What It’s Like To Be Raised By A Stay-At-Home Dad

'On my first day in playgroup, he found himself alone on one side of the room while the mums all gathered on the other side, unsure what to make of him...'

stay at home dad

by Rebecca Holman |
Updated on

On my wedding day, my dad gave a speech where he recalled my first day at playgroup, aged two. He kicked off by explaining how he tentatively took me along, unsure how I’d get on in such a different environment. But about 10 minutes in, he realised I’d be fine when I wet myself going down the slide, took off my pants, handed them to him, and carried on playing.

While I tried to crawl under the table in my wedding dress, my dad went on to tell the room how he, as a first-time father in his twenties, and I, a toddler, were exploring this brave new world together. Because unlike his peers, and certainly unlike all the women taking their children to playgroup for the first time that day in 1985, my father was a stay-at-home dad, and had been since mum went back to work full-time when I was three months old. It was a purely pragmatic decision – as a graduate, Mum had more earning potential than my father, who worked for the local council. Which left my dad, aged 26, at home on his own with a small baby.

Before my mum went back to work, she taught him how to make five meals so we’d be covered for a working week’s worth of dinners (several dishes from his early repertoire, including sausage casserole and tuna macaroni, endure to this day). But without grandparents nearby to help out, it was very much up to him to work out the rest for himself.

The Office for National Statistics doesn’t have the figures for how many stay-at-home dads there were in the UK in 1983, the year I was born. But they tell me that a decade later, in 1993, there were just 110,000 – compared to 226,000 now. And it strikes me as I write this just how lonely it must have been for him. When I ask him what it was like, he tells me that most people assumed he was unemployed, and sometimes he found it easier to just go along with that. He also tells me that, on that first day in playgroup, he found himself on one side of the room while the mums all gathered on the other side, unsure what to make of him.

In the TV show Motherland, hapless stay-at-home dad at the school gates Kevin becomes one of the gang; 35 years ago, that couldn’t have been further from the truth. I don’t want to lionise my dad too much, because what I’m describing is what women have done since time immemorial – often while juggling jobs, caring for other relatives and generally being superwomen. And I now that Mum, who worked long hours in male-dominated industry, took on her fair share of the family admin, from booking holidays to organising Christmas, unlike her male peers, who had a wife for that. But, as a child, there was no one better for me (or for my brother, who followed and, a decade later, my sister) to spend our days with.

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Patient, kind, funny and able to utterly absorb himself in the task at hand, ad gave us his full, undivided attention. There were moments where I longed or my organised, efficient mum, who has always been able to juggle 98 things at any given time. is was usually when I had the wrong shoes for playing in the snow and had to stay inside alone at break time, or when I looked at my best friend’s intricate french plait and realised that we’d forgotten to even brush my hair that morning. But ’m playing the world’s smallest violin here, because that stuff really, truly didn’t matter.

My husband and I are expecting our first child in September. We’re splitting parental leave and working out how we can both do our fair share of nursery pick-ups and drop-offs. We’ll have to see how it works out in practice, but neither of us has ever assumed that I’d take on the bulk of the childcare. I’m also incredibly lucky that my mum and dad have enthusiastically offered to do the childcare a couple of days a week – I know our little boy couldn’t be in better hands. In his father-of-the-bride speech, my dad referred to himself as ‘average dad’, painting picture of us bumbling along together, making it up as we went. That part may be true but, as far as I’m concerned, my dad is anything but average.

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