Mark Gaykema and his wife recently decided to swap roles, and Mark has become a stay-at-home-dad. It certainly hasn’t been without its hurdles! For anyone else considering a similar move, Mark’s documented the eight things that have made it possible.
As a bit of background, just over two months ago, I was working full-time as well as trying to get my solo career up and running. My wife was looking after our children (a 9-month-old and a 4-year-old) and the house while she was on maternity leave.
Fast forward to now, and I am well and truly into my ‘stay-at-home-dad’ role, looking after the household and children while building my solo career.
The reason for the shift was to do with equality.
I once heard the best argument for overcoming the lack of equality in the workplace is to support men and give them more entitlements. (Please don’t stop reading here or I will sound like a male chauvinist. I promise I explain myself if you read on.)
I know that more entitlements for men sounds contrary but what I am talking about are entitlements around care. Currently, if a family is expecting, an employer generally assumes the primary carer for that baby will be the mother. If, by encouraging men to take on the primary care role, we can get to a stage where it is equally likely that the mother or the father will be taking on the primary carer duties or dividing that time up between them, there will be no reason for employers to discriminate, even subconsciously, on family grounds.
Anyway, it took a bit of convincing but thankfully my employer was willing to provide the same entitlements to me as they do to women which allowed us to make this change.
So, how has it been becoming a stay-at-home-dad?
Quite the learning curve. The most obvious change has been adjusting to looking after a baby full-time.
Unlike my wife, who’s read approximately 38 books about parenting and babies, I’ve chosen to wing it. Apparently raising a baby and winging it usually doesn’t go so well. For an expansion on that understatement, and for your undoubted amusement, feel free to read my parenting blog.
What about the solo life, though? I’m glad to report the advice I’ve read on Flying Solo put me in reasonable stead. I’ve combined that advice with some of my own to assist those of you trying to make the solo gig work around young children. Here are the top eight things I do to ‘manage it all’:
1. Use sleep time to be productive
Baby sleep time that is. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a way to be productive while I’m sleeping. As others have suggested, doing housework while the baby is awake is much better than doing computer work. You are far more entertaining for your young one while hanging washing then you are sitting still moving your fingers on a keyboard.
2. Be mobile and use the cloud
I use mobile devices such as my phone and tablet to allow me to work practically anywhere including in a carpark with a sleeping baby in the back. To really make it work you need to use the cloud. I recommend at a minimum a document storage system (such as OneDrive or Dropbox) and a task management piece of software (i.e. OneNote or Evernote).
3. Be organised with your time
This one is not about work it is about life. I put everything important on a calendar including things like school concerts, sporting events etc. so that I can plan my work around that. Being able to do family things is the key reason I wanted to do this and I definitely do not want to miss a thing.
4. Prioritise your work
For two reasons. Firstly, you do not want to be faffing about for 30 minutes thinking about what you need to do after you have put the baby down for a sleep when you have such little time to begin with. Secondly, you never know when your next block of time will pop up so do the most urgent thing now.
5. Prioritise your life
You might want to re-evaluate what is important to you. One other FS article spoke about lowering your standards around the house cleaning and meals etc. which I think is great advice but it needs to be lowered on the things you decide can be sacrificed as opposed to getting in the habit of not caring about everything you do.
6. Time – Quality over quantity
Compartmentalise your work and your family time and really engage with your family when you are spending time with them. It isn’t about the number of hours you spend in the same house, it is about the time you really engage with them.
7. Be honest with people
Ok, so I’m sure some will disagree with this one and depending on your industry it might have an influence, but I have taken the route of being honest with people about my situation. I don’t mean using your kids as an excuse. I just mean if I’m having a phone conversation with someone I’ll let them know we may be interrupted because I’m working from home with the kids. I’m continually surprised at how understanding most people are.
8. Have an outlet
Plenty of people talk about ‘me time’ which is the same sort of thing but for me just getting away by myself doesn’t necessarily work quite as well as doing something I enjoy. As an example: I could do the grocery shopping by myself which would be less stressful than doing it with the kids. But, I would probably choose to do the shop with the kids if it meant I had some time later to do something I enjoy such as catching up with friends, going for a walk up a mountain, doing something arty etc.
So, there you have it. What I have learnt in the last two months about flying solo as a primary carer. I’d love to hear from other stay-at-home-dads who have been doing it longer and possibly far more successfully.