This weekend, the papers were busy inviting us all to pat ourselves on the back over the fact the number of stay-at-home dads is on the rise – with over 200,000 fathers now choosing to stay at home and take of their children while their female partners go out to work.
The response was a series of first-person pieces about being a stay-at-home dad (SAhDs).
To save you reading them all, each story covered the following points:
- It’s much harder being a SAhd than you think. Kids are well knackering.
- Most of the mums are quite nice to SAhDs, and very few get accused of being a pervert at playgroup.
- It’s overall very rewarding, and the SAhD’s wife/girlfriend/partner tends to get a bit jealous.
- Oooh, aren’t Mother and Baby changing rooms a pain?
The ‘wow aren’t I a great guy, I wipe my own kid’s shit up?’ undertones in the accompanying articles really grated on me.
Those brave pioneers, attending Tippee Toes Baby and Toddler Music group, where they’re the only man! In a sea of seven women! Sometimes, when they’re out, and get caught short, they have to use the Mother and Baby changing rooms to change their kid’s nappy, even though they’re actually a father! Mental.
Ok, that's unfair, but there is a reason why I’m being such a bitch about the whole thing. My dad was a stay-at-home dad, back in the OLDEN days (1983), and he didn’t make half the drama these modern-day Captain Scotts make.
So, I'm sorry if I sound a bit…disparaging. It’s great that these men are boldly stepping forward to actually bring up their own children, and aren’t keeping their wives pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen. What great guys! Great!
But, come on, 200,000 isn’t actually very many people. In fact, I was shocked at how low the number is – why aren’t more men staying at home to look after their kids?
Are you really telling me that there are only 200,000 households in the entire country where, when it came to making childcare decisions, it was better for the family, financially, emotionally and every other-ally for the mother to go back to work and the dad to stay at home? Are there bollocks.
I appreciate that single-income families are a luxury these days, and plenty of couples don’t have the money to lounge around, airily debating who will cover the childcare, like Lord and Lady Crawley (probably). But still, 200,000?
Lets put it another way, how many households are there in the UK where the man works full-time and the woman stays at home, even though this is financially prohibitive? Or downright impractical?
And I get that in many instances a woman might choose to stay at home and look after her only children, and if so, great – that’s her choice. But what if it never occurred to either party that there was a choice to be had? What if there was no discussion about it in the first place?
Which brings me back to Ma and Pa Holman. Do you know why parents decide to swap the traditional child-rearing role? Because it was practical. Mum had more earning potential, and a clearer career path. That was it.
There was no agonising over the possibility that mum would miss out on The Great Moments Of My Life if she went back to work, or the chance that dad would be hounded out of the mother and baby changing room like a witch in a Monty Python sketch.
They just did it because it was easiest and it suited them. It gave them the best opportunity to provide for me, and my brother and sister when they came along, so they took it.
Yes, dad might have been the only father at the school gates (and I mean literally the only one in the whole school, and my school wasn’t that small), but why make it into a drama? He didn’t care, so neither did anyone else.
Maybe some men would find it an affront to their masculinity, or just a bit awkward. More fool them. You get much more done when you just roll your sleeves up and get on with it.
And that’s it really. Dad did the same with my brother three years later, and then my sister ten years after that. Apart from the fact that I was adept at getting changed myself after swimming from the age of six (and seriously, if you can’t dress yourself at six, there’s something funny going on), everything was exactly the same as if mum had been at home (I assume, I've never actually had the opportunity to test this theory. And thinking about it now, it's possible my hair would have been a little neater).
When I started Brownies and needed all my badges sewing on, dad didn’t know how to sew. So mum taught him, and from then on, he always did it. Well, until Wonder Web was invented.
It was my dad who knew who all my friends were, made their tea when they came round after school, knew their parents, and knew where they lived. And every year my dad made me a victoria sponge cake for my birthday. It had the rise and consistency of a biscuit, but it always tasted amazing.
No-one wrote an article about it, or cared, but why should they? My parents weren’t conducting some sort of social experiment, pioneering a right-on middle class dream.
They looked at their respective skills, took into consideration their (very different) personalities, thought about where they both wanted to be, professionally, and considered their finances. They then made a decision about childcare. Gender didn’t come into it.
I’ve been raised to believe that, as a white, middle-class, educated woman with a supportive family, I can do whatever I want, provided I work hard and take the opportunities presented to me. And to that end, I’ve had great role models.
My mum got what she wanted – she had to work her ass off to get it, but there’s a caveat to that. SHE WOULDN’T HAVE BEEN ABLE TO DO IT WITHOUT MY DAD’S SUPPORT. She wouldn’t have been able to put in the eye-watering hours, go away for weeks at a time on business, had my dad not been willing to stay at home, ensuring that she never had to think twice before accepting an invitation to a 7am business meeting, a 9pm dinner or a trip to Australia.
SO, even allowing for dual-income families, families where the man earns more than the woman, and families where the woman just wants to stay at home BECAUSE THAT’S HER CHOICE, there still have to be be plenty of families here, in the UK, in 2013 where the childcare arrangements are drawn on gender lines, rather than practical considerations.
I realise that I’m having a real ‘well duh!’ lightbulb moment here, and that the rest of you cottoned on to this a long time ago, so I apologise for my breathtaking naivety.
For me, the thing is, even if society, The Man, the Daily Mail and Jimmy Tarbuck are all inherently sexist, I can’t imagine being in a relationship where my partner, my love, the man I’d decided to create life itself with, couldn’t see beyond my sex to fully comprehend all the other things I bring to the table. And couldn’t appreciate that, actually, I’d make a damn good hunter-gatherer.
Blimey, I never realised I was such a romantic.
Is Rebecca wrong? Should she stop mouthing off about childcare issues until she actually takes it upon herself to have a child of her own? Let her know @rebecca_hol.