Eléonore Maudet shares her story of having a partner who became the Stay-At- Home-Dad following her return to work. An extract from Wikipedia… …“A stay-at-home dad (alternatively, full-time father, stay-at-home father [SAHD], house dad, househusband, or house-spouse) is a father who is the main caregiver of the children and is generally the homemaker of the household.”
Eléonore really documents well the challenges and benefits for both parents when you have a full time working mother and a SAHD. Her points about flexibility, inequality, quality time, heart ache, equal models, enjoyment, financial pressure, mental load, isolation, discrimination and criticism are common themes I have heard from other parents in their blogs. Eléonore’s story below puts it all in one place really well!
Parenting is an adventure that couples must embark on together, equally. I’m very fortunate to have a partner that is just as involved in our son’s upbringing as I am. He was a stay-at-home dad for a year following my return to work when our son turned 8 months. This is what I wish to write about: both parents taking the time to become parents, as well as the perception that society has of stay-at-home dads.
Becoming a parent is a very real thing that hits you no matter how much you try to prepare for it. When I look back at the first few months after our son’s birth, I remember how isolated and scared we both were, with no family around except for Paul’s sister. Thankfully, with Paul being an actor, he had some flexibility with work and was able to take a month off to help me after Owen’s birth. He was very hands-on from the start, changing most nappies (as I was the official milk supplier) and getting up multiple times a night to help me. I felt so lucky, especially when talking to other mums whose partners would go back to work after just one or two weeks. All new dads should be given the time to bond with their child. The sooner men go back to work, the sooner women take on the role of primary carer – which I believe is when inequality starts among couples.
Cut to 8 months later. The time had come for me to return to work. While my heart ached on the morning of my return and I initially missed not having Owen literally attached to me 24/7, I soon enjoyed having part of my former life back. The fact that Paul took over at home made going back to work somewhat easier. I knew that Owen was in safe hands and would have lots of quality time with his dad. I didn’t have to deal with the stress of drop-offs and pick-ups. Nor did I have to put up with any illness passed on by other kids.
This is not to say that going back was painless – I quickly realised that although I had a little more time to myself, I would generally leave the office to go straight home for my ‘second shift’ and would only get an hour to myself in the evening before collapsing. I had also become the breadwinner, which put me under some financial pressure, having to pay for the bills and rent.
Paul, on the other hand, was embracing his new role of stay-at-home dad. Owen was blossoming. He’d always been a happy baby, but he’d reached the age where he was quite fun, with his personality coming through. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling a little envious of Paul’s time with Owen. I was slightly worried I was missing out on some key moments and that I’d become the secondary parent, the one he’d only see at the weekends. Thankfully Owen was still very much obsessed with me, and I would make sure that I spent at least an hour with him each day.
After a few months at home, Paul was starting to feel a little isolated. While I had been lucky to meet lots of other mothers during my time at home, Paul was quite alone as a stay-at-home dad. He had met up with a couple of local dads, but not as frequently as he would have liked to. He thought he’d have more time to see his actor friends, but ended up being limited by Owen’s schedule. And let’s be honest, although spending time with children is rewarding, at times it can be painfully dull.
We were also starting to feel some pressure from other people concerning our situation. My mother in particular would often be quite critical, as she felt that I had to put up with the financial burden. People would praise us for being a modern couple, but it came across as insincere. They would often ask when Paul would be going back to work, as if implying that that’s where he belonged. I too had my moments of doubt. I was worried that Owen was not socialising soon enough, or missing out on some nursery fun. But my doubts were mostly dismissed by all the positive comments we got from people, on how sociable he was and how happy he always seemed.
Despite the occasional doubts or criticism, we stuck with our plan. Paul was a stay-at-home dad for a year, and we were both happy with this arrangement. It gave Paul the opportunity to have a level of intimacy with our son that you can only truly get from spending a lot of time one on one. This can include some frustrating moments This included many challenging moments, of course, but overall it was a very enriching experience for Paul. As for Owen, he’s obviously too young to share any feedback, but I can see how happy and balanced he is. I’m proud to have given him a modern example from the start, breaking down the gender normative roles and presenting him with very equal models.
Of course, not all dads will want to be at home for a full year; but I’m sure that, given the opportunity, most dads would want to be more present. Recently, there’s been a lot of debate around women’s rights, especially with the #MeToo movement, but domestic and family life seem to be key areas where inequality is still very much the norm. There’s been a lot of conversations around the mental load that women take on, especially once they become mothers. I cannot help but think that if more fathers took some time at home, then the mental load would be more evenly distributed between men and women. Problems such as toxic masculinity or internalised sexism wouldn’t be as strong, if from their early years children were given a more equal model at home. Finally, if fathers took more time at home, there’d be far less discrimination against women in the workplace.
All in all, I’m a firm believer in the normalisation of shared parental leave and in a more equal approach to parenting. There’s no doubt that setting a good example from the beginning can make a huge difference in our children’s lives today and in the future.
Author: Eléonore Maudet
Photo Credit: Eléonore Maudet