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Should men stay at home with the kids and be Mr Mom? John Hearne is the main caregiver in his family -- but can't help feeling he should be out hunting wild boar

If you had to live your childhood over again, and you could choose which parent you'd see most of, which would it be? For the vast majority of my generation, it was your mother who was home all the time. Fathers took a secondary, sometimes a distant secondary role. Not so for this generation and that's got to a be a good thing. But if the father becomes the main caregiver, what does that mean for the children?

Talk to any stay-at-home dad and you'll find that he never chose this life. It's a situation that evolved out of economic necessity. One of a number of things will have happened. He got made redundant and she didn't. Or else kids arrived.

If you've more than two children and there's no granny to take the kids during the day, you'll need a banker's salary to cover the cost of the childcare, especially in Dublin.

Invariably, it will make sense for one of the parents to pack in the job and stay at home. If the woman is earning more than the man, or if her job is more secure, it's a no-brainer. He stays, she goes.



NAPPIES

Back when we were talking about having kids, neither myself nor my wife planned that I would do most of the childcare. It just happened that way. She had a decent job. I was working for myself, making a reasonable living, but when it came time for someone to reduce their hours, we did the sums, and they all pointed to the same thing. I would become a browner of mince and a changer of nappies.

The thing is, no matter how much you lecture yourself and others on the nobility of rearing children, it's a low status occupation for a man, and men need status. In the States, people call stay-at-home dads 'Mr Moms'. I don't want to be a Mr. Mom. We evolved to go out and kill boars, bring them home and receive the adulation of the womenfolk. When you subvert the natural order, there are consequences.

I wish it wasn't true, but I do give a toss what other people think. A couple of years ago it filtered back to me that everyone round here assumed all I did was look after the kids. Looking at me half-dressed and unshaven dropping them to school in the morning, it was an easy conclusion to come to.

After all, everyone assumes that 'working from home' means watching Jeremy Kyle and playing poker online. Worthy and all as minding the kids might be, I needed to get it out there that I did kill the odd boar. The old ones, that were about to drop dead anyway.

Then there's the fact that you'll be earning less money than herself. Sure, you're a partnership and you put in as much graft with the kids as she does at the office. But there's only one name on that payslip at the end of the month and it ain't yours. There's a shift in the balance of power. What is it that couples argue about most? Money. You'll need a pretty decent relationship to get over that one.

Even assuming you can make your peace with the smaller pay cheque, there are all the other issues associated with staying at home, ones that women have been dealing with for years -- the lack of adult interaction, the isolation. Men don't tend to maintain their social circle as contentiously as women; they rely on work to keep them socialised. Take away the job and you take away more than just a livelihood.



support

The support networks that have evolved for women have yet to evolve for men. I mean they may call them parent-and-toddler groups, but they're not. They're mother- and-toddler groups. Go along and you'll feel like a spare, ahem, wheel. And, of course, you can't meet another guy for coffee at half ten, because they're all at work. Well, the lucky ones anyway.

But it all comes back to the kids. There are days when I can't help wondering if fathering is a poor substitute for mothering. Is this choice that my wife and I have made -- albeit without much choice -- short-changing the children in some way? No matter how much experience I've picked up at this parenting lark, I sometimes feel I'm just not as intuitive as herself.

Because the risks of getting it wrong are pretty substantial. You wonder if one or all of them are going to end up on a psychiatrist's couch in a couple of decades tearfully recreating their bumbling father and his feeble attempts at parenting.

Because there's no doubt that the children's experience with me is different to their experience with their mother, but is it better? I doubt it.

Is it worse? Hope not.


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