Opinion: Becoming a stay at home dad not an easy transition

By Mathieu Day-Gillett

OPINION: I've had plenty of interesting jobs in my relatively short time circling the sun. From working in fast-food to reviewing cars and motorcycles for a living, it's been a pretty sweet ride and I've been incredibly lucky.

But I feel most lucky for the role I took on most recently as a full-time father.

However, from my experience being a stay at home dad (SAHD) isn't exactly a popular choice in New Zealand, and while it is perhaps the most rewarding job I could possibly have it hasn't been without its challenges.

Particularly, one of the biggest hurdles I've encountered has been the fact that as a pakeha male, it has been my experience of truly being in a minority. 

A little bit of background first. Like most men, I never planned on being a full-time caregiver to the tiny hurricane of destruction that is my firstborn. In fact, thanks to my understanding previous employers my plan was only to take nine months off work to be a SAHD until my son turned one at which point he would start daycare and I would return to the workplace. 

However, due to a variety of reasons including for my own mental health, I chose to leave that workplace permanently instead. With my wife being a teacher in a lucrative role at a private school, and after doing the sums on how much it actually costs to have a child under two in daycare we decided that our family would be both financially and functionally better off if I became a full-time dad.

It wasn't an easy transition. From my experience, Kiwi blokes aren't remotely prepared for taking on such a role in our upbringing and there are next to no support services tailored specifically for dads in New Zealand.  

Mathieu says seeing his son Richie achieve all the 'firsts' is rewarding.
Mathieu says seeing his son Richie achieve all the 'firsts' is rewarding. Photo credit: Supplied/Sweet Events Photography

You'd think that the seemingly easy way to get support would be joining coffee/playgroup scene, but in practice, this is difficult as men are viewed as outsiders and many women are often visibly uncomfortable with your presence. I have often felt like I am invading their space in some way, even though we are all there for our children's benefit.

Even walking the baby in the pram often results in comments from passers-by such as "giving mum a break?" or "good on you, taking the baby out!" As many of the comments come from well-meaning elderly folk I bite my tongue and smile before carrying on my way, but it is always a mental blow and a real struggle to not retort with some witty comeback. 

While comments such as these aren't intended to be hurtful, it always hurts to be assumed to be just doing the bare minimum or "giving mum a break" when in fact it's my full-time gig. It definitely still seems to be that the role a dad plays in the upbringing of a child is assumed to be as the breadwinner of the family and not as someone capable of giving a child the best start to life. 

It really is quite a mental game this SAHD thing. The flipside of not being prepared in the slightest for being a full-time caregiver is I've had to learn to speak about my feelings and also learned what mental workload is. Being the one that organises the birthday cards and presents, the weekly grocery shop and handles the bills at home isn't exactly a dream job, but mentally I think I've grown in some way from it.

Studies have shown that having a stay at home parent is of enormous benefit to a child, particularly in their first 1000 days, and I think this actually has a positive effect for the parent as well.

Mathieu Day-Gillett says becoming a stay at home dad is one of the most rewarding experiences of his life.
Mathieu Day-Gillett says becoming a stay at home dad is one of the most rewarding experiences of his life. Photo credit: Supplied

While I did leave my last job, I do still try to work to do my bit in order to top up the family bill accounts and have a bit of pocket money for that much needed extra cup of coffee while we're out and about. The hard part is balancing the need to work (and hopefully keep my career alive) with the needs of the family, and I'm very thankful that my son's grandparents have come on board and allow me some amazing opportunities away from the house.

There are of course plenty of upsides to taking on the role of full-time caregiver.

Unlike so many other dads, I talk to I've been able to see so many of the "firsts" that my son has achieved as I've been the one at home, and there is nothing quite like being the person who my son finds comfort in the most. 

I can also look forward to so sharing so many experiences with my son, his first day of kindy, his first fishing trip, countless hours of play at the local parks and so much more.

Best of all I've finally found another local SAHD to hang out with and we've started to talk about ways to get out and enjoy life outside of being a dad again.

Would I recommend it? Absolutely. Like I've said, despite the challenges I never thought I would have to deal with, becoming a SAHD is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and it is something that everyone in the family benefits from. 

Would I do it all over again from the start? Well, I've already signed a new contract commencing sometime in March, 2020.

 

Mathieu Day-Gillett is a freelance motoring writer specialising in motorcycles, cramming in running his own website - onthrottle.co.nz - and writing for a number of motoring publications when his 14-month-old hurricane is having downtime.

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