Whilst the rest of the world has transformed over the last 38 years, accepting Dad’s as full-time parents hasn’t, and neither has the way the Government perceive Shared Parental Leave. So, let’s stop giving allowances to the rich, and start giving equality to parents.
38 Years Later And No (real) Change…
I was born In September 1980 and my parents had made a
decision that my Dad would be the ‘stay-at-home’ parent whilst my Mum worked
and continued to develop her career.
This worked for them, and based on what I know now, took some courage to
do, but a lot of society was, and it appears still is, uncomfortable when it
comes to Dad’s being the ones to stay at home.
For me, it was normal, and it continued until my younger
sister started primary school. I have a
half-brother from my Dad’s first marriage, but in the family home, there was
myself, my younger brother (18 months my junior) and my younger sister (3 years
As a slight aside at this point, my brother and I were not
what you would call planned my sister
however was. And you might think that
any parents would be out of their mind to actually choose to have three
children under three, however there was a reason. At the time, and seemingly totally acceptable
in the early 80’s, my Mum was told that if she wanted her promotion and was
planning on having any more children, she should complete her family quickly so
as not to hinder her career progression – and so my sister came along soon
And so, my Dad was at home with three young children and my
Mum went out to work. As a child, this
was our normal. I don’t remember
thinking anything of it until I was seven and we moved back to my Mum’s
hometown of Peterborough. Before we
moved, I remember my Dad volunteering at the nursery, and then walking me to
school. I remember our conversations
with the lollipop lady at the school crossing and that I went to Paul’s house
after school (a childminder where I had egg sandwiches almost every day and my
Mum would pick me up on her way home from work).
A Stereotypical Gender Role Reversal
My Dad worked part-time in a local pub to help with some of
the money as well as helping out at the nursery. It was very much a stereotypical gender role
reversal compared to most families. The
only thing I ever remember as being ‘different’ was walking across the road
every morning to the house on the corner to have my bum length chocolate brown
hair plaited, or ponytailed by a neighbour – my Dad had never gotten used to
the hair, which probably explains why my sisters was never even when we moved
When I started primary school, I was in top reading sets,
and would often get cornered by parents at birthday parties who would quiz me
about my reading level. By year two in
Mrs Samuel’s class I was on books from higher years.
My Dad’s focus was on the three of us instead of washing
breakfast or lunch dishes, something I remember always being an argument when
my Mum walked in from work whilst I watched Lassie and Gentle Ben.
But by the time we started school we could all read, write, do basic times tables and basic adding. We knew our complete alphabet and could tie our shoes. Dad made a shoe from cardboard and tied laces through it to help make it easier than actual shoes.
Given that three children and one salary was quite
expensive, my Dad would make my Mum ‘presents’ from wooden lolly stick and he
would burn messages to my Mum in them using my Grandads wood burning kit. He would also write poems to cereal and
chocolate companies and we would receive gifts and treats by way of pens,
cereal bowls, cereal boxes and boxes full of chocolate as a reward for my Dad’s
This was life, this was our life and perhaps given my age,
the comments and looks that I noticed as I grew older, were there, but I was
just too young to realise. But I don’t
recall anything being abnormal until I was seven and we moved.
And Then We Noticed We Were Different…
We moved to Peterborough in the summer holidays on 1987. I was seven just a week into my new school and our new life, my younger brother was also at school.
This was when I noticed people asking why my Dad walked me
to school every day. He continued to
work at the local nursery as he had before we moved and so many of the parents
got to know him early on. He also when
my sister also started school would work as a lunchtime supervisor, a
‘dinner-lady’ and the kids would call him ‘Miss’, until my Dad convinced them
all to call him Barrie.
And all of a sudden, all of the kids knew Barrie. All of the kids would wave at him and run over to say hello if they saw my Dad whilst we were out and about – but sometimes I would get asked what was wrong with my Dad and why didn’t he work. I didn’t know how to respond to this – I didn’t know what they were getting at.
My Dad cooked dinner every-day and it was ready on the table
every night when my Mum came in. I
remember arguments when my Mum came in late as we weren’t allowed to eat until
she came home, but we would have to sit at the table from the time it was
Housewife Of The Year
My Dad was the disciplinarian, the homestay, and my Mum the
breadwinner. My Dad won ‘housewife of
the year’ in the late 80’s and the full page spread in our local newspaper of
my Dad with the vacuum in the living room, got even more people talking.
They say that yesterday’s news becomes tomorrow’s chip
paper, but everyone seemed to remember this in our local community. Barrie the housewife was a well-known
celebrity in the local community, and even now the Swingler children are
remembered by many teachers.
As the three of us got older, my Dad did a bit more locally. He was Chair of the lone parent advisory service given his organisation skills, he took on more duties at church, and at nursery, and at lunchtimes. This was our life. He studied when my parents could afford it and when my sister was older, and it made financial sense, my Dad went into a full-time job. However, he hated it but it was what was needed.
In 1999, my parents moved house and when I was visiting one
day I was in the kitchen talking to my Dad and a young child fell off their
bike in front of their house. I thought
my dad would fly out of the front door – but his reaction was one of stillness
with a sadness in his eyes. Nobody in
this new area knew Barrie, and the last thing he would want is to be accused of
something untoward by a child he didn’t know.
Not A ‘Real Man’
But this was my Dad.
This was Barrie the housewife, the dinner-lady and the nursery teacher,
but not in this new area. He knew what
people had thought about a man who spent so much time with young children
whilst his wife went to work, and whilst I knew we shouldn’t talk to strangers,
my Dad had never been the stranger.
And at that time, we had a frank conversation about some of the comments that had been made about him for being the one to stay at home. He had been referred to many times as not being a ‘real man’, simply because real men didn’t stay at home. He had been asked about why he and wife decided this on this strange arrangement and what his motives were for spending so much with kids.
But he had done what he could to fit around looking after
the three of us whilst keeping himself busy and earning a bit of pocket money –
the same as any mum may do in the same position. And I felt more grateful for the way we had
been brought up.
2005 And Not Much Has Changed
In 2005 I met a HRD I had been speaking to for quite some time and over coffee she told me she had an ‘odd thing going at home’ – of course I got curious. By ‘odd’ she meant, that as the main breadwinner she worked, and her husband stayed at home with the kids – we talked a lot about my own experience and how I didn’t find it odd at all. She shared the tough conversations, the looks and comments that she had her husband got, and the advances that her husband got frequently when he naively thought he was just going on a playdate with the kids.
2019, It’s Slightly Better But Still Dad’s Still Face Stigma For Being A Stay At Home Dad
It’s now 2019, and from what I heard at #TheBigConversation, the judgement of at home Dad’s or those families that split these duties, are still seen as odd – why is parenting odd? It’s been happening for a very, very long time.
There is nothing odd in Dad’s looking after their children,
but whilst I still hear people talking about Dad’s babysitting their kids on nights when the Mums are out – its
culture and stereotypes that have to change.
The Role Of Shared Parental Leave In Challenging Gender Stereotypes
Two of my coaching clients have embraced shared parental
leave and it’s ended with the Mum’s going back to work and the Dad’s staying at
home. It works for them, but the
comments and the looks continue.
My older brother and his partner are embracing shared parental leave, my sister-in law is taking six months off work and my brother the next three months. It is normal, yet lots of people assume it’s laziness on his part. Anyone who has been at home with a six-month-old knows there is nothing lazy about it, and we certainly wouldn’t say that to any Mum.
I don’t have an answer, but I can say, that my stereotype of
genders growing up was that we are equal – my view of the world is different to
a lot of people I know. And if that’s
all that comes out of Dads being at home, then even that would make it worth
But the reality, is that whatever is right for you and your family, is the reality you create for your kids. Thus, whatever is right for your kids shouldn’t be questioned or judged by anyone else.
As a working Mum I’ve had my fair share of judgement myself
– and to be frank it is none of any else’s business what I choose to do, and
it’s also none of my business what anyone else thinks of me.
Because whilst the rest of the world has transformed over
the last 38 years, accepting Dad’s as full-time parents hasn’t, and neither has
the way the Government perceive Shared Parental Leave. So, let’s stop giving allowances to the rich,
and start giving equality to parents.
Now Is The Time For Change
So, my plea, let’s encourage parents to be with their kids and play an active role. Society needs to stop eye rolling the Dads who are at home and the Mum’s who are at work. Let’s stop looking at the Dad’s like unemployed bums and accept their role as parents. Parents, parent your own way, in whatever way you choose. Let’s turn our attention to our own families and what’s right for us.
Author, speaker, coach, rebel and
heart-centred people leader, Kelly is changing the world of work and helping HR
professionals do things differently and add more value.
Founder and Rulebreaker at The
Chrysalis Crew, she rips up the rule book and helps people create
what’s best for them, their teams and their organisations – not what’s best for
She’s Mum to twin sons and step-Mum to two
sons – a busy home, a busy business and a busy life, but one that’s totally