On Saturday I featured along four other stay-at-home dads in the Times article ‘The rise of the alpha dad‘. This charts the increase of stay-at-home dads and in particular those fathers, like me, who actively decided to put their career to one side to look after their children full-time. You may be visiting this blog for the first time having read the Times article or may have heard about the article but not have a subscription to read it. A timely opportunity then to revisit the decisions that led me to become a stay-at-home dad last year.
Quitting my job was thinking the unthinkable. We’d never considered it as we’d assumed it would be unaffordable but at the same time it seemed to offer the solution to our problems, so one day I took a gamble, did the sums and suggested it to my wife.
This followed six dreadful months of us working full-time while putting Tilly in nursery. We were run ragged, me with a daily three-hour commute to central London and my wife 90 minutes of shuttling Tilly to and from nursery. Our jobs were both demanding, as was our small child and there weren’t enough hours in the week to properly commit to it all.
To make matters worse, Tilly was over-tired from (in hindsight) an inability to nap properly at nursery, making our evenings filled with tantrums. Throw into the mix months of nursery-sourced illnesses passed from Tilly to us and we were ready to reconsider our options.
Looking back, there was a gradual realisation that we weren’t in the roles that naturally lended themselves to our respective strengths and passions. My wife was finding her weekday with Tilly long and stressful, while I felt more suited to child care than I’d expected and was yearning for more. At work, my wife was blazing a trail in her field, while I was feeling increasingly unfulfilled by my work, questioning whether having Tilly nursery was the right option for us. We’d defaulted to traditional gender roles but they weren’t the right ones for us.
Then out of the blue came the catalyst for action. My wife had been offered a promotion but one which she felt needed a full five-day week rather than four days to commit to. This changed the sums for our family finances and made me quietly look into a new option – becoming a stay-at-home dad. The sums appeared to add up – just. I rechecked them. It would be tighter financially than other options but it would remove the stress and difficulties we’d been facing.
My wife was concerned that the numbers stacked up, so over a number of weeks I kept rechecking them. Once we were sure, we tentatively mentioned it to our parents. Happily they were supportive and had even guessed this might be what we’d been considering. My boss was also understanding, although keen not to lose a member of his team if it could be avoided. However we just couldn’t see how a part-time option wouldn’t maintain many of the problems we’d been experiencing. Our minds were made up – it was time to make the leap.
That was summer 2014. Since then the finances have been tighter than I’d forecast. We’ve had to really cut back on spending and start budgeting, which hasn’t come easily and has caused some friction at times. However in transforming the quality of life, it’s undoubtedly been revolutionary for us. Tilly now spends the whole week with family, is happy, well rested and has made some dramatic advancements in development since being at home. We have a great schedule of groups and activities and when my wife gets home from work, Tilly is in a great mood and ready to play. It’s a total contrast to a year ago.
Being a stay-at-home dad isn’t without its difficulties, though. You do find yourself in a small minority with childcare dominated by and focused around mums. I was apprehensive about how I’d be accepted but we’ve got to know a lot of parents and children over the months and there’s often at least one familiar face at the playground these days. If there is a toddler social scene outside of play groups, it’s not one we’ve been invited into yet, meaning that contact with adults is pretty limited. This would drive some people stir-crazy but I enjoy the quiet times for working on creative projects.
I’d admit that I was apprehensive at appearing in the Times article but it’s led to fathers get in touch to say how glad they are that being a stay-at-home dad is starting to be recognised as a legitimate option for families and is on the increase. There’s still some way to go before dads can feel a natural part of childcare activities with the article highlight stories from the other dads who have found them excluded from parenting groups and support, however progress is being made and that’s got to be good for parents and children alike.