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How to Navigate Being a Stay at Home Dad?

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What do you think of when you hear the words stay at home dad? Did you picture a man wearing an apron looking overwhelmed? Or running around like a headless chicken while the kids scream and shout in the background? Don’t worry, before I became one, I pictured the same caricature too. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I want to share my experience of being a stay at home dad. And to tell you – it’s a great thing to do!

Being a Dad

On November 23rd, 2018, I first became a Dad. Although you could argue that I was a Dad nine months before that (but that’s an argument for another day.) On that day I started how most parents do… delighted, scared, tired, in love. But on top of all that, I was clueless.

Even the most loving and attentive parents must admit to a certain level of uncertainty when their first baby arrives.

I’d never fed a baby, put one down to sleep or changed a nappy. In fact, I’d never even held a baby smaller than about a month old. So everything was brand new territory. One thing I knew was I’d do everything in my power to protect my son, wife and, when she arrived, my daughter. I knew I would do whatever I could to love and support them. Who knew that around two and a half years later that would be put to the test.

How I Became a Stay at Home Dad

I still vividly remember the conversations Jess, my wife, and I had about me becoming a stay at home dad. I was six months into working as a sole trader as a writer. We were in the midst of a lockdown-inducing pandemic, so we were all at home. Jess was on maternity leave, giving me time to grow my new business and start working on various projects. We’d set a review date for the March of 2021 with the hope that I’d have a steady flow of work by then. That would mean Jess could either be the stay at home parent or, work a reduced schedule.

However, things didn’t quite go to plan. We reached the cut off point and work hadn’t grown as I’d hoped. So, we started to talk about what being a stay at home dad would look like. After lot of conversation, it was decided, I was going to be the primary carer for our children. In May 2021, Jess went back to work, and I started my ‘new job.’

Rough with the Smooth

I shouldn’t have been scared though, right? I mean, these were my two kids, so I should be absolutely fine! The truth is, despite being a hands-on dad from day one, I wasn’t the best when it came to knowing their routines. For the first 18 months of Rupert’s life, I worked outside of the home every day. So, Jess knew his routine to a tee, and I needed to properly learn it all. From meal and snack times, TV limits and naps – there was a lot to take in! Plus, on top of that I needed to fit in the housework and continue to work on my business.

The first few months were, dare I say it, fun. I was learning on the job! I’ve had days where everything went smoothly and I felt like I was floating as I walked them to the park. Every meal, snack time and nap was going perfectly. I’ve had everything I needed in the travel bag and the kids behaved. Plus, I was doing something incredible for my family. As a stay at home dad, you’re helping your children to develop, to learn, to grow and that in itself is an amazing and full-time job. I’m not just bigging it up because I was/am doing it!

Dealing With The Tough Days

But the fun, novelty factor of being at home with my little cherubs was covering up a lot. I was worried that my wife would think less of me because I wasn’t doing as much financially for the house as she was. I’ve also had days where I’ve had work emails piling up and the kids didn’t want to play ball. Some days I’d hidden away from meeting up with friends. Instead I would hide and ‘sulk’ at home, scared to share my mood or my feelings with anyone else.

Walking them to preschool in all weather, is not fun. Getting a call in the middle of the day to pick them up because they’re poorly, is not fun. Not being left alone for five minutes in the day because they want ANOTHER snack, is not fun. But it is always worth it. Caring for them when they’re sick, is worth it. The days when you cuddle them on the sofa, get their 50th snack, and get them to school in the pouring rain, are just as important as all the fun days out.

Top tip; if you physically can, try and get out of the house at least once a day. I distinctly remember I’d booked the kids into an outdoor play session in the summer and the morning had been so bad, and I felt so stressed, that I considered not going. Long story short, I went, and it turned my day around.

There is Still a Stigma Attached to Being a Stay at Home Dad

A lot of people still believe that being a stay at home Dad is “wrong”. The archaic view is that the mum should be the one at home and the dad should “go out and provide for the family”. Well, my friends, I’m here as living proof that it’s a stupid stereotype! Believe me, I’ve had my fair share of stigmas thrown my way:

“Aww, looking after the kids today, are you? How sweet.”

“Got a day off work today, have you?”

“There’s another dad here if you wanted to say hello.”

Those questions/statements are presumptuous at the very least and, in fact, quite hurtful. No parent is ever just ‘looking after’ their kids, they’re their parents! To the second question I’d often respond, in a friendly way, with ‘Oh no, this IS my job.’ And finally, although it’s nice seeing other Dads in a class, I want to talk to everyone without being segregated.

Even now as stay at home dads become more prevalent, we’re still faced with the stigma that we’re the part-timers. We’re the ones who don’t know as much as the Mums, and the ones that are around for the fun times. And yes, a lot of my days (when we’re all off together for school holidays etc.) are very fun. We go out to parks, farms, their Grandad’s, classes, and a whole host of other fun things.

My Final Thought on Being a Stay at Home Dad

As the kids get older, I’m sure some things will get easier (although I expect other things to get harder.) I’m sure business will pick up for me which means that I’ll need to get much more organised than I am now. *Spoiler alert, I currently don’t have the organisational skills I think I have, although they have got MUCH better *hears wife laughing in the background*

So, what do I want any fellow stay at home dads, or those thinking of becoming one, to know?

I know I’m going to get stressed. I know some days are going to be hard and I’m going to wish I was working. But there are going to be days where I’m deliriously happy, with a sore face from smiling and laughing too much. Where the kids will tell me about their day with excitement and I’ll relish every word. Because before too long, these days will be gone. They won’t need to hold my hand. They won’t want to cuddle me when they’re poorly. Some days, they may not even want to talk to me! So I am going to enjoy and embrace as much of it as I can. The good and the bad. Because soon enough, you may find yourself wishing these days were back again!

Looking for More Support as a Dad?

If you’re a dad looking for parenting support, we are here to help! We know it’s really important to have a good parent community to support dads. Plus you can find loads of great information across our site. From a whole section for New Dads and our award nominated Dadvengers Podcast – you’re bound to find something to help!

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About author
My name is Gareth Ellis and I’m a happily married, 37-year-old Dad of two beautiful children – Rupert (4) and Emilia (3). As well as being a business owner of Cloud Nine Writing, I spent 18 months as a full-time Dad after my wife went back to work following her maternity leave in 2021. I love being outdoors with the children, exploring new things and generally being as fun as I can be. Parenting while running a business is tough, but I chose to do both, and I absolutely love the balance it affords me.
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