Monday, 23 March 2009

Man about the house

Less than a year ago, my family and I decided to uproot ourselves and move from the South Island to the capital. With the move came a rearrangement of work responsibilities: we dropped from two incomes to one, with me taking the 'breadwinner' role, and my partner staying home with the kids.

You'd expect people to be accepting of stay-at-home dads, and usually they are - but often, people express surprise at our choice. In the seven or so years I've been a parent, I've had two negative comments about being a working mum. My partner has been an at-home dad for a matter of months, and has had an array of remarks.

There was the guy who found out we'd moved to Wellington 'for work', and immediately asked my partner what he did. There was the manager who said the part-time job that interested my partner paid wages too low for a man. There was the woman behind the counter who saw my partner with our toddler, and commented that my partner must be 'giving mum a rest today'. And then, just the other day, there was a guy who saw my partner and son shopping together. This guy said my boy had been 'spending too much time with mum' and should be given a rugby ball.

Not one of these comments was meant unkindly. Sadly, though, they made my partner feel a bit stink. It's not because he thinks that being a stay-at-home parent isn't worthwhile - more, perhaps, that other people may view it this way. It's OK for a woman to do this 'menial' work, but when a bloke does it its surprising, or even vaguely amusing.

The strange thing is, I know a few dads who stay at home with their kids, or share the childcare with their female partners equally. It's not commonplace, but it's hardly unusual either. Perhaps our gender roles are changing faster than our cultural expectations?


Julie said...

I think perhaps it is becoming more common in the kind of circles you and I are in Anna, but moving slower in the rest of the known universe.

What do we want?
Slightly less incremental change!
When do we want it?
As social and fiscal conditions allow!


Sorry to hear your partner has been getting such a rough time. It's a death of a thousand cuts for both parents sometimes I think. I still get asked which centre my child is in, despite the fact I've told pretty much anyone who will listen that his father is at home. I've taken to calling it Daddy Daycare, although some people have yet to pick up on my sarcastic tone and ask me where that is. Sigh.

The ex-expat said...

My father took on the stay at home dad role for large parts of my childhood when it was less commonplace. Yes he did get lots of negative comments. In one instance he wasn't allowed to take me home from the hospital after I fell off the bed and got a knock on the noggin until my mother came down to the doctors office to verify that he wsan't a child abuser.

However there were lots of positive comments and experiences as well. My school in particular was really happy that there was a dad there to help out on school trips etc.

It did help that he was self-employed thus had a 'day job' to keep the nosey parkers happy.

A Nonny Moose said...

I've found that hurtful or unthinking remarks in any instance come from a place of insecurity. People tend to forget that "gender equality" swings both ways - if we want non-traditional roles, they should expect men to take non-traditional roles too.

I think stay at home dads are great - our society needs a more positive male influence for the kids, so we can get back the respect for male teachers/leaders lost in the moral panic of the last 20 years.

Anna said...

I grew up in a rural community where most people were farmers, and were able to be a bit flexible about their workdays. I don't think many of the dads did childcare as such, but they did quite a bit of other voluntary work - for example, building projects and working bees at the local schools. Most people's worklives don't allow for that level of flexibility now!

Anonymous said...

My partner used to have a day at hoem witht he kids when I was was working and studying. He got a VERY negative reaction form the local play centre and they told him having a man there just complicated things. Afetr a few weeks of this we did not go back. The local kindy onthe otehr hand loved having him as a parent helper.

My brother has been a stay at hoem Dad for a long time and he has had all sorts of trouble -especially having other kids over to play (girls).

A Nonny Moose said...

The people who perpetuated the Christchurch Child Care witchhunt of the early 90s has a generation of disenfranchised dads and male teachers to answer to.

It breaks my heart to see a friend, a most awesome guy who thinks the world of kids, who had to give up teachers training because he wasn't adequately allowed to teach and communicate with young kids (ie: hug them when they're hurt, punish them when they've been naughty).

hungrymama said...

Anonymous - my Playcentre has quite a lot of dads who spend time on session and they are always welcomed. We don't seem to have that many full-time stay at home Dads but quite a lot of families where one or both parents work flexible hours and share childcare.

I've always said I had the perfect situation growing up. My Father was self-employed and moved his workshop to our home for five years to take care of me and my mother was a part-time children's librarian so I was able to spend time at her workplace. In essence I got two full-time parents.