If you get the opportunity to be a stay home parent, take it.

In February 2016 my partner and I welcomed baby Jones to the world. We were fortunate my partner had the opportunity to take leave until Jones was five months old, prior to her starting a new job interstate.

We’d decided that I’d stay at home for a while. This was a practical solution because it meant I could run around doing everything that comes with moving house from Melbourne to Cairns, and I wasn’t sure yet what kind of work I’d find in Cairns.

I’ve been primary carer for 6 months, and will continue to be while working part time/casually in 2017.

 

Like many people, new year is a time I reflect, check the compass, pen some goals, adjust the sails. This year I wrote down a few things I’ve learned being stay home dad. So my thoughts, in no particular order are:

I’m very lucky and grateful for the relationship Jones and I have built

He loves playing peekaboo when he wakes up, when he’s eating, when we’re playing. He waves both hands in the air when he wants another mouthful. He loves the water, but doesn’t feel so comfortable floating on his back. When he’s tired his eyebrows become relaxed and his focus becomes more of a gaze.

We understand each other much more than I would’ve imagined.

My partner and I are a good team. But it takes effort to keep it fun

When she’s home we adapt and interchange roles fluidly, to get all of us fed, bathed and to bed, or just to give each other a break when needed.
Perhaps because we can both be quite practically-minded, we can get carried away in the ‘tasks’ and ‘to dos’ associated with life (and there are a lot of additional tasks with a baby). So we make sure to keep our monthly ‘date night’, have regular family outings/walks and help each other have our own time for exercise and socialising.

Jones’ purpose is to discover, sense, experience and understand everything around him

Helping him fulfil this purpose keeps him happy and learning — showing and letting him touch pictures, objects, plants, textures. He especially loves animals, and top of the list is our cat, Keith.

Everything is new and amazing. Watching him reminds me what a ‘beginner’s mind’ looks like.

I’m grateful he’s happy, healthy and pretty easy going

I gather we have a relatively ‘easy’ baby. The only things he doesn’t like are egg and staying indoors all day. We laugh together a lot. He’s not had any major health challenges (apart from not breathing when he arrived, which was terrifying). Hopefully some of this is owing to our parenting style, but I expect it’s mostly luck.

There are plenty of other stay home dads, but it’s still unusual

Typically I’m the only, or perhaps one of two, dads (amongst up to 30 mums) singing along at Baby Rhyme Time, doing monkey-monkey at swimming lessons or dancing around the room at Gymbaroo. These activities are fun, worthwhile and people are very pleasant. It would be nice to chat about something other than teething, crawling progress and poos.

I went to a wildlife park recently where I was asked to change Jones in the sick bay, because the only change table was in the ladies toilets.

I’ve come across advertising materials for baby activities that clearly assume the parent is mum.

I haven’t yet been asked ‘when am I getting a real job’, but it’s clear we’ve got a way to go before stay home dad’s are really legitimate (although it seems to be legitimate in Lego world now!).

These are all the more reasons to keep getting out there and show that dads can do it too.

The right tools make all the difference

In the context of our lifestyle, expectations and first-world problems, babies seem to need ‘stuff’. And good stuff just makes everything so much easier. Every baby is different, and they change quickly.

It’s worth the effort to experiment and find the sippy cup, nappies, way of heating milk, dummies, carrier etc that work for you.

I feel the responsibility, but I don’t feel like a burdened parent

I used to look at other parents wheeling prams around and they just looked different. But now I’m one of those people. I don’t feel different.

I’m still me.

Stay home dad-ing is harder than any work I’ve done

He’s happy to play by himself at times, but not for long. Anyway, I’ve always still got an eye on him; always ‘on’. It’s not possible to do any real thinking, work, gardening or tidying the garage while he’s awake. Each day is a relentless iterative jumble of changing nappies and clothes, preparing food, feeding, wiping up spew, playing, reading, risk mitigation, entertaining, sending photos to distant family, putting to sleep, washing up and so on.

I love the laughs and hugs we have. I relish the naps he has!

I’m grateful I understand what it involves, how it feels to be a stay home parent. Kudos to all single parents, and those with twins, triplets…

I’d rather not work full time for a while

I am very passionate about work and am dying to get back to it. What I achieve in my work/career is important to me. But I feel two days with Jones out of seven isn’t enough, given how quickly he changes and how much our relationship has grown.

I hope these notes inspire other dads to stay home for a little longer than we’re expected. It’s really worth it!

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