THE BLOG

Sharing the Caring Puts Family First

11/01/2016 17:25 GMT | Updated 11/01/2017 10:12 GMT

THERE were more than a few raised eyebrows when I told people I was quitting my job as a local newspaper editor to be a stay-at-home dad.

It's still fairly unusual for a man to be a child's main carer in the UK.

Despite recent changes in legislation, men here rarely take more than the basic one or two weeks of paid paternity leave.

Elsewhere in Europe, it's a different story. A new incentive in Sweden actively encourages fathers to take three months of paid paternity leave. A 'daddy quota' system, extended by 30 days from 1 January, means paid time off is allocated to couples as a unit, but a portion can only be taken by the father and is otherwise lost.

Swedish men already take an average of three months off. Here, despite British dads now being able to take up to 26 additional weeks, fewer than 10 per cent do.

Fear of harming career prospects is a common reason. Introducing a UK 'daddy quota' could change that. Currently any extra time taken gets subtracted from the partner's maternity leave. An entitlement lost if not claimed would be a different matter. No one likes to miss out on a government giveaway. And if taking longer paternity leave became the norm, men would be less likely to fear committing career suicide.

I'm a big believer in fathers playing a more active role in their children's upbringing. I'm biased, of course, as that's my own experience. Not that my wife and I planned it. A happy accident would be a better explanation.

Cutbacks at work meant I was offered voluntary redundancy. Tired of long days and an ever-increasing workload, I suggested that Claudia, then a stay-at-home mum, swapped roles with me. Somehow I got her to agree and, next thing, she was returning to work full-time and I was Daddy Day Care.

Kirsten, our daughter, had just started primary school. My masterplan was that while she was there, I could fulfil my dream of writing a novel. That wasn't as easy as I thought. I had a six-hour window each weekday to get all the cleaning, shopping and household admin done on top of my writing.

Somehow it worked. My debut novel, Time to Say Goodbye, will be published by Avon HarperCollins next month. It explores the unique bond between a father and his daughter. So being a stay-at-home dad actively helped me forge a new career.

More importantly, it's been great for Kirsten. I think spending the pre-school years with Mum and the next few with Dad has given her the best of both of us.

She and Claudia got that traditional mother-daughter bonding time that maternity leave promotes. They were always busy doing something in those early years: from baby massage to walks in the park, swimming and regular social events with other mums and tots.

It was a time packed with firsts: first smile, first word, first tooth, first time crawling, first steps. And I missed a lot of that.

But my turn came. After years of being absent for most of Kirsten's waking hours, she and I finally got to know one another. We had long chats together. I learned her likes and dislikes; her friends and their parents. I nursed her through sickness and comforted her when she was upset. I even saw my share of firsts: cycling without stabilisers; first school report; first lost tooth.

And Claudia was still around a lot. Unlike in my old job, her hours were regular. So we got to spend much more time as a family. We could all have dinner together every evening. And as my own bond with Kirsten grew, it didn't diminish the bond they had formed early on.

I think a key thing this whole experience has taught my daughter is adaptability: an essential life skill for modern youngsters.

I hope it will benefit her future relationships with men socially, professionally and - dare I say it - romantically. A young girl's interactions with her dad shape the way she views herself with regards to members of the opposite sex. They form the basis of how she expects to be treated. A father rarely at home, whose love and attention comes in short bursts, risks making her needy. But a close and constant relationship, in which a father's unconditional love is clear, should stand her in good stead.

I also hope that in seeing me successfully pursue my dream of becoming an author, Kirsten will believe in her own ability to achieve whatever goals she seeks now and in later life.

I'm not saying our experience is for everyone. Parents must do whatever they think is best for their children. But it doesn't hurt to think outside the box sometimes. The benefits can be immense.

Time to Say Goodbyeby S.D. Robertson (Avon, £6.99) is published on 11 February.