This time last year I had days filled with meetings, managing stakeholders, delivering strategies and managing projects. Then, one Friday in July it came to an end. I took a 100 per cent pay cut and moved to looking after just one stakeholder, a then 18 month old toddler. Six months on and the routine of a stay-at-home dad has well and truly bedded in, although it’s not been without its challenges…
The eleven hour challenge
The role of the stay-at-home parents is take care of and provide ample stimulation for the child each day, not to mention what often feels like a constant supply of food. For me, that means filling the eleven hours between my wife leaving for work in the morning and returning in the evening.
Being new to the area and not really knowing a soul, I met this challenge by throwing myself headlong into the local playgroup scene; daily activities taking up an hour or so every weekday. This provides some much-needed structure around which to plan each day and makes those eleven hours a lot easier to break down and manage.
The day will start with breakfast and play, gradually getting ready for playgroup. Playgroup naturally leads to the lunchtime nap. After the nap we’ve afternoon activities either indoors or perhaps a walk or visit to the local shop. Repeat each day.
In reality, meeting the challenge of filling each day with fun and activities has changed a good deal through the year. Summertime days are easy with daily visits to the playground and lazy afternoons playing the garden. The cold months of winter a good deal trickier, as parks, trails and the garden turn wet and muddy and entertainment inevitably becomes more indoor focused. Fortunately there are plenty of ideas online to deflect requests to watch television or play on the iPad, although it’s definitely a much more challenging season.
The only dad at playgroup
Other dads do crop up occasionally at playgroups and classes although I’m only aware of one other full-time stay-at-home dad locally. Most of the time I’m the rather obvious token dad, which is fine. The reception received at groups is generally fairly warm.
There tend to be existing groups of friends who are less interested in talking to newcomers but other new starters at playgroups are generally keen to have someone to chat to. Being hopeless with names has proven a major hindrance, as is being largely rubbish at small talk, although knowing you can also ask about the child is the guaranteed ice breaker.
I haven’t as yet made any inroads into the active parent and toddler social scene that seems to exist. Being a dad adds a layer of difficulty especially when we don’t know anyone well. It would be nice to give Tilly more opportunities to play with friends although it’s something she’ll get more out of as she gets older.
At risk of losing the plot
While for some parents their days seem to be an ongoing diary of playdates for others there’s little adult contact outside of the playgroup sessions. Depending on what sort of personality you have, having only toddler talk for the majority of the day could well send you round the twist.
I’m currently reading a book on this very subject, about how some people draw their energy through social interactions and buzz while others recharge through quiet times. If you’re the first group, being a full-time parents has got to be tough and it’s probably these parents who are awash with playdates. Happily I enjoy the quiet time to collect my thoughts and work on creative ideas. Just as well really!
One of the very best aspects of the past six months has been sharing so much of Tilly’s developments into an increasingly colourful toddler. There’s the learning, where she’s mastered numbers, colours and names of things and we’re working on letters of the alphabet and shapes. Then there’s a rapidly broadening understanding of the world around here. Just this week she’s been making good use of ‘again’, noting when there’s repetition in her day (which as a toddler, there’s rather a lot of!) Every day there are new words and thoughts and it’s wonderful to help nurture them and solidify her understanding.
Feeling well rested remains an elusive goal. We’ve finally had a largely unbroken week of sleep following a couple of months of Tilly being unsettled at least a couple of times each night. Tilly has never been a long and sound sleeper so we constantly have the challenge of balancing a little time for ourselves in the evening with getting enough sleep, knowing that regardless of the day we’ll be up at 6am sharp the next morning. We’ve yet to find a wondrous solution. Compared to a year ago we’re managing a lot better but feeling constantly tired remains a major challenge.
Let’s talk about money
Money has been really tight since I quit work and has been a bit tighter than I had imagined. I had hoped that I’d have more opportunity to work on the side but the demands of a toddler are pretty unrelenting, so that will likely have to wait until she starts going to pre-school. It has all meant that we’ve had to look more closely at our budget than we have in the past and cut down on spending without thinking. It’s less fun and some of our household tech is getting very long in the tooth but then it’s only for a relatively short while.
Budgeting is in itself quite eye-opening, seeing where money is going and cutting down on the waste. I’m starting to become pretty savvy about which shops are cheaper for what goods. I’ll be blogging more on this in the weeks ahead.
Keeping it in context
This isn’t a ‘pat on the back, haven’t I done well’ sort of a post. After all, many mums at playgroups have been doing the full-time parent thing for many years and with multiple children, which is a Herculean effort that takes place each day without much acknowledgement. I can certainly say from my first half-year in the stay-at-home parent hot seat that it is no less demanding than full-time work. It is very different, the demands and strains are often unexpected but for me the benefits of being SAHD are well worth it and I wouldn’t be anywhere else.