Rise of the house husband
For centuries, childcare has been seen as ‘women’s work’ – but times they are a-changin’ (and a good thing too), says Amanda.
Thanks to the dire state of our economy, with unemployment at record highs and childcare unaffordable for many, stay-at home dads (SAHDs) are now in charge in one in seven households across the UK, according to a recent survey by Aviva. That’s 10 times as many as a decade ago.
But many of them aren’t all that thrilled about it. While 43% are grateful to get the chance to raise their kids themselves, one in five stay-at-home dads says that their role makes them feel ‘less of a man,’ while around one in eight admitted that looking after children is harder than holding down a job. That same number wishes they were the breadwinner and the one going out to work.
Know the feeling
To them, I’d say: ‘welcome to our world.’ Women have experienced exactly the same emotions for decades, it’s just that we wouldn’t put a gender-based label on it. I’m not convinced it’s emasculation these men are feeling; more likely they’re just fed-up, knackered, and struggling to cope with the crisis of identity that an abrupt change from defining yourself by your job (as most people do) to being a stay-at-home parent almost inevitably precipitates.
Hell, we’ve all been there. Looking after small children is physically demanding, often thankless, it doesn’t start at 9am or finish at 5pm – and you often don’t get the chance to eat a sandwich or even go to the toilet on your own. Show me a mum/dad who hasn’t had to shut the door on the screams and go and sit in the garden for a little while because they’re almost crying with tiredness themselves, and if their toddler whines one more time for a drink/biscuit/Peppa Pig, they’re going to start throwing their plates hard against the wall, and I’ll show you a liar.
You don’t often feel that, sitting in an office. And you get to eat a sandwich in peace. And wipe your bum without said toddler peering round you and saying loudly, ‘What are you doing, mummy? Do you need the potty?’
Many women feel the loss of identity when they give up work to stay home with the kids too, particularly if they worked hard to get ahead in their chosen career. It can be hard to accept you are now ‘just’ a parent – which is why so there are so many WAHMs (work at home mums) and mummy bloggers, determined to let the world know that they’re still a person, not just a walking womb with skills in the nose-wiping, cleaning and cooking departments. (At least, I reckon that’s the reason, with my armchair psychologist’s hat on. Just call me Sigmund Freud.)
I’m not saying that the whole emasculation idea is rubbish. The rise of the house husband is largely driven by financial necessity, after all, and you can’t undo the centuries-old perception of childcare as ‘women’s work’ overnight. Our society has been patriarchal since the Romans first set be-sandalled foot on our land, and quite probably before that.
But I think the rise of the SAHD could be a really good thing. It raises the possibility of more equality in the workplace, if women are adopting the traditionally male role of breadwinner, as well as improved paternity rights for men. I’ve never quite understood why childcare should be ‘women’s work’ anyway (apart from the centuries-of-perception thing.) It’s not like, as a gender, we women are somehow ‘better’ at looking after kids than men. Yes, yes, there’s the whole mythical ‘maternal instinct’ thing, but it varies wildly from woman to woman, and doesn’t necessarily override other instincts you may have, like the instinct to want to escape for a few hours a day to a nice quiet office where you can eat a sandwich in peace – and get paid for it! Bonus!
We’re all the same. Sort of
At the moment, few men go into primary school teaching or become nursery nurses or childminders, for fear of being viewed as closet paedophiles – which is a sad reflection on our paranoid society, and also a ludicrous state of affairs, because men are no better and no worse than women at looking after kids.
And that’s the bottom line, really. Women, as a gender, are no better or worse than men at having high-powered jobs that bring home the bacon, either. It’s all a matter of perception. Unless we stop educating women and allowing them to work -and despite the right-wing media’s relentless campaign to make working mothers suicidal with guilt – there are inevitably going to be even more families in which mum, as the highest potential earner, becomes the breadwinner.
Forget the Romans and their patriarchal sandals; we need to stop being so goddam sexist as a society and embrace the changes that are happening. Whatever the Daily Mail says, some of them are actually good. Modern dads, whether they’re stay-at-home or not, tend to be a lot more hands-on than they were even a couple of decades ago (I doubt very much whether mine ever changed a single nappy), which is a brilliant thing for any family. You have the power to make a difference, fathers of Britain! Use it wisely!
Are you a stay-at-home dad, or a mum who’s also the main breadwinner? How is that working out for you – are you happy in your role or would you rather it was reversed? Let us know by commenting below.