Written by Lisa-Marie D’Alonzo
In thousands of homes across the nation, modernisation is gaining momentum as we see a change in caregiver trends.
Traditional gender roles previously portrayed fathers as the main breadwinners in families with women being responsible for domestic duties and being the care providers for the children.
In 2016, we are seeing an increase in FIFO (First In, First Out) mums, increased female participation in the formal labour force and more equal earnings between men and women.
This has caused a shift in parenting roles as we see men are putting their careers on hold to raise their children and be stay-at-home fathers.
Perth father of three Paul, 41, says the decision for him to become a stay-at-home dad was inevitable as his wife has the potential to earn more than the two of them combined.
“My wife has been studying a degree at Edith Cowan University for the past four years as well as working part-time,” Paul said.
“When she became pregnant with our third child, we knew we had to swap the primary parenting roles so I phased out my home fencing business to take care of the kids.
“The rewards of being a stay-at-home dad surprised me to be honest. I love having the opportunity to spend more time with my children and have developed deeper relationships with them that I would have never been able to do if I was working full-time.”
Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2013 show that the number of stay-at-home dads in Australia has more than doubled in the past decade, with 12,100 men aged between 25 and 34 staying at home caring for children.
Social demographer Mark McCrindle said the number of stay-at-home dads in Australia will continue to grow at a staggering rate as we see up to 40 per cent of women aged 25-34 earning a degree, 11 per cent more than their male peers.
“What follows university education is income, successful career paths and based on the figures, we are going to have more female breadwinners than males into the future,” Mr McCrindle said.
“There is also an expectation that dads are more hands-on with kids and an acceptance of that, we have seen the introduction of parental and paternity leave.”
Adam and his wife Renee made the decision for him to stay at home with their two boys aged five and two when his company merged, accompanied with a salary cut and an office relocation forcing a hefty commute to and from work each day.
“The work environment became challenging and it was affecting my mental health.
“Renee was working part-time when I resigned but in six months, she was able to gain full-time employment, which was close to home and with a robust salary. So we made the decision for me to be the primary caregiver for our boys.”
Being a primary caregiver is a demanding and challenging role. Further McCrindle research in 2010, found that men are less likely to be changing the oil in the car or fixing a tap but changing a baby’s nappy, washing clothes and dropping the kids off at school.
Fast forward to a normal day in the life of Adam and he is doing just that.
A typical day starts with breakfast, getting Adam’s eldest son ready and dropping him to school, visits to the park to burn off some energy with his youngest, grocery shopping, school pickups, after-school activities and dinner preparation.
How does Renee feel about working full-time to support the family?
“We are pretty happy with our decision and I am extremely proud of Adam and happy that he is getting to spend some amazing quality time with our boys,” she said.
“I love my job but I really miss my boys and I would love to have more time with them.
“Since we exchanged roles, I think we appreciate each other more and have a better understanding of what it is like to be in each other’s shoes.”
One of the most important elements of having a successful and enhanced parenting experience is to accept support and reaching out to the community, finding comradeship with other fathers with common threads.
Jake is a father to a two-and-a-half year old boy and says his parent support group helps keep him well-balanced.
“We started a Perth Stay at Home Dads Facebook page where we meet regularly and are able to continue the adult interaction that is omitted after leaving the workforce,” said Jake.
“We try to have a night out with the stay-at-home dads Facebook group every few months or so. Being a stay-at-home dad can be socially isolating.”
Recognising the significant role of fathers and acknowledging the shift in parenting roles is important to support fathers and to strengthen the relationships with their children.
Gary Segal, Program Leader of Dads in the Early Years at the Meerlinga Young Children Services Inc. in Leederville WA says that it has been extremely difficult for stay-at-home dads to find others in similar situations, so Meerlinga has been providing opportunities for them.
“We set up the Playdads playgroup in Woodvale eight years ago and dads have been bringing their children every week. We’ve provided several series over recent years of a wonderful parenting course called Circle of Security.
“Our Dads in the Early Years’ service receives funding from the WA Department of Local Government and Communities for us to encourage other not-for-profit organisations to establish their own programs and events for dads.”
Gary says that men are showing courage by upsetting society’s normal expectations of a father, being the main income provider and the less essential parent.
“Stay-at-home fathers are often questioned, sometimes ‘half-jokingly’ or innocently with questions such as ‘When are you going back to work?’ or ‘Are you babysitting?’” he said.
“There are also men who are challenging normal expectations of men by showing that nurturing children is just as much a feature of masculinity as it is of femininity.”
For information on your local stay-at-home fathers parenting group, contact the Department of Communities or Family Services in your state.