I was sat at the edge of a school hall while my kids took part in a gymnastics class. When I looked around at the other parents in the room, it confirmed something I’ve been thinking for some months now: I have entered a new stage in my journey as a stay at home dad.
Sat around the edge of the room were a mix of both mums and dads. Sure, there were a few more mums than dads but the difference wasn’t hugely significant.
Most of the mums were engaged in conversations with friends, probably after years of attending the same National Childbirth Trust events and waiting at the same school gates. The dads, unfamiliar with each other because they were never invited to NCT social events and rarely visit the school gate, sat in silence.
Despite the lack of social interaction I noticed among the guys, this was a significant moment. If I think back three or four years to the days when I took Helen to Monkey Music classes, I was the only male in the room. Well, maybe not the only male but certainly the only man. Fathers just didn’t attend these sessions.
Before they started school, I would also take my kids swimming mid-week. Have you ever visited a swimming pool during business hours on a week day? Trust me, if you’re a dad and with a child, you stand out. As Helen and Izzy are now both at school, the only time I take the kids swimming is at the weekend when the pools are rammed with dads and kids.
What I’m basically saying is that I’m noticing some significant differences now that my kids are getting older. I hesitate to say life is getting easier as a stay at home dad, but I think people are generally more accepting of the idea that a man, a father, can be responsible for looking after kids once they are at school (As an aside, I prefer to call myself a ‘main carer’ as I do some work, although I will also answer to stay at home dad)
I have even noticed a difference when taking my kids to medical appointments. When my kids were in their earliest years, I had some very unfortunate experiences with medical professionals who didn’t seem to appreciate that a father could take responsibility for his child’s healthcare.
Every now and again I have to take the kids to see our GP or a nurse. I couldn’t honestly tell you the last time a medical professional made a daft or insensitive comment to me. This would have been guaranteed when my kids were under the age of three years.
The thought of a man taking responsibility for his school-aged kids’ health? This doesn’t get questioned, certainly not in my experience.
When Helen started school four years ago, I was very nervous about how it would go. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the school staff or other mums and dads but, based on my experiences during the earliest years, my expectations weren’t terribly high.
As it happens, the formal school system has been very approachable and welcoming. I’ve only faced the one small challenge and that was discovering my wife had been listed on the school records as the first person to call in an emergency. Izzy started school last September but The Scandal of the School Records remains the one and only matter I have had to address.
As for informal issues, that’s a slightly different story. There have been some ill-informed remarks from other parents and my kids have been socially excluded from time to time. It’s sad that it happens, but c’est la vie.
With both my children at school, it seems the world is better prepared to accept me as the main carer for my kids. When Helen and Izzy were younger, I frequently had to explain that I was their main carer. I’ve noticed that I’m doing this less and less. People are more ready to accept a father looking after kids in school uniform than they are a man with a child in a buggy and a changing bag over his shoulder.
I won’t deny it, I am relieved to have reached this point in my journey as a father. A certain amount of unnecessary stress has been removed from me. I still face challenges, the biggest being social isolation because parent support and social groups almost exclusively cater for mums.
While things are easier for me, it is nonetheless, a bit sad. I can look into the recent past at the trials and challenges I have previously faced as a stay at home dad looking after younger kids. As you will have gathered, I faced greater challenges when Helen and Izzy were younger, demonstrating how entrenched traditional gender roles can be.
It leaves me wondering why so many people find it so hard to accept that a man can be the main carer of his young children and that he can do it well? Men are quite capable of looking after their young offspring and shouldn’t have to fight to prove the point. I would never question a mum’s capabilities. Why then, do so many people question whether a father is capable of looking after his young children?