Kelly Swingler

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 my junior). 

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 after.

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 to Peterborough.

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 ingenuity.

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 ready.

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 it.

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.

Kelly

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 their competitors.

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 worth it.

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