had originally planned for a fairly standard child care arrangement. I worked full time while my wife mixed work and child care with Tilly in nursery a few days a week. It didn’t take long for us to realise that this arrangement wasn’t working. Tilly was constantly ill at nursery, pulling ShireMum out of work, adding pressure to an already difficult routine of drop offs and collections. At the same time ShireMum was finding days with a small child incredibly tough going. In contrast I was yearning for more time with our daughter but with a 90 minute commute each way following a job and house change, this was also proving challenging.
Our family unit was under strain and we needed to fix it. We assumed that we’d find some part-time working compromise but when an unexpected promotion was offered to my wife it opened up a new option. At first I wasn’t even sure whether to suggest it but it seemed like the natural solution to our problems. I’d look after Tilly, ShireMum could focus on her promising career and Tilly would be with family and entirely out of nursery. It would seem we’d all get what we wanted.
But would it be too good to be true?
A minority pursuit
Being a stay-at-home dad and carer-in-chief to your child puts you immediately into a minority. Although the numbers of stay-at-home dads is growing nationally and there are a good number of doing childcare for some days of the week, it’s still not uncommon to encounter individuals for whom the concept is entirely unknown and rather odd. I’ve had jibes about being a ‘kept man’, been asked if it was my day off or if I was a single parent, as I was the one taking my child for a haircut. It may not be automatically accepted as a profession for a man but it’s still a role where you’re on call 24/7. My hours are 6am – 8pm without a break and a night shift is not uncommon. The corporate world would likely pay good coin for such working life. I’m paid only in love and I have to cast aside the many tantrums. Still, it is worth it.
There does seem to be more recognition of dads taking on this formerly unusual role. The media seem to be talking about it regularly. I was featured in the Times taking about my experience last year and regular requests for interviews seem to indicate this is remains a current topic. It’s certainly not for every dad, but then full-time childcare isn’t for every mum either, which is one reason we made the arrangement we did.
Two years of highs and lows
We’ve recently realised that Tilly is a highly sensitive child, which combined with a feisty, head-strong personality along with terrible twos and rebellious threenager phases have not made for an easy time. Nevertheless, I’ve had countless adventures with her and been there to witness some brilliant firsts.
We have been sleep deprived for most of the past two years with broken nights and waking at 4 or 5am not unknown. Fortunately this does seem to be getting a little better with rewards keeping the morning call until after 6am.
When I first started looking after Tilly I didn’t have a car during the week. This meant finding all our activities within walking distance of our house in a modest market town or on a bus ride to the next, slightly larger town. There was normally something to go to but there wasn’t much choice.
The twos and threes are difficult times and last December was the worst month we’ve had to date with Tilly grumpy throughout and Christmas was far from the magical time we’d hoped for.
There have however been many good points and happy memories we would likely have otherwise missed if Tilly had remained at nursery. She walked then ran and now seems like a gymnastics hopeful. As for talking; she started and has never stopped, achieving a level of fluency that continues to amaze for her young age.
I’ve also been there to guide her in writing her name for the first time and drawing her first pictures of herself and us.
For Tilly she’s transformed into a confident little girl who leaps into having adventures and has no problem conversing with adults and befriending older children.
In it together
We’ve been through some rough times together such as the death of grandad where Tilly has been both a source of strength for us as well as a source for emotion as he’ll not see her grow up. Yet the loss of a close family member makes you realise their qualities, which we seek to pass on to our children.
The arrival of preschool at the start of this year gave me much needed free time during the week. Suddenly there was a regular slot in which to get some of the ever accumulating housework in order and a chance to start thinking about personal projects and future work.
Being a dad, playgroups didn’t see the flurry of social invitations that mums seem to enjoy so knowing that Tilly was getting daily social interaction at preschool was one fewer concern. Preschool is also great for providing some brilliant activities and play space, meaning we can spend our afternoons together indulging in whatever play Thalia would like, although often as not we’re swimming, trampolining or exploring the outdoors.
We’re now precisely a year away from Tilly starting school, which brings forth a mix of emotions. I realise our time together is coming to an end but it will be a change that I suspect we’ll both for ready for when it arrives. I have no doubt that Tilly will benefit from the stimulation of a school environment, while I’m feeling ready to get stuck in to some new projects. Between now and then I’ve got a year together with Tilly to enjoy but I’m also keenly aware that I need to get her reading, writing and other skills up to speed for the start of school.
I don’t doubt there’ll be more highs and lows over the coming twelve months but it has the prospect of being our best year yet.
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