What I've Learnt
Recently I've received several emails and Tweets and Facebook messages from people who are becoming stay-at-home Dads or whose partners are becoming stay-at-home Dads. It's awesome. Expect a few guest posts over the next few months from the perspective of both Mums and Dads.
In the meantime, I've been working on the domestic frontline for six years now and I thought I'd share some of what I've learnt.
1. Many differences between men and women are overstated.
Women are most often labelled as ‘carers’ and men are most often labelled as ‘providers’. After six years as a stay-at-home Dad it’s pretty clear to me that these terms are not only gender myths but they are also constantly misused to enforce stereotypes. Truth is men and women are both carers and providers no matter what role they are currently fulfilling within their family unit. To suggest that a stay-at-home parent is not providing something to his/her family is just as crazy as suggesting that a fulltime working Mum or Dad is not caring for his/her family.
2. The stay-at-home role is (still) undervalued.
Putting aside the fact that we are responsible for tiny humans and their developing lives, there is just a lot of hard work that comes with child-rearing on the domestic frontline and it is very rarely congratulated or celebrated. Whenever a stay-at-home parent takes the time to ‘debrief’ with regular nine-to-fivers they are often labelled as ‘whingers’, or ‘naggers’ rather than people who are simply looking for some understanding and acknowledgement of their efforts. Most employees understand that this sort of basic feedback is necessary to maintain employer self-esteem, morale and work ethic. For some reason society doesn’t extend this privilege to stay-at-home mums and dads.
2. Generally, stay-at-home Dads have better support than stay-at-home Mums.
I’ve come to this conclusion after meeting lots of SAHDs and SAHMs. Although it’s changing, there are still a lot of Dads who have no real idea about the workload, isolation, social judgements, self criticism and guilt that can come along with the stay-at-home role. To use myself as an example – after a crazy day of child wrangling, housework, cooking etc my wife would not come home from work and consider that her work day is over. She’s never said, ‘What do you do all day?’ She jumps straight in with the kids, with the housework and can tell by the expression on my face what sort of day I’ve had. Generally, women have been raised in a way that allows this kind of awareness. Many more men are developing this awareness as well but I still meet a lot of blokes who say things like, ‘You don’t really clean the toilet do you?’
4. In reference to point 2 and 3
If I was a housewife in the 1950s I’d be on Prozac too.
5. Women aren’t natural ‘naggers’.
Women have traditionally been the stay-at-home parent. Traditionally they have been the ones getting up several times a night, working all day right up to bed time, battling tantrums, family illnesses etc etc. Doing this day after day, every week and seeing the same old stretching way in to your future is like a mental whip-lashing, if you are lacking the appropriate support. It’s natural then to ask for help. And to keep asking for help if the support is not forthcoming. If your request is continually ignored it’s natural to get a little louder and to get a tad angry. Patterns of behaviour, on both sides of the tree, develop this way. This is not a gender issue. This again comes down to the undervaluing of certain family roles. Put a man in the stay-at-home roles under the same conditions and the man will become ‘the nagger’.
6. Men aren’t naturally ‘less emotional’.
There may be certain hormones that dictate small differences in men and women’s emotions but the bottom line is that men are just less practiced at expressing emotion. Steve Biddulph talks about this in his book ‘The New Manhood’. Society has built men to have a fear of emotion. When compared to women men have not been encouraged to access their whole selves. Staying at home with children has a way of opening men up to their emotional self more often. And the more often men sit with their emotional self the more comfortable they are with it. Back to point 1.
7. Lowering your vision is healthy.
When you shift your focus from lofty worldly goals and spend some time focussing on the more important things, directly in your line of vision – your family – there is a sigh of relief that is almost spiritual. You reconnect with the day to day refreshed, less rehearsed, more genuine. Your family validates your place in the world. Failures, pressures, even public adulations and rewards are ‘out there’. You come back to your place in the world to share the ups and downs, to make them real, and to be yourself again.
8. It helps to be flexible.
With kids comes great responsibility. It’s easy to place extreme pressure on yourself. There is a constant stream of advice and info coming at you from a thousand different sources. You may feel pressured to have your child sleeping through the night at three months, or doing somersaults at two years, or singing the alphabet at three. You may think you need a set routine, or no routine, or a particular book or schooling method. Most advice and most approaches in child rearing will work… depending on your child. And that’s the key point. Try for a structure that you think might work for your family but don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work. Brush your hands off, relax and then try something else. This was made clearer to me during a discussion on baby sleeping methods at the Reservoir Dad Facebook page. Several parents said that while one of their children responded brilliantly to controlled crying another became stressed and agitated and co-sleeping led to a better night, and happier days, for everyone.
9. A strong social network is important.
This can be a tough one for men – again because of the way we have traditionally been socialised. Taking on the stay-at-home role does require some isolation, a reduction in the amount of time you’re in contact with adults, and as a result less chance to debrief, share experience, escape thoughts of doubt and insecurity. Adult time – time for yourself – is crucial to maintaining a healthy state of mind. I joined the Northern Dad’s Group when I started my life as a stay-at-home parent and have found it to be an incredibly valuable resource for the past five years. There are also many relevant online networks for parents. But something as simple as joining a weekly sporting group – indoor cricket, netball or soccer for example – can provide a valuable way to stay connected with yourself and the outside world (in most cases this will require cooperation with your partner).
10. There are a lot of great Dads out there.
We often only hear about the Dads who are stuffing up. Media focuses on the Brendan Fevolas, the drunk Dads, gambling Dads, the Dads that harms their kids. Stereotypes swamp all form of media – Dads who don’t do any housework, who have never changed a nappy, who need their wives to run to the rescue for every little household issue. It’s my opinion after six years on the domestic frontline, meeting many great Dads from all areas of society, that most Dads are family focussed, great partners and great men. They just don’t crow about themselves (when maybe they should) and the media doesn’t consider them very newsworthy. We need more everyday role models for young boys. We need to hear more about these great Dads. *This article was originally written for and published by Nicole Avery at Plannings With Kids.
Are you a stay at home dad or has your partner taking time out to be a stay at home dad? Love to hear what you’ve learnt.
*This article was originally written for and published by Nicole Avery at Plannings With Kids.