What are the pros and cons of being a stay-at-home dad? Well, I’m not actually a full-time stay-at-home dad: my partner and I, our parents and a local nursery all share the childcare. But I work from home when I’m not looking after the children, and I’m not ruthless enough to cut myself off completely when I’m working, so I end up doing some bits and pieces every day.
My instinctive response was something like ‘What cons?’ But in the cold light of day, I have to admit there are some drawbacks to life with the wee ones. For a start – and apologies for stating the obvious, but there are still people who don’t quite seem to realise this – looking after babies and small children is bloody hard work.
It is true that there are times, if you’re looking after a child still young enough to have regular naps, when you can sit on the sofa and read the paper while they sleep, reflecting joyfully on how much nicer this is than the departmental budget meeting. But that phase doesn’t last long. Children soon start demanding entertainment. They need to be supervised to stop them drawing on the sofa, or destroying the valuable ornamental or electronic items to which they always seem to be attracted.
Contrary to popular belief, you can’t usually get away with sitting them in front of the telly for hours (and doing so is officially Very Bad Parenting, of course, even if you are utterly knackered. Curses!). Even taking them to the park gets harder as they get larger and develop an interest in age-inappropriate, terrifyingly high playground equipment. Providing them with food they will actually eat is an endless challenge. And don’t get me started on potty training…
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And yet, what could be finer than being with your children? Helping them to discover the world, handling questions about why leaves fall off trees, where birds build their nests, where that plane is going, and so on, is at least as stimulating, much more enjoyable, and far less stressful than a world of office politics and holiday request forms.
Don’t worry about your brain turning to mush if you put your career on hold, either: childcare is an intense exercise in planning and time management, and you have to learn and perfect new skills.
One of my biggest worries is trying to make the children look presentable enough to leave the house. I don’t do much to my own hair, beyond washing it and occasionally paying someone to cut it, so I’m lost when it comes to tasks like putting my daughter’s hair in bunches. The idea of plaits is alarming. I’m not even that good at remembering to brush the girls’ hair, which – in combination with the clothing selections I make for them with my colour-blind eyes – makes it easy to pick them out in a crowd.
But the most important thing is that they’re happy. And we’re happy too. Right now, I don’t think I’d be as comfortable either full-time at home or full-time at work as I am with our current arrangements. But if I was forced to choose, I would choose life with the children. After all, as I said to a friend not long ago, ‘There is nothing as good as messing about in the park with the kids when you might otherwise be at work.’ I’m not sure he agreed with me. Mind you, he’s got three kids. That looks like really hard work.