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The Three Heavenly Virtues Of Stay-At-Home Daddery

19/01/2016 10:55 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Joel Russell

During the three months I spent last year as a stay-at-home dad, I was offered eight unsolicited compliments from well-meaning strangers, simply for taking care of my son on a work day. The most predictable was an elderly aqua-aerobics practitioner; my favourite was a large Bunnings employee carrying quick-dry concrete.

On each occasion, I would outwardly express self-deprecating gratitude and internally congratulate myself. Indeed, I am the world's greatest dad since Sandy Cohen -- drinking fine coffee with my son at 2 pm on a Wednesday is a great sacrifice and I deserve society's admiration.

But really, the sight of a dad chilling with an infant on a weekday must be normalised to the point where elderly swimmers and strong men in small shorts alike do not feel it necessary to offer compliments.

There are many excellent reasons to hasten this normalisation; for society, families and the individual. However, the following can be considered the essential virtues of stay-at-home daddery.

1. Mutual Career Sabotage

Many Australians think we have a Federal Government-funded Paid Parental Leave Scheme. That's because there is a scheme funded by the Federal Government that is called the 'Paid Parental Leave Scheme'. Unfortunately, this scheme is somewhat poorly labelled. Like 'Chicken of the Sea' tuna, it's a little misleading.

The scheme is, in fact, a maternity leave scheme.

For a father to take any of the 18-weeks paid leave, the mother must be eligible and then "gift" it to him. If the mother is ineligible, say because she earns more than $150,000 a year, even if the father satisfies all criteria, he cannot take the leave. The reverse is not true: a father could earn $1,000,000 per year and it would have no bearing on the mother's eligibility.

In 1995, the then-Prime Minister of Sweden, Bengt Westerberg, said: "Society is a mirror of the family. The only way to achieve equality in society is to achieve equality in the home. Getting fathers to share parental leave is an essential part of that."

Until men are viewed as equally risky by employers, expected to take extended leave with young children and likely return part-time, women will continue to be systematically overlooked for promotion, more likely to return to less satisfying work and the gender pay-gap will remain. Mutual career sabotage.

Sweden offers an interesting case study. Ninety percent of Swedish dads stay at home with their children, largely as a result of policies designed to encourage them to do so. Sweden also has one of the highest rates of working mothers in the world, and the smallest percentage difference in males and females who work part-time in the OECD.

Enticing men to take paternity leave has encouraged Swedish women back into the workforce quicker, and increased their long-term earning potential. A 2010 study found a Swedish mother's future earnings rose almost seven percent for each month the father stayed home.

2. Family Harmony

Until I was completely responsible for my baby -- for hours on end and without a lifeline -- I found it difficult to completely grasp the complexity of the task.

Working while your partner is home with your baby can be difficult and stressful. Being at home with your baby while your partner is working can be difficult and stressful. It is an emotional business and can easily lead to arguments. Having both parents experience both scenarios does not eliminate these arguments, but it can help to smooth their resolution.

Here's how such arguments usually go down in my house: "You don't know how difficult it is to stay at home with an infant while you're off forging a career." Response: "Sure I do."

Or: "You don't know how difficult it is leaving my baby behind every morning just so I can have endless meetings." Response: "Sure I do."

Of course, that's not the end of the story, but most of the heat is taken out of these usually irrational interactions before they begin, allowing more precious time to watch 'The West Wing'.

3. It is actually great. Really, really great

This comment may be controversial, but stay-at-home parenting is not difficult. I must preface that comment by noting my sample size is one -- but with that noted, if you are prepared to give in to a little chaos, set only modest daily goals and move slowly, being a stay-at-home dad is an overwhelmingly positive experience filled with exploration, learning, coffee and lots of giggling.

I do not believe there is such a thing as a natural-born parent. Like Kobayashi eating hot-dogs at Coney Island, this is a game of practice, repetition and confidence. There are few men I know who would not thrive as a stay-at-home dad, if given the opportunity.

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Joel spent several months in 2015 as a stay-at-home dad and now spends one day a week at home with his maniac toddler. You can read about their adventures at www.miloandjupiter.com.

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