Being a stay at home dad
"On International Men's Day, here's the experience of a stay at home dad on the challenges and rewards of childcare"

On International Men’s Day 2019 we asked a stay at home dad to talk about the challenges and rewards…

The background

 For the last 4 years, I have been a stay at home dad. If you had told me 6 years ago when our oldest child was born, that in 2 years we would have three children, have moved out of London and that I would be a “stay at home dad” I would have laughed.

 I had worked as a Chef in Parliament for the previous 8 years and originally  thought the idea of swapping 15 hour working days and the hustle and bustle of a parliamentary kitchen for being at home with my babies, with no commute, less stress and hopefully a better work-life balance, would be easy; how wrong was I! I can honestly say after 16 years working as a chef, long hours, in hot, busy and stressful environments has nothing on the worries and constant demands of being at home looking after my children.

Falling in love 

When I became a father, I didn’t realise how much it would change my life, I had no idea how much love and attachment I would instantly feel towards this beautiful baby. So when I had the flexibility to have Wednesdays off to spend looking after my daughter I jumped at the chance. Those Wednesdays with my 1-year-old were a relaxing time in contrast to how it is now. I remember feeding her, changing her and watching her sleep, maybe popping out to grab some ingredients for dinner and getting in a couple of hours of Netflix. 

Deciding to become a stay at home dad

In 2015 we took the decision that started this new chapter of my life. We wanted one of us to be at home to be with our children (then aged 2 and 8 months, before our third child) and the biggest considerations for our decision for me to take that role was the cost of childcare, it’s ridiculously expensive as all parents know and we realised we would be financially much better off.

My wife is amazing at what she does and while I’ve been at home doing the childcare her career has hit new levels and she is currently MD of EMEA for a digital advertising company, so for us, it was the correct and really the only realistic option we had. She is the most amazing mum, especially as she’s a working mother, she still manages to do a hell of a lot for the children and me, including the ‘mental load’ that I find naturally falls with the woman in a relationship.

The reality 

Obviously, I knew when I officially started being at home full time it would be a completely different situation. For starters, there were now two children to look after which obviously means twice the work, twice the mess, twice the nappies, twice the tears etc but I didn’t take into account how it would feel being the only male at the children’s classes, the school run and situations like that. 

I remember taking my daughter to her ballet classes when she was just 2, walking in and feeling a little overwhelmed. There were about 30 women getting their child’s ballet shoes on, sorting their daughter’s hair, there wasn’t another a man in sight.  A couple of women made eye contact and smiled but I did feel quite awkward. I got my daughter ready and I also did her hair (I have now perfected the ponytail!). I wasn’t prepared for my level of involvement in the class. I had assumed I would sit and watch but as she was so young I was up there in amongst all the little ballerinas and mothers skipping around singing away with everyone in the class. It felt as though most of the women there were shocked to see a man there and I definitely felt the occasional quizzical look in my direction. Despite all of that it was actually a great experience and my daughter really enjoyed the class so we were both happy at the end. 

It’s not easy as a stay at home dad to build friendships. When I first took my daughter to nursery I felt like all the mums had their little ‘cliques’ and even the dads that would occasionally do the drop-off or pick up would keep themselves to themselves.

So, the coffee mornings, the catch-ups, the chats at the school gates, the children’s classes and all the social stuff that I feel comes naturally for a stay at home mum, are not extended to the dads. As expected the women naturally chat together and invite each other to each other’s houses, go for coffee and cake and shopping, but this level of contact with a dad could possibly be misunderstood by the group and of course their partners, so its really difficult to integrate to a point where a father gets the support that is given to the mothers.

 I would like to think in years to come that it won’t be so unusual that a man is at home with the children. It would be the norm that men and women attend children’s classes and have coffee together, with more men involved there should be greater social interaction and support for men. Times are changing, maybe slowly but I have noticed the odd dad at the classes over the years, it’s good to see them there and that they feel they can take their children to these sessions. I see more and more fathers walking alone pushing around their buggies proudly and just men taking more of an involved role in their child’s upbringing and this can only benefit society.

Being the male at home can feel quite emasculating at times, although not being the main breadwinner hasn’t been a major problem for me as my wife tells me that my contribution although not financial is just as valuable to our family. The money that comes into our family is, of course, our money but I know that none of this comes from me, and I feel that I need to have an income myself now so I can surprise her from time to time, and I don’t want to do this with money my wife has earned. I realise for myself I also need to have some adult balance to my life, which is why I am turning my hobby and passion for photography into a business that I’ll be starting from home.

When my wife comes home from work in London or from being away abroad on business the only news I have to share is in relation to our children, the school activities etc and that’s starting to make me feel that I’m less interesting. There are challenges to the relationship but I suppose it is just role reversal and I now better understand women’s fight for equality and how mothers over the years have felt being traditionally left at home to bring up the children! 

Although over the last 4 years it has been hard at times: pulling my hair out daily and possibly having an early mid-life crisis, I am so grateful and proud of the experience. The memories made will last me a lifetime and I would suggest to all other Dads out there, that if they have the opportunity to help out, are happy to reverse the traditional but outdated roles of the household and instead of being the main breadwinner be there for your children, see them grow every second of every day and have an extra close bond that most dads who are out at work might not have, I would say go for it! You will treasure those moments and memories forever.   

Michael Weeks