I currently stay at home with my 2Â½ year-old daughter. My wife and I both worked part-time for a few months immediately after Elisabeth's birth and would have been happy to continue doing so, but then my wife got a full-time job in another part of the country. When we moved here in early 1996 we originally planned that I would at some point go back to work, but would first spend a short while finding a new house to buy, and settling Elisabeth in to a new regime. What with a paucity of suitable I.T. jobs in the area, that 'couple of months' has stretched to over a year.
I've settled in quite well to our small town (well, big village, really) community. I go to several 'Mother [sic] and Toddler' activities every week. I've just become treasurer of our 'Baby and Toddler Group', and am on the committee of the local National Childbirth Trust branch.
I've been well accepted by the local mothers. They sometimes see me as a handy bit of muscle, if some large piece of play equipment needs moving, but otherwise treat me as just another child-caring parent. I think I've been accepted by the partners of the local mothers. I was very worried at first that I might be seen as a threat, but that hasn't materialised. One difficulty I do have is mixing with one mother at a time. There is safety in numbers at communal coffee mornings, but I felt that spending a morning with just one mother, with the attendant children, was slightly less socially acceptable. After a year, though, I&
apos;m just beginning to feel comfortable visiting and being visited.
The rest of the local population seem to have taken me to their hearts. I am well-recognised in all of the local shops as that great rarity, a toddler-bearing man on his own. You sometimes see other men around with toddlers, but usually only when they are accompanied by their partners. I've just started seeing two or three men out and about with much younger children – maybe I am the vanguard of a growing movement in our part of the East Midlands!
Male friends and acquaintances seem to profess jealousy and disbelief in equal measure. Some feel that they could quite happily cope with a life of leisure, spending every lunchtime in the pub with occasional nappies to change – if only they knew! Others can't believe that I am not fulfilling my male role as breadwinner. Female friends and acquaintances display the same emotions – jealous that their partner doesn't
offer to do the same job as I do, or disbelieving that any man would offer so to do.
Getting out into the world is slowly becoming easier. Even in the past 2Â½ years I have noticed more baby changing facilities where men can get at them. Our local swimming pools, for instance, all have a dished baby-change table in the mens changing rooms. I still have a problem with places that offer only a combined baby change and feed room. If the room is large, I risk upsetting feeding mothers who might prefer not to have a man around. If the room is too small (i.e. there's only room to feed or to change one baby), then a feeding mother can tie the room up for a long time, when all I need is a couple of minutes to whip a nappy off and on. Many places still have a long way to go. In a lot of restaurants, for instance, you have to change nappies on the toilet floor – not too bad in the Ladies where it is often carpeted, but not so good in the tiled Gents. If I was pushed, I
would opt to use the Ladies – I'm afraid that my daughter's physical discomfort of a soiled nappy would outweigh the social discomfort of any Ladies present.
I've just started taking Elisabeth to nursery for a couple of afternoons a week. This has three main purposes:
- It starts getting Elisabeth ready for the time when she has to go to school.
- She gets some time to herself, without me around to look after her – we want to avoid her being too dependent on me.
- I get some time to myself!
The last point is very important. Those 2 hours in the afternoon, along with the weekly 5-a-side football, give me a little time to be myself, without having to subsume myself entirely (if happily) to a little girl's needs.
The trials and tribulations have all been worth it. Elisabeth and I have a bond
that most men can only dream of. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to spend my time doing probably one of the most important jobs around. I only hope that I am up to the challenge of raising her as a worthy member of society.