Stay at home dad / work at home dad

These articles are based on several year’s experience of life as a stay at home dad (SAHD) and latterly, work from home dad (WAHD). Find out what you need to consider if you want to become a stay at home dad, what you can expect and challenges you are likely to face.

Becoming a stay at home dad; what to consider

becoming a stay at home dad, main carer, childcare, fathers, dads, masculism, equality, gender equality, parenting, mums, mothers

Life isn’t one great big beach holiday when looking after the kids, but it does have its moments. Photo credit: http://peterwerkman.nl

Are you male and thinking of becoming the main carer for your children or giving up work completely to become a stay at home dad? If so, there are a variety of issues you might want to consider.

It’s a big enough decision for a woman to give up work to look after the kids. By rights, it shouldn’t be any different for a man. In reality it’s a bigger leap because it’s such a rare thing for a guy to do and the world is set up for women to fulfill this role.

Having just celebrated my third anniversary as my kids’ main carer, I’ve put together a few thoughts about issues you might want to think about. I hope you find them useful!

Loss of prestige

I thought that by saying goodbye to a career and well paid job I’d lose some prestige and standing in the world. You might be surprised to hear it, but I can genuinely say I haven’t found this to be the case at all.

I was also expecting to be the butt of jokes, particularly from male friends. Sure, it occasionally happens but most people meet my circumstances with indifference while others are genuinely interested and curious as to how my wife and I make our topsy-turvy family work.

Positive sentiments also come from unexpected sources. I recall a builder doing some work on our house shortly after I left full-time employment. After a few days of being in the house together, I thought I’d better explain why my daughter and I were always there and not my wife.

This guy was in his sixties and I expected to be ridiculed. Far from it; he told me he’d barely seen his kids as they were growing up and wished he could have done exactly what I was doing.

Be prepared to make an extra special effort

I occasionally hear from stay at home dads that have retreated into their shells because they don’t feel like they fit in among the mums. I understand exactly why this happens, but I think there is an obligation on us men to make a greater effort and prove we can do the things that mums have been doing for decades, if not centuries. Luckily, this doesn’t have to involve walking in four inch heels or giving birth.

Can you get involved with the Parent Teachers’ Association (or the equivalent if your children are at nursery)? At many schools there is a severe lack of men on the PTA. Most PTA’s are desperate for the support and anyone that can volunteer is welcomed.

Maybe you can go into the school and volunteer? At most primary schools there are opportunities to help children with their reading. The presence of positive, male role models in the overwhelmingly female environment of a school is also greatly appreciated.

Consider your finances

There’s no escaping this one; even if your family’s finances are rock solid, your personal finances will suffer. This was a big issue for me as I went from being a higher rate tax payer to earning a pittance working part time.

Everyone’s circumstances are different but you should give consideration to pension contributions, investing for your children’s future and how you’ll pay bills, especially those irritating ones that creep up annually such as home and car insurance. I worry much more about money now than I ever used to, although I think that’s quite common in the present financial climate!

Remember; your partner is making a sacrifice too

Your partner is making a sacrifice by going to work and providing for the family. She won’t see as much of the kids as other mothers. Unlike most women, she won’t get to be a part of a tight-knit network of mums. It will attract comment so go out of your way to tell her how much you appreciate what she’s doing for the family.

And finally…

Looking after children is hard work, especially when you have more than one. Don’t go into this thinking that it’s all about baking cakes and coffee mornings.

I personally find being the main carer for my kids very rewarding. I’m privileged to spend so much time with them, nurture them and and watch them growing up. It’s a sacrifice, but one that I have found to be well worth making.

Photo reproduced under Creative Commons agreement.


Introducing yourself as a dad and main carer

Introductions were so much easier in the days when I had a full time job and wasn’t the childrens’ main carer. I’d shake hands / kiss cheeks (delete as applicable), give the person my name and conversation would quickly move on to our respective occupations.

The discussion about work gets a bit more complex when you’re male and hold the babies. People expect a woman to say they’re on maternity leave, stay at home mum or (sharp intake of breath) housewife. It’s just not expected for a man to say such a thing.  

stay at home dad, parenting, carer, father, mother fatherhood, motherhood

Getting past the handshake is the easy bit when meeting someone new. Discussion about work is the difficult bit.

As an aside, I have been called a househusband several times, albeit usually in jest. Although I previously hated the phrase homemaker, I have come to quite like it. The idea you can ‘make a home’ is considerably more pleasant and accurate than being married to a house.

Through trial and error, I’ve also learned it’s vital to make clear as early in the conversation as possible that I’m the kids’ main carer. This makes things so much easier and deals with any awkwardness straight away.

Not, you understand, that I feel awkward. In the three years I’ve been doing this I’ve met numerous people that haven’t quite known how to react to my situation. If there’s any awkwardness to get out the way, I believe it should be dealt with quickly.

It’s especially important to make clear to those in official channels what my role is in this topsy-turvy family. I get treated completely differently by health professionals, education professionals and childcare professionals once I’ve explained that my wife is the breadwinner and I look after the children. I find that people in these occupations are considerably more forthcoming with me when they know childcare is what I do.

It’s slightly depressing because it suggests that your common-all-garden full-time working father is kept in the dark because he isn’t trusted. That’s not a good way for society to treat men.

Unfortunately being open with people doesn’t always work. I recall a time when my wife and I were on a tour of a local nursery. The manager showed us round and would only address my wife, leaving me unimpressed.

At the end of the tour, I explained I was the kids’ main carer and, giving her the benefit of the doubt, asked one final question. To my surprise she turned to my wife and answered directly to her. You won’t be surprised to hear we didn’t use this nursery’s services.

I know of an American company selling tee-shirts that declare you’re a dad looking after your children. Perhaps I should buy one. It might make introductions that bit easier.   

Pensions and the stay at home dad

To many people pensions are not particularly sexy. I, however, find pensions fascinating.

Going back a decade or so I worked for two organisations that were at the forefront of alleviating pensioner poverty. I was privy to all manner of information showing that we’re on the verge of a pensions apocalypse in the UK.

One of the major issues I used to deal with was female pensioner poverty. This tends to be a bigger issue for women because mums, as opposed to dads, often take five years out of the workforce when they become mothers and frequently return to part time work once their children are at school.

I think this chap retired with a good pension. I worry I may not be so fortunate.

I think this chap retired with a good pension. I worry I may not be so fortunate.

To be blunt women often pay less into personal pensions than men and miss-out on all important National Insurance contributions that would guarantee a full state pension. Divorce, widowhood and poor health frequently complicate matters.

But what of us stay at home dads? We may be a relatively small population but we face identical issues when it comes to retirement income.

Since I gave up full time work to look after the kids I’ve often wondered about my own pension. With my background it’s something I actually lose sleep over because I know that I’m making all the classic mistakes that have led to generations of stay at home mothers seeing out their later years eeking out an existence on a tiny pension.

The other week I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from the savings and pensions specialist Standard Life. I’ll paraphrase but essentially the email said; “John, have you thought about writing a blog about stay at home dads and their pensions?”

Knowing that I’m personally making every pensions mistake in the book I had indeed given plenty of thought to writing just such a blog piece. Standard Life’s email has basically spurred me on to write it.

As regards state pensions, the goal posts are about to move for everybody. In 2016 the Government will introduce a new single-tier state pension. In theory it will be more equitable and easier to administer but there are elements to it that all stay at home parents need to be aware of.  

At present you need to pay 30 years’ worth of National insurance contributions to qualify for a full state pension. This will shortly increase to 35 years.

The state pension age will also increase in 2020 to 66 years of age, rising again to 67 shortly afterwards. The age will be reviewed every five years so further increases are likely within your lifetime.

Julie Russell from Standard Life provided me with the following advice for stay at home dads (although it applies equally to mums): “Finding the time to sit and review all your plans will be the challenge, but its importance cannot be overstated. Office for National Statistics data shows that we’re living longer; more than a third (36 per cent) of people in 2013 will live to be 100. Retirement can now last for decades, which is a long time to fund your lifestyle

and family without a household salary.

“Making sure you save the right amount of money at the right time in the right place is vitally important, as is ensuring you’re able to maximise your tax free saving and State benefits, such as the single-tier pension.” 

On that note I’m off to sell all my personal possessions on Ebay. All profits will be poured into the Dadbloguk.com pension fund.    

For further help with planning your finances and for your retirement visit www.yourfuturemoney.co.uk.

Men Can Do It!

The real reason dads don’t do childcare and when men and women should do about it

This is a fascinating book that explores why men in the twenty first century still lag well behind women in the amount of childcare they do. In equal measures Men Can Do It! is educational, informative and inflammatory.

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