I'm a stay at home dad with two daughters. Helen is aged six and Elizabeth two. Since 2011, I have fulfilled the traditionally female role of caregiver and homemaker. I cook, I clean, do the school run and so on while my wife, Gill, works full time and is the provider. In this blog post I explore the impact living in this topsy turvy world has on my marriage.
I often face a range of questions as a stay at home dad. Do I feel like less of a man for fulfilling this role? How do I handle the social isolation? What's it like being the only dad in the playground?
One thing I'm rarely, if ever, asked is the impact it has on my marriage. In my experience, living in a family where traditional gender roles have been swapped does affect the way a marriage works. Here are the main issues I have to deal with.
As a stay at home dad, I am responsible for so much more...
I'm going to brave and tell you that, as a stay at home dad, I believe I have more responsibilities than a woman in my position. You see I've taken on the role of caregiver and homemaker, but a lot of my old responsibilities, the stereotypical ones you might expect of a man, still remain. For instance, the responsibility for home maintenance, the car and the garden rest squarely on my shoulders.
This, I think, is one of the biggest differences between a marriage where the couple fulfil traditional roles and one where they've been swapped. My wife either doesn't have the physical strength to undertake such tasks or the knowledge (let me really brave and add "or the inclination" to that list!).
A stay at home mum recently remarked that I must get some time to myself at the weekends when my wife is around and can look after the kids. The truth is, I don't. Gill understandably wants to relax so I still end up dealing with the kids, if not quite as much as during the week. In addition to entertaining my offspring, my time is also spent doing the tasks most men fulfil at the weekend (washing the car, painting and decorating, mowing the lawn and so on). A stay at home dad's work is never done...
The home is my domain
Prior to me giving up work, if we needed, say, a new piece of furniture, there would be a lengthy consultation process between my wife and I. We'd chat about what to buy and it would keep going round in circles with no firm decisions being made. Either the furniture would never get bought, or it would take six months to happen because neither of us was taking true responsibility for the home.
This has all changed. If furniture is needed, I no longer consult with Gill. I just buy it. I've used the word furniture, but you can replace it with any of the following; crockery / kitchen utensil / pot plant / children's toys. I have come to appreciate that this is a family, not a democracy!
The finances are....interesting
If there's one question I face with some regularity, it's how I feel being financially dependent on my wife. In truth, I make some money blogging and writing and fit these activities round my domestic responsibilities. Even so, I couldn't cover the mortgage or run the house with the money I bring in.
You may be surprised to hear I'm very laid-back about this. As far as I'm concerned it's simply one of the (many) sacrifices you make when you become a parent. If it wasn't me, it would either be Gill or we'd live the chaotic life of two full time working parents and be equally broke because we'd be forking out a fortune for childcare.
What does concern me is my retirement plans. I pay tiny amounts into a pension and I know full well I will be reliant on my wife's pension in later life. I'm in an identical position to many millions of women who have taken time out of the workforce to raise children. This is part of the reason I was inspired to write for the Retire Savvy community.
Being a stay at home parent requires a complete change of mentality
For a long time after I gave up work, I still thought like a full-time working parent where money wasn't much of an issue. If I fell behind on the domestic schedule and didn't have dinner ready for my wife's return from work, I'd suggest getting a take away. I made no effort to change our shopping habits and frequently shopped at expensive stores close to home for the convenience.
This has all changed. I've got used to meal planning and we've just acquired a slow cooker. These days I am no stranger to Aldi, Lidl and Poundland. It's taken time, but I have learned to become a homemaker and slashed our outgoings as a result
My family experiences greater social isolation
Social isolation is a subject that has to be written about with great care. It is an issue that many, many, mums face. I know of women (note the plural) who are, for a variety of reasons, considerably more socially isolated that I am as a stay at home dad. The reasons why some parents are socially isolated are varied and complex. Gender is just one possible explanation.
I am a confident guy. I do have a network of mum friends that I sometimes socialise with and can call upon in an emergency. Even so, it's taken me years to get to this point and my network is, I believe, much smaller than most stay at home mums (to clarify, I have no network of stay at home dad friends whatsoever because there are no viable support or social networks in my area).
Mums can be reluctant to engage with a dad in my position. It's not malicious, simply that they don't always know what to say to a guy like me or are worried it may start rumours about an inappropriate relationship (sadly, I have heard of this happening). Let me be frank, the reverse is also true! I don't always know what to say and don't want to be the subject of gossip.
My wife, as a full time working woman, has no mum-network of her own. She socialises with work colleagues, not mum friends. Like many men, she commutes and so doesn't really know that many mums in the locality.
Over time, things have become easier for this family. We're not as isolated as we used to be. Even so, it's taken a very long time to build up the connections we have to families with children of a similar age. It makes me feel bad because I believe my children have lost out on opportunities to socialise with other kids as a result.
I'm told I'm a trailblazer, but to me it's just normal
I have been called a trailblazer for my decision to become a stay at home dad (a decision taken after much discussion and debate with my wife). I don't feel like a trailblazer, it was a decision taken largely for dull, practical reasons. Gill is very happy with our set up. She freely admits she couldn't stay at home like I do and has been able to concentrate on her career. Likewise, it's a role I am very happy to fulfil.
Like every parent, I deal with enormous challenges most days. It isn't always easy. That said, I enjoy it. I have two wonderful children and a great, supportive wife. We may have a more complex family life than many, but this marriage and this family works.