The truth about being a stay-at-home dad

By Keir MacKenzie

Stay-at-home parenting has zero time for domestic chores. Photo / Getty
Stay-at-home parenting has zero time for domestic chores. Photo / Getty

All you seem to do is sit around with your friends, drink tea, and eat cake all day.

I'd said that sentence enough times to my wife that when I agreed to take three months out to be a stay-at-home Dad I was genuinely concerned I was going to put on weight.

As it turned out, I lost nearly a stone simply through stress and exhaustion.

I've only got myself to blame. The idea had been mine. I'd watched on as my wife breezed through stay-at-home parenting (three of five days a week), achieving a clean home, a cooked meal and a sleeping child by the time I arrived back from work every day. Frankly, it looked like a doddle - so I offered to swap.

It was January 2nd 2013 when my wife boarded a train to Manchester to begin her secondment as a reporter for BBC Breakfast. About an hour before, our then 20-month-old son Frank started vomiting. "I can't believe the bad timing," said my wife, Bryony, without any sense of conviction.

Five days later, Frank finally stopped being sick - but things got no better from there.

For a start, it turned out that he didn't like sleeping - at least not with me around. I'd make the mistake of bringing him into the family bed during vom-gate; now the bug had passed he didn't much fancy sleeping in his room. Far better to lay awake until 2am and then shout "Found You" into his Dad's ear, before bursting into fits of laughter. It sounds cute, in reality it's not.

After that premature alarm call, the day proper would begin at 5.30am. Sleep deprivation kicked in: my only solace, I thought, was that I could spend at least part of the day recovering at playgroups. But the word playgroup, I discovered, is misleading. It implies your child will play in a group. That in turn makes you assume that you will stand at a distance relaxing and drinking tea. Having now attended approximately 60 of these events, I feel in a position to offer an alternative title: "Fight Club".

Toddlers don't actually play together very well at all. I discovered this on the first morning when Frank hit another child in the face with a plastic car. Yes, you can order a cup of tea at most child groups, you just won't get a chance to drink it. The two hours are spent chasing your child around the room and praying the snotty child with the whooping cough isn't contagious.

I had hoped that I would be able to at least share the pain with other stay-at-home Dads. But when I did happen upon one at a playgroup or leisure centre, which happened less often than I was expecting, they barely made eye contact. Slowly, I realised why. Men don't like talking to other men when they no longer feel like men. And the harsh truth is that being a stay-at-home father is a testosterone-free existence.

Where once I thought creatively, thrived on the pressure of deadlines, and enjoyed some office banter, now I spent my time analysing the contents of my child's nappies, "bantering" with mum's about our children's sleeping habits, or worrying that the number of hours Frank spent watching cartoons was in some way connected to the fact that he had just punched me in the face in Marks and Spencer. Where once I was the main provider financially, now I was simply the provider of Frank's breakfast, lunch and tea.

Then there were the other domestic tasks - the washing, the cleaning, the shopping. The stay-at-home parent has zero time for these things - and yet it is practically part of their job description. As a result, Frank and I lived in a chaotic mess.

Even my attempts at ordering our groceries on-line were met with dismay - a situation that culminated one Friday night, when I informed my wife that we were having fish fingers and salad for dinner.

Bryony: "I don't want that."

Me: "Why not?"

Bryony: "Because I'm not 14-years old. I'll just have hummus and breadsticks?"

Me: "I forgot to buy hummus."

Bryony: "You forgot to buy hummus! You're in charge of the shop. You know I love hummus!"

The old me would never have put up with a telling off for not buying hummus. And yet it sounded slightly familiar, perhaps because of all the times I'd come home from work and complained that I didn't want what was being offered for dinner and questioning why my favourite foods weren't in the cupboard. I was slowly beginning to appreciate that I had spent the majority of our marriage being a bit of an idiot.

As the three months neared their end and the circles under my eyes grew darker, exhaustion began to get the better of me. Looking back, the nadir probably came when I inadvertently taught my son the phrase"oh, for f***'s sake". Frank needed his mother back; I needed my work back.

After Bryony returned home and we reverted back to our old roles - me working full-time, her the primary parent working part-time - I admitted to her that I had got it wrong. Parenting isn't a tea and cake party: it is the hardest job you can have. The lack of adult contact, the monotony of the routine, the all-consuming exhaustion - I finally understood that being a week-day parent was slightly different to dipping your toe in the parenting pool at weekends.

It's not been all negative, of course. Since that "winter of discontent" Frank and I have a special bond. He claims to remember the time "Daddy looked after him" and his wish to always be by my side would certainly suggest something stuck in his subconscious.

And I now share a better relationship with my wife - mainly because I now understand and fully appreciate the Herculean task that she achieves on a daily basis.

As for my job, after the demands of full-time parenting, working life now seems like a holiday. The commute I used to bemoan is now savoured, a precious few hours to rest or read or simply stare out the window confident I won't have mashed potato thrown at my head. Where once the workplace seemed stressful it now seems like a playground. And best of all, I can have tea and cake whenever I want.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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