Wednesday 26 July 2017

Why these Irish men quit their jobs and took on the role of stay-at-home dad

Three men who took on the role of stay-at-home dad and loved it...

Christian, Vincent and Ian are stay-at-home dads
Christian, Vincent and Ian are stay-at-home dads

Kathy Donnahy

At the playground, on the school run, at the cake sale — it’s still very much a women’s world. Take a look around and in the vast majority of cases, women are still predominantly ferrying the kids to school, responsible for making the meals and taking the kids to their soccer practice.

But many men in this country are quietly bucking the trend and taking on the role of main caregiver of the household, or being more hands on with the kids at home than their partner due to economic reasons or family circumstances.

In the teeth of the recession, anecdotal evidence was that more dads were picking up the kids from school and bringing them to their after-school activities because they were out of work. But with unemployment having fallen steadily to less than 8pc, this is no longer the case.

Whether they are single parents or their partners are at work, the latest figures from the Central Statistics Office revealed that at least 11,000 men in Ireland consider themselves to be stay-at-home dads (SAHDs). This is almost double the 2001 figures when just 5,700 men stayed at home.

Vincent pictured with his wife Meabh and children Lucy (12), Jack (9) and Emily (5)
Vincent pictured with his wife Meabh and children Lucy (12), Jack (9) and Emily (5)

So, what’s it like being a modern-day dad on the school run?

Vincent Hughes, who lives in Balbriggan, Co Dublin, does the school run and pick-ups three days a week and goes to work on the other two days.

His children Lucy (12), Jack (9), and Emily (5), are in three different schools, and for three out of five mornings of the week, he ferries them to school — a 10-minute drive from their home. In fine weather, he will walk the children to their schools.

Vincent says he was let go from his full-time job as an electrician in June 2015 and was hired back two days a week. While he says it’s not ideal, the upside of their particular family circumstances is that he gets to spend a lot more time with the children and his wife Maebh than he would have done in the past.

The most up-to-date picture on how many dads are at home will become clearer when the Central Statistics Office publishes the breakdown of Census 2016 figures in relation to households and families in July of this year.

However, the upward trend for more dads at home can be seen across the globe. In the US, for example, the number of fathers at home with their children doubled in the period from 1989 to 2010 when it reached a peak of 2.1 million.

Vincent’s feelings on the subject echo those of men around the world, particularly younger men, who say being a good father is one of the most important things in their lives.

Boston College’s Centre for Work and Family found in a recent survey that 77pc of the fathers wished they had more time to spend with their kids and more than half said that, if given the choice and if finances permitted, they’d prefer to quit their jobs and stay home to take care of the kids.

While Vincent says he’d prefer to be working full-time, he insists that it’s great to be able to spend more time with the kids.

“Most men — if they’re working — they don’t get to do what I’ve been doing for the last year. It’s been great for me to be able to experience this. When I was working full-time, I was getting home at 6 o’clock in the evening and having dinner and I’d have maybe an hour with the kids. Now, I’m there getting them ready for school and picking them up,” he says.

Vincent says he also has a few hours in between the school drop-off and pick-up, when he and his wife Maebh are free to go off and do something for a few hours. Often, he says, this means they’ll go to the gym together or go out for a walk.

Vincent believes the Government should do more to give men more of a chance to be involved in the parenting of their children by incentivising them to take time off during their children’s lives, not just when they are babies.

“To be honest, I can’t believe my luck. There’s not many dads there, picking up their kids. There were a few more during the downturn. At some stage, I will get a full-time job again and I know I will miss all this — that’s life. Right now, I’m getting to spend extra time with the kids,” he says.

“There are probably dads out there who wouldn’t like to be seen dropping off the kids — they might feel people were looking at them and wondering if they out of work. Personally, I’d be the opposite. It puts into perspective for me what my wife has been doing for the last 10 years,” says Vincent.

“That time I spend with the kids is invaluable to me and invaluable to the kids. They know now it’s not always mammy who

does things. Sometimes in households when the father is out working full-time, the

kids have no relationship with the dad,” he says.

 

'The positives of being at home outweigh the negatives'

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Christian recently returned to work after his stint as a full-time dad to his son Beckett

Christian Hughes who lives in Clogherhead, Co Louth, was a full-time stay-at-home dad to his son Beckett, while also juggling part-time hours in work. Jules, his wife, returned to full-time work in Dublin after their son was born, and Christian says he was in the lucky position of being at home with Beckett, who is now two years old.

Beckett started in crèche last summer and Jules is out the door at 6.45am, so even though Christian recently returned to full-time work with a marketing company, he is still the one doing the crèche drop-off.

It’s a big change from the early days of Beckett’s life when Christian was at home all the time, and he feels that now that he’s back at work again he treasures that time even more.

“I loved that time and I wouldn’t change it for the world. A lot of my friends have never had that opportunity, but I say to them if you ever have the opportunity to take time off, do it. I’ve said it to all of them if you can spend a couple of months working from home, just do it,” he says.

“There’s no question about it there were days when your child is sick or they’ll have a fall and it can be hard. But at the end of the day, the positive so immensely outweigh the negatives,” says Christian.

'As a stay-at-home dad the second you open your eyes, you're at work'

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Dad Ian MacLochlainn

Galway-based Ian MacLochlainn has been a stay-at-home dad for the last eight years. He has two daughters aged eight and five with his wife Rachel Hilliard, a university lecturer. When their first child was born, his wife’s career was taking off and they made the decision that Ian would be at home with the children. He says it was a steep learning curve going from working as a university administrator to being at home with a baby.

“I thought I was working hard before I look back and I now see it was a rose garden. People who have never done this before just don’t know what it’s like. The second you open your eyes, you’re at work.”

Ian says he’s up early as his daughters rise with the larks he gets them ready for school, checks homework and then drops them off. He looks after everything in the home from shopping to cooking and cleaning, and describes his days as “frantically busy”.

 “This is a really heavy job I’m doing and I don’t think that’s widely recognised I don’t just mean as a dad. I think the stay-at-home parent is a much disregarded creature. I’m looking after two human beings, making sure they are with one of their parents all the time. I’m trying to make nice people here,” says Ian.

“I quickly realised that I wasn’t going to meet many other men. If you go to a toddler group, it’s women you are meeting. It’s not that I felt criticised but it can be a bit isolating. It took a lot of effort to get used to the fact that I was going to be the only guy in the room.”

“You get used to being the pillar in the children’s lives, even though it can be trying at times. Some time in the future, I could see myself going back out into the world and doing something different, but I’m in no hurry,” says Ian.

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