Undercover Mum: Stay at Home Dads (SAHDs) have always intrigued me. When I first returned to work after starting a family I will admit there were days when I fantasised about being a working mum supported by a SAHD. These days were usually characterised by intense guilt after a tearful daycare drop off or calling in to work on carers leave – experiences that I assumed working mums with SAHDs didn’t have. I was also intrigued by SAHDs because I didn’t know any. That was until recently when my best friend’s husband decided to become the primary carer for 6 months. In this guest blog post, Mick Hughes aka The SAHD Physio, shares his perceptions, experiences and emotions of his new role over the past 3 months. What I find most interesting is Mick’s advice for SAHDs – equally relevant to mums and dads regardless of how much time they spend being the primary carer.
I’m now 3 months into being in charge of day-to-day operations at the Hughes household and I want to tell you about my original perception of SAHD life vs my reality. The generation X and Y men that I know said that my life as a SAHD was going to be cruisy, and the 50+ year old men seriously thought I needed urgent psychiatric assessment. My original perception of being a SAHD was more in line with generation X&Y men’s thoughts – SAHD life was going to be a little bit cruisy. Only that I had the insight to know that the nappies would be dirtier, the snot would be greener and the vomit would be more violent.
I had visions of spending most of my days hanging out leisurely at cafés with my fellow stay at home parents, sipping lattes and talking about sleep deprivation whilst nodding sympathetically about the trials and tribulations of breast-feeding, and taking bets as to which one of our babies would talk and walk first. I had visions of taking regular day trips down to Sydney on the train to go to the zoo or the aquarium, whilst also catching up with my best mate and some of my family. I had visions of spending at least an hour everyday keeping up to date professionally by reading recently published journal articles. I also had visions of turning my “dad bod” into a slightly more toned version of itself. I even wrote out a detailed 12 week program. Even a month ago, I had delusions that I was going to be able to turn back the clock to my teenage years and watch plenty of live NBA games whilst Charlotte slept or played happily by herself.
The reality is that my days couldn’t be further from my original visions. When I first started out as a SAHD, Charlie was a fairly passive 6-month old baby who could be happily left alone on the play-mat, and although I very rarely did it, I could quickly duck outside when absolutely needed to empty the bins or hang the washing on the line, knowing full well that she would be in the exact same spot when I came back inside. Now I’ve got no chance, and would have to spend the first 5 minutes frantically searching the house looking for her. Three months ago I could also cook in the kitchen generally uninterrupted without the fear that I have now of dripping hot oil on her head, whilst she tries to “help” me by opening all the cupboards, searching and pulling out pots and pans that I don’t need.
At the start of my SAHD time, I was also finding my feet and trying to maintain Charlie’s daily routines, so much so that my original plans to fill my days with social activities barely got off the ground. Fast forward 3 months and I’ve barely laid eyes on anyone during this time other than Mrs Hughes and Charlie, let alone family or close friends. Charlie is such an active and interactive 9-month old baby who is always inquisitive about what is going on around her and who forever wears the proverbial “ants in the pants”, that I barely get 5 seconds alone time, let alone time to sit in a cafe and talk about parenting with fellow stay at home parents. I can’t even sit on the toilet in peace anymore as she now knows how to pry open our dodgy sliding door with her tiny little fingers. What hasn’t changed yet (although this will no doubt change as soon as I hit the “publish” button) is that her sleep cycles during the day still last between 30-60mins. She’ll have 3 sleeps during the day, which is my time to try and get stuff done around the house, which sure as hell doesn’t let me sit down quietly and read about the latest research in the world of sports medicine and sports physiotherapy.
About a month in I started to realise that SAHD life was not all rosy, cruisy and happy as Larry. I was actually looking forward to going to work on a Thursday and a Saturday, so that I could have some respite and switch my brain off and go on “auto-pilot”. This really bothered me as I felt like a quitter. I also started to have feelings of guilt because I was taking Charlie away from her mum, who had done all the hard yards for the first 6 months, only for me to take over as primary carer during what is possibly the most progressive, endearing and fun-filled period of her very early development.
Stay at home parenting can feel like living in a bubble and be very isolating and lonely at times. Don’t get me wrong, this blog isn’t a cry for help.
I absolutely love doing what I do and recommend being a SAHD very strongly to any new dads that I come across. The bond you develop with your child is indescribable. The cheeky looks, the smiles, the giggles, the yawns, the tired cuddles, the sloppy kisses, the cute little chatter that they give you as if there is something really important that they need to say, are once in a lifetime moments that I’ll never get again because she’ll be all grown up before I know it. I’ve also been able to witness some of Charlie’s “firsts” – crawling, standing unassisted, cruising on the couch, saying “dada” & “mama”, just to name a few. I’ve also laughed the hardest I’ve ever laughed before at some of the things that she does, and the things that’s she gets up to each and everyday – like getting stuck in her toy box with the guiltiest look on her face.
It’s not only the parental bond and watching her grow and develop each day right before my eyes which makes being a SAHD so special, it’s the other intangibles that will help me everyday for the rest of my life as a man, husband and father. Intangibles like patience. I’ve learnt to be patient; very, very patient. I’ve learnt to be very organised. I’ve learnt to excel in time management. I can now cook foods that I can’t even pronounce. I’ve learnt the art of learning from my mistakes. I now know how to negotiate extremely well with both a wife and a 9 month old, and I can literally juggle 4 different tasks at the same time, including holding a baby. All of these things I was particularly awful at prior to being a SAHD.
I hope I haven’t scared any of you men off being a SAHD. It really is one of the most rewarding jobs that you’ll ever do, but I feel that if you’re contemplating being a SAHD, you need to know that it isn’t all beer and skittles. It is a rollercoaster ride, and you better be ready for it. However this isn’t the gentle Ferris Wheel at the local show. No, no, no, no, no. This is The Gravitron, The Chipmunk, The Octopus and The Mean Mother Zipper all rolled into one – but once you get off, you’ll be wanting to get on it time and time again.
In closing I’ve got a couple of pieces of friendly advice for any fathers considering a SAHD role:
– don’t over commit yourself and try to have realistic expectations of what your days will be like,
– be flexible; even your best laid plans for the day will often not turn out,
– communicate well with your partner; tell them if you’re struggling,
– don’t be afraid to ask for help – even from old Doris across the road, and
– make sure you take some time every week for some “you” time.
So there you have it, the not-so “cruisy” life of being a SAHD.
To read more about how I became a SAHD and what my days entailed you can read my first blog post here.
I really hope you enjoyed my insights and were able to take something away from it.
Until next time….Hi-fives!!
Mick, The SAHD Physio
For other tips on returning to work after starting a family, including choosing daycare options that suit your family, get your free ebook Undercover Mum here.