Walthamstow resident Adrian Spurdon on the highs and lows of full-time fatherhood
When I tell people I’m a stay-at-home-dad there are usually two kinds of reaction: the gushing enthusiasm and comments like, “Oooh, that is SUCH a special thing to do”, “Well done, good for you”, or the more reserved, pitiful response where eyebrows are raised and faces drop. “Ooh, hardest job in the world”, and “I don’t know HOW you do it”.
I took the plunge seven months ago when our baby boy turned seven months old. My wife had accepted a new job offer and I had decided that it was time for a change at work, so we took the pragmatic decision to become a stay-at-home-dad kind of family.
It also made financial sense. My partner has always earned more than me (stereotypical gender distinctions are not a big thing in our house), so it seemed sensible to switch positions.
Child care costs in Waltham Forest average around £50 per day and most nurseries are bursting at the seams with lengthy waiting lists. Many facilities don’t even take younger infants unless you can enrol them for a minimum of four days per week. With this in mind, we changed roles in March and I’ve been a staying at home full time ever since.
The first few weeks were interesting. Not exactly a baptism of fire, more a baptism of tepid milky vomit due to the baby’s severe colic and habit of leaving trails of posit all over the carpet.
I had minimal previous experience of caring for children. In fact, the only living thing I’d been responsible for were the six African clawed frogs from junior school that I’d agreed to look after during the summer holidays. That had gone pretty well so I was feeling quite positive about my new role. And I do like a challenge.
My wife had been quite busy during those first few months of motherhood, attending various local classes where she’d made a few mummy mates who had boys the same age as our own. I’d been given strict instructions to maintain these friendships by attending the same groups.
“It’s essential for his personal development!” I’d been informed on numerous occasions.
She needn’t have been concerned, I was actually quite looking forward to it. An hour of singalong, interactive play at eleven o’clock on a Monday morning with tea & coffee for a measly £2. So much more fun than going to work. And no commuting either. The group was a ten minute walk from our house.
First day and the venue was packed. There was even a sign on the door to say it was so busy you couldn’t come in.
The following week I arrived early and managed to secure a good spot in the circle of twenty-odd mothers and very small children, aged from about four months to two years old. I had never seen so many small people in my life. First thing I noticed was that you had to remove your shoes which I promptly did, revealing a spectacularly mismatched pair of socks, complete with exposed big toe on the left foot. Never mind, I thought. I could always sit on my feet and nobody will even see my socks. After all, the other babies were very stationary, gurgling away in their mothers’ laps so it wasn’t like I’d need to move much.
Wasn’t as if I’d be up and down like a yo yo, chasing after my tiny son as he continuously steamed into the middle of the group, sometimes regurgitating the mornings breakfast, or made his way over to the kitchenette area for no particular reason. In comparison, the other tiny people seemed to be very static. I wondered if they were wearing Velcro pants that made them stick to their mothers or perhaps they had been sedated with special milk. I also wondered where all the other dads were.
Twenty-something parents and not one other male. Each time my boy squirmed free from my lap and crawled triumphantly across the circle to examine someone’s sandals, I felt a wave of disapproving glares. Perhaps they were envious of his advanced motor skills. Or it could have been the milky deposit down the back of my shirt. It was hard to tell as most of them ignored me.
Despite these minor glitches, I felt that the first session had gone well. I even managed to meet up with the other mothers my wife had mentioned as I struggled to free my pram from the tangled pile up of pushchairs at the exit. We exchanged pleasantries even though the boy had hit a tantrum-inducing hunger crash. I declined the free beverages and headed to the park.
During the next few weeks, I made sure that we attended as many classes as possible. Each time still feels as awkward as the first day at school, albeit an all-girls school where I’m overly self conscious of my enormous Adam’s apple. And so far I’ve met just one other full time stay-at-home-dad who attends the same regular groups. I quite like his succinct take on the whole experience.
“We don’t fit in anywhere,” he told me, by way of introduction during a session at Walthamstow Toy Library. And he’s right. According to an Independent On Sunday survey, seven out of ten fathers said there was a stigma attached to it, and 54% said they were seen as the weaker partner.
On the upside, another survey by US group fatherhood.gov revealed that children with ‘highly involved’ fathers are:
More empathetic, don’t believe in stereotypical gender roles, show greater mental dexterity and ability to think outside the box and demonstrate better self control.
I’m also being told that my high level of involvement will create a strong bond between us and I can certainly testify to this, especially when I’m trying to make a cup of tea each morning and he clings on to my leg like a tree frog. Not the kind of bond I was hoping for.
As the number of stay-at-home-dads increases (it has doubled since 1989, according to data by the Pew Research Centre), trend spotters are predicting that it will become an increasingly common phenomenon across the developed world. Maria Salzman, of US media company Havas PR, claims that “rather than being diminished by the rise of women, the growing ranks of devoted and capable dads are likely to find their new role liberating. Watch for the rise of child-oriented masculinity challenging programme makers, brands and advertisers to reflect the essence of this emerging new reality.”
You can see it on the streets of Walthamstow already. There are more dads are pushing prams. Lloyd Park is host to a brilliant monthly dads only group, which comes complete with a full English breakfast.
The most important thing that I’ve learnt during the past few months is that regardless of who stays at home, fathers should be as involved in every aspect of parenting as mothers. It’s better for children, communities and wider society.