I am incredibly pleased to introduce Chris Borrow, a conscientious stay-at-home dad of 7 years to two delightful young daughters. An increasing number of dads are taking the role of the main carer and today we speak candidly to Chris about his experiences and talk about the ups and downs of being a stay-at-home dad. He also shares some insight into what life is like in a world dominated by mums.
You’ve been a stay-at-home for a number of years, what first encouraged you to want to be the main carer?
Quite simply my wife’s job was more secure and better paid than mine. Although we could both have continued to work, that would have meant us paying other people to look after our daughters at nursery all day. Hardly being there for our children didn’t feel right to us. Logically, if one of us was going to stop working it ought to be me and that's what we did.
"I think that spending so much time with their dad has given them all sorts of unusual gender stereotype-breaking opportunities (that perhaps some mums wouldn’t have chosen to do)"
You’ve worked as a lecturer for a number of years. Do you miss having a 9-5?
No. I don’t miss having a 9-5 job because I don’t feel that's what I left. Instead, I felt like my job took up a huge amount of time, outside the office/lab and at weekends analysing data, preparing lectures, setting exams, marking work, etc. I think that if I had continued that way my work-life balance would have been so far off that I would have hardly seen let alone got to know my children or been able to influence how they are growing up.
But we are getting to the point where it would be nice to work part-time, a few days a week, locally or from home so that I could still do the drop-off and pickups plus teaching them on Friday afternoons.
What do you find most satisfying, about your role?
Our girls are confident, enthusiastic, articulate, well-liked, capable, and academically advanced for their age. I think they still would have been all these things without having had me around as much as I have been but I’d like to take some credit for shaping the way they are. I think that spending so much time with their dad has given them all sorts of unusual gender stereotype-breaking opportunities (that perhaps some mums wouldn’t have chosen to do), and seeing them succeed in these has to be the most satisfying part of playing such a large part in their upbringing.
"I regularly found that people I didn’t know (often old ladies) would approach me and tell me how I was doing it all wrong"
While you enjoy being a stay at home dad, what do you find most frustrating?
Just recently their school has started closing just after lunch on Fridays. This makes me feel under pressure to make up for the two and a half to three and a half hours of time at school they miss out on compared to the children in the surrounding schools. So far the lessons I’ve given them aren’t of the quality I would wish and I find the struggle I have to encourage them to do homeschooling again, very frustrating.
Prior to Covid the most frustrating thing had to be dealing with their ever so busy social lives and numerous birthday parties to get them to almost every weekend. If we wanted to take them out somewhere for the day, a party would completely put an end to it. And I don’t think its easy to just say no, you can’t go this time. On the Monday when they are all back in school hearing all about what an amazing party it was, they would feel miserable at being left out.
What do you think is the biggest misconception of being a stay-at-home dad?
I think initially there is often an expectation that because I am a dad that I must be totally incompetent and probably don’t really want to look after my children. When the girls were very young I regularly found that people I didn’t know (often old ladies) would approach me and tell me how I was doing it all wrong. For example, one person told me that my daughter’s socks were too tight for her and that they were cutting off her circulation. No one ever said anything like that to my wife when she was out with them.
Worse still on numerous occasions, if my children are a short distance from me, people assume they have run off. For example, someone once spotted my children and asked “Where’s your mother?” to which the answer from the girls was “She’s at work”.
On another occasion, someone assumed the girls had run on ahead of their mother, came over and told them off for talking to (me) a strange man.
Do you find that other mums, especially in parent groups, perhaps treat you differently because you’re a dad and do you feel accepted?
I think that how other mums treat me varies from group to group. Sometimes people forget I’m there, complain about their husbands, and then say “Oh, I don’t really mean that. Don't tell him that when you see him”. Occasionally I think mums feel quite threatened that a dad is doing “their” job. There are definitely ‘dad jobs’ at some playgroups. For example, packing away specific toys, folding and carrying tables, putting away the chairs. Then of course there is the ‘special visitor’ role around Christmas time. But generally, yes. I feel very accepted in most parent groups and I think that whether you are a mum, dad, grandparent or other carer you will be welcomed in particularly if you do your fair share of tidying up and try to keep your children under control most of the time.
What would you tell other dads who may want to follow in your footsteps?
My advice for any parent or carer (whatever the gender) wanting to stay at home and look after the children is to go to playgroups. I know that is difficult now but when you are able to again, try as many as possible and see which ones work best for you and your child. Round here, there are often waiting lists for places. The longest I waited for one was about 9 months, while others just work on a first come first served basis. If that one is full up when you get there then it's off to the park instead. Playgroups give your children so many of the skills they need to be successful at school, socialising with other children, sitting quietly listening to stories, doing craft activities, singing songs and developing numeracy skills. Some of the friends they make will quite probably turn up in their class when they start school giving them a ready-made group of friends. And for you having other adults to talk to while enjoying a cup of tea and a biscuit (or a slice of cake) will certainly help to stop you from losing your sanity!