“It’s utter chaos.” A stay-at-home dad tells all

3 min read

Despite becoming more common and socially acceptable, announcing you’re a stay-at-home dad is still likely to raise some judgemental brows. We talk to a full-time dad who wouldn’t have it any other way.

According to 2013 Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, the number of stay-at-home dads in Australia almost doubled from 57,000 to 106,000 over the previous decade – and their ranks are set to climb. This may likely be attributed to factors such as the rising price of childcare services and the steady increase of women in high-paying jobs.

While it’s clear this trend is only just beginning, there are those who still feel being a stay-at-home dad flies in the face of tradition and threatens the notion of the ideal family unit. It challenges gender roles of both employment and parenting; that a man's masculinity depends solely on his ability to bring home the bacon and support his family.

When the arrival of his second child coincided with the bankruptcy of his small recruitment business, Sean Piper, a stay home dad from Sydney’s Northern Beaches, made the decision to save on rising childcare fees and take charge of the day-to-day care of his now 4-year-old and 18-month-old girls. This transition was made easier by his wife's high-earning job as an attorney.

"It felt like the obvious thing to do at the time," Sean recalls. "It was a real change of pace and, admittedly, not something I'd originally envisioned for myself. But my wife has always been a strong, career-focused woman. And with the price of day care for two exceeding $200-per-day, it didn't make sense to channel my energies into the hunt for a new job."

While he largely enjoys his job as a "house husband" (a name his friends have bestowed upon him since the launch of the popular Nine Network TV series of the same name), Sean admits the stress of looking after two young children far surpasses his previous career.

"Don't get me wrong, it's the most rewarding thing I've ever done. I consider it a real privilege to be in a position where I'm able soak up every passing moment with my kids. They grow up so fast and not many fathers are able to be there for all of it," he says. "That said, I'm confident any parent, particularly stay-at-home parents, would whole-heartedly attest to the utter chaos of it all."

With no immediate plans to re-enter the workforce, Sean says he has gained a huge amount of respect for stay-at-home mothers and particularly single parents who may not have the same financial stability his family has enjoyed. “I can't imagine the challenges of not having the choices we've had. That some parents manage to juggle full-time work and solo-parenting is nothing short of supernatural.”

While stay-at-home dads may battle occasional emasculation, there are also ‘bad mother’ stereotypes around women who return work full-time when their children are young.

"Every family is different. I know plenty of mothers who dread returning to work, but my wife loves that structure in her day. Work makes her happy, and a happy woman makes for a more loving and patient mother,” Sean says.

Interestingly, in her book, When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women, author Farnoosh Torabi suggests it’s a big risk for men to opt out of the workforce.

“Research suggests the penalty may be greater for men who temporarily exit the workforce,” she writes, adding, “One study found dads who left work for even a short period of time to cater to domestic matters earned lower evaluations and more negative performance ratings at work than women who opted out.”

And the role can come with other challenges, too. Stay-at-home dads can sometimes struggle to gain access to parenting benefits, support communities, and services targeted specifically at mothers.

When it comes to his views on masculinity, however, Sean is unfazed.

“I think perhaps the times are finally changing and men are feeling less societal pressure to present themselves in certain ways. I've never heeded stereotypical notions of masculinity – I drink herbal tea and love romantic literature and don't know my way around a toolbox,” he laughs. 

“But my parents live in the English countryside and are, you know, quite old-fashioned in their beliefs. Dad definitely had a word or two to say when he heard I'd be staying at home with the kids. He bit his tongue, but I could tell he wasn't pleased. Mum was more concerned about my ability to change nappies.”

Sean, however, seems to have mastered the art of dry bottoms perfectly. “I may be under-slept, but I'm happy,” he says.  

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This information is current as at 16/12/2016.

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