I always thought I wanted to be a stay at home Dad until I got the chance to be one. That was when I found out that going out to work gave me a good escape from a lot of problems encountered by hanging around at home. But is it fair to say that these problems relate to being a stay at home Dad?
I remember a few months ago walking my eldest daughter to school. I’d come to really enjoy those 10 minutes – it was easy quality time between me and her as I’d already dropped off my youngest at daycare so there were no interruptions and quarrels and things as we walked and talked our way to the school. My memories brought me round to ‘reviewing’ my few months as a stay at home Dad.
In one of my recent posts I wrote about my feelings regarding being a stay at home Dad. Now I realise I’d got it all wrong; I’d written about being unemployed and being ‘forced’ to stay at home, and not about choosing to give up the shackles of paid employment and to actively stay at home with my family.
OK I talk about shackles, but in actual truth I like working. It’s true that my last job was mind numbingly easy and I’d stayed there not because of the work content but mostly because of the convenience of flexible work hours and its close proximity to home. So when I was made redundant it came (at first) as a bit of a relief. But it wasn’t long until I realised that I needed to stretch my mind and I turned very quickly to looking for another employer.
Now I’m at my new job (*air punch!*) and I love it – the work content is fascinating and my new colleagues are good eggs, but…it’s an hour and a half commute, I’ve hardly got any annual leave and the pay is peanuts. Not great conditions, but my time spent working I hope will more than make up for it.
And crucially, as I realised this morning, being out of the house will get me away from all the crap that goes with staying at home all week.
The crap with staying at home all week
When we work, we don’t have enough time or energy for many things around the house. For example, we have a cleaner. For non Dutch readers I know that probably sounds snobby, but in Holland it’s pretty normal to have one. She works pushing a hoover around the house for a couple of hours each week whilst I’m out of the house doing my work.
We dump our kids off at daycare (you might already know me well enough to know how much I detest that idea) and pay vast sums of money to those institutions. So much so, that it’s unaffordable for all the time we need and before we know it grandparents invite themselves around to help out.
And here’s the thing: when you don’t work, these things carry on.
As an unemployed bum (which is how I saw myself…despite trying to tell myself I wasn’t a loser) staying at home was difficult. I couldn’t focus on being unemployed and concentrate on finding a job, because life was going on all around me and getting in my way.
Some of it was unavoidable – salespeople knock at the door or phone up. Retired neighbours notice you’re at home and force themselves upon you. And it makes sense that I take on a greater share of chores around the house and grocery shopping etc.. These things eat into ‘finding a job time’.
But the real p*sser in the party was the other stuff. Being unemployed is hopefully a temporary situation, so daycare goes on. Instead of feeling guilty that I’m in the office working whilst my girls are getting looked after by people who only care because they’re paid, I feel guilty that I’m staying at home drinking tea with a neighbour, or at best, rehashing a CV which (in negative moments) I’m certain will surely get chucked straight in the trash by a potential employer.
Instead of coming home from the office and seeing a packet of sweets lying in the kitchen that the grandmother has left (despite frequent attempts to tell her to stop sugar poisoning my children) I am in the house watching her throw sweets and chocolate around like confetti at a wedding and then trying to hide most of the evidence up afterwards.
I am there watching her throw money at my girls, despite telling her that we (Mummy and Daddy) want to give pocket money ourselves to teach our girls about the value of money.
One of my earliest childhood memories is Dad coming back home from work on a Tuesday and giving me a packet of sweets. I didn’t get sweets very often, so Tuesday was a very special day for me. When I got older the sweets turned into pocket money so I could decide whether I wanted to buy sweets or save up for a toy.
Over 40 years later I want to create that same happy memory for my own children. Except with the tonnage of sweets they get in the 4 hours they spend with the grandparents I can’t in good conscious give them any more in the week. The special moment I want to share with my children has been stolen from me.
And likewise with the pocket money. An occasional monetary gift (with the amount checked beforehand with parents) is fine, but regular pocket money in cash should come from parents.
Yes – the grandparents still come round to look after the girls. Look after? No, to be with them. The condition has changed. It has become a ‘grandparent day’, and I’m seemingly in the way. Instead of me going to pick up the eldest from school and have a quiet and relaxed father-daughter time (as well as meet other parents and talk to the teachers), I’m arranging a schedule with the grandparents where basically I’m fighting for time with my own children on ‘grandparent’s day’ where (and when) I’m an intrusion.
And even though money is tight and I’m available to clean the house, the cleaner still comes around. I might get a job soon and it would be inconvenient for her if one week she works, then she doesn’t, then she does again if and when I’ve found a job.
So instead of sitting in the peace and quiet of my own home (recall children are at daycare / school) crafting my application letters and making phonecalls, I’m either lifting my feet up or moving from one room to another to avoid the noise from the vacuum cleaner. I’m in the way.
It’s reminiscent of when my girls were born. In the Dutch healthcare system, a care lady comes round to help your wife with your new arrival. Why? Because Dad’s aren’t around. Why? Because Dads are encouraged to go back to work because they’re not needed around the home. Why? Because there’s a care lady to come round to help out.
Screw that! I stayed at home to be with my newborn child(ren) and wife even though the care lady made it clear to me that she thought that I was in the way.
And I think that’s the crux of it – people intrude and interfere with my family (and private) life. When I’m at work, I can convince myself that they are there because they are part of the arrangements that me and my wife have made for our own family life. But those arrangements are still in place when I’m at home, and they make me feel out of place.
My solution isn’t to go out and get a job; to go out and stick my head in the sand and to be blissfully unaware of the kilos of sugar, stashes of cash or commercial love that are bestowed on my princesses. These things happen to my children and I need to know about them, and the ongoing fight with daycare and grandmothers will surely continue until daycare is no longer needed, and diabetes takes its fatal toll.
My decision to find a job is more to do with wanting something for my mind. To expand my world.
But I wonder if by choosing to be a stay at home Dad (i.e. not actively looking for work) I’d have got the chance to tell all these people to frick off and let me simply be with my children. After all, my children mean the world to me.
From a Daddy, Paul
Paul Wandason is a father of 2, husband of one and master of none. He lives his life wrapped around 2 little fingers and under 1 thumb…and loves it! His Daddy blog is FromaDaddy where he writes his thoughts and experiences as a Dad, and sometimes, a few practical hints and tips. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.