So You’re Going to Be a Father

Gillian Cooper
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2015s Shared Parental Leave laws and greater gender income equality has meant a boom in SAHDs (Stay-at-Home-Dads), but the pressures and challenges of being a man in a parent’s world might be different than you think.
Parenting in 2016. It’s an expensive business. Our local nursery fees are over £16.5k a year (double for two). As a lowly in-house copywriter for a mostly unknown publishing company, this was far more than my annual take-home. Add to that the additional time or expense required to cover inset days, training days, two full weeks over Christmas and all manner of sick days (if a child simply coughs in the vicinity, the shutters come down, gas masks go on and a keyworker paints a red cross on your child’s face).

The decision to become a Stay-at-Home-Parent was an easy one. (I hate the term ‘Stay-at-Home-Dad’, as if gender has anything to do with the job description. I do exactly the same things as any ‘Stay-at-Home-Mum’ I know, while being equally as ill-equipped.

In some things, of course, my gender and I are entirely inefficient. Breastfeeding for one. My partner and I were lucky enough to be able to do it - actually just my partner, I had no involvement. So as soon as our daughter turned one and was advisably able to move to cow’s milk, my career took a dramatic turn.

Currently I’ve been in the job for around 18 months. If you speak to anyone with children older than yours, they’ll delight in schooling you in just how easy you have it. ‘They’re easy at that age aren’t they?’  they’ll chirp. Looking relaxed and refreshed because they had more than 30 minutes sleep last night and don’t have sick in their hair. Let me tell you this, children are NEVER easy, but in those 18 months my role has become easier and easier and easier.

Day one. When your partner starts a working day of 10 hours blissful freedom, they slowly close the door on your already crumbling confidence. You glance down into the large, judgmental eyes of your calm, duplicitous child. ‘Sure, you’re happy now’, you think. But what happens if you have to wait more than four seconds for milk at the perfect temperature? What if you somehow get through all of your 120 babygros before I can wash and dry more? And how the hell do I move the shopping and the baby from the car into the house if I can’t park close enough?

It’s not just the pressure you put on yourself to perform either. As a parent it can feel like the whole world is against you. Shops, buses, trains, libraries, cafés, dentists even doctor’s surgeries, all apparently off limits if you pay attention to the modern tutting public.

Sometimes it can be especially hard to be a man trying to get by in this world, like when you’re looking for a changing table in a pub or shop. If it’s a small place there might only be a table in the ladies’ toilet, and what then? Other times you can be let off the worst of it, ‘He’s only a man’ they seem to think, ‘How can he be expected to know’. Which feels even worse, as if there’s a secret class at school all the girls are herded off to while the boys argue which superhero is better.

You get used to this pretty quickly, not caring what people might be thinking or saying to each other. Asking politely for help or, if need be, pushing past/into people - why they’re called pushchairs I presume. The pressure and embarrassment you heap on yourself, however, can take a little longer to learn to live with.

Playgroup Pressure is one thing - not knowing what sound a squirrel makes or what, exactly, Old McDonald really DOES have on his farm - but the real pressure of being a parent is for their physical and mental wellbeing, for which you seem to be solely and entirely responsible. Do they eat enough X or too much Y? Are they snacking too much? Are they getting enough fresh air? Why can’t they say as many words as Jonathan or why aren’t they as agile as Jessica? Do they watch too much TV? Do you do enough socialising? Are you ruining their life?! (An accusation you’ll hear in their later years regardless).

Most of us like to plan and prepare. That’s how we overcome nervousness and pressure in a normal working environment. Has been ever since school. We do mock exams, we practice driving manoeuvres, we make notes, compile data and statistics. But all these issues, and many more you’ll doubtless worry about, must be learnt on the job (except for bringing the shopping in, I still haven’t worked that one out).

You spend nine months hoping that when the time comes you’ll finally feel ready, but you never do. Until one day, you realise that thing you’ve been worrying about happening, just happened. And it was actually OK.

This is a job unlike any other you’ve had before. It demands no prior experience; it’s extremely difficult to get right yet despite what others think, anyone can do it; and it’s all for a boss who will continue to love, adore and idolise you, no matter how many times you mess it up.

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