‘The best decision I’ve made in my life’: Stay-at-home dads share challenges, joys

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For Ronnie Tan, becoming a stay-at-home dad in 1999 was a functional decision.

At the time, it was just him, his wife and his stepmother in a wheelchair. Although they had a domestic helper to help with household chores and care for her mother-in-law, the birth of her first child meant that more hands were needed around the house.

“Someone needed to look after the kids,” says Ronnie, now 63, “my wife, a teacher, had the most stable job, so I decided to take on the challenge.”

For the next 12 years, Ronnie was the primary carer for his two daughters (born four years apart) – ferrying them between school and home, helping them with homework and playing with them on the Nintendo Wii. of the family.

Ronnie, with his wife and one of his daughters on a recent family vacation. Image source: Ronnie Tan

Although his time as a stay-at-home dad ended in 2012 (he and his wife are now retired), after his eldest daughter finished primary school, Ronnie still looks back on those days with fondness.

“I got to know their character,” he shares, “I knew them from a young age, spending time with them… (becoming the stay-at-home parent) was the best decision I ever made. taken in my life.”

In Singapore, the number of stay-at-home dads has gradually increased as more and more families are bypassing traditional gender roles – letting dad stay home, while mum goes to work.

This increase in the number of stay-at-home dads is an indicator of changing gender norms, as Singaporean families move away from the quintessential stereotype of breadwinner husband and stay-at-home wife.

Like Ronnie, some families make the choice out of pragmatism — if mom has a higher stable income (or a government obligation to serve!), then dad should step in and take on more family responsibilities.

Others choose to take on the role out of personal preference, after discovering that this arrangement best suits their family dynamic. With research showing that children benefit from having their fathers actively involved in their upbringing, more and more families are willing to explore the different ways fathers can be involved in their children’s lives.

Many hats to wear

“A good stay-at-home dad should be a cook, a teacher of all subjects, a nurse, a housekeeper and a handyman,” says Tan Wee Teck, “a project manager (to manage a child’s daily activities ), an army encik to instill discipline, and a best friend.

It’s a daunting set of requirements, especially for what essentially amounts to full-time employment without pay. (It’s time to appreciate our moms for what they do!)

Wee Teck, 44, has been a stay-at-home dad since 2017, when his family moved to Shanghai after his wife was posted there for work. Prior to the move, he had been director of education sector relations, a corporate role he gave up to care for his then two-year-old son Kai.

It wasn’t a difficult decision – becoming a stay-at-home dad allowed him to spend more time with his son while his wife pursued her career.

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Wee Teck’s priorities turned to his son – following his developmental milestones, his health, his well-being and his education.

His skills have also expanded – he cooks, knits and crochets, and works with his son on his arts and crafts projects at school.

It’s a reminder of the many hats that stay-at-home parents should wear, regardless of gender.

Being the children’s primary caregiver is a tough job – you have to be attentive to their needs and moods, while sometimes giving up on your own. Parenthood is a learning curve, and for many, the transition from working adult to full-time parent is difficult.

This is where the support of family and friends is crucial.

For Wee Teck, that support comes from his wife, who steps up her parenting duties over the weekends to allow him a short break to recharge. These breaks aren’t meant to get him out of the “dad” role, but rather an opportunity to relax and get on “high alert,” he says.

Coping with loneliness

Glenn and his eldest son in 2001
Glenn and his eldest son in 2001. Image source: Glenn Ang

It’s not all smooth of course.

When Glenn Ang, 50, became a stay-at-home dad 21 years ago, the challenge was not the transition from teaching to cooking and cleaning, but rather feeling alone in his new role.

“I missed having co-workers,” the father-of-three shares, “It was hard to keep up with friends and old co-workers.”

Unlike moms, stay-at-home dads tend to be more isolated. Being the only adult at home for most of the day is hard enough without the added difficulty of having no community of people in similar situations to turn to for help.

“It’s important for parents to stay in touch with their friends, colleagues and the outside world,” says Glenn, adding that he was grateful for the help of his mother-in-law. With her help, he managed to juggle parenthood and his own part-time studies.

Glenn and his wife, Geraldine, treat their family as a partnership.
Glenn and his wife, Geraldine, treat their family as a partnership. Image source: Glenn Ang

As his children got older – he has two sons aged 21 and 19 and a daughter aged 14 – he started reconnecting with old friends in his spare time.

The support of his wife, Géraldine, who works as a dentist, was also important. The couple see their family as a partnership, balancing tasks and solving problems together. They also remind their children that they too learn and grow through their experiences as parents.

Fighting social stigma and misconceptions

Unlike mothers, who are traditionally viewed as caregivers, stay-at-home dads often have to deal with a plethora of critical comments.

Common misconceptions include the perception that they must be lazy or unable to find a job. Some think SAHDs have an “easy life” or comment that they “waste the skills” they have developed in their careers.

However, these misconceptions are just that – misconceptions.

“If I wanted to be lazy or didn’t want to work, being a stay-at-home dad would have been the worst choice,” says Wee Teck, “all the cooking, cleaning, cajoling and scolding, homework, pencil drawing and worrying nocturnal (because your child has a fever of 38.4 degrees Celsius which is too low to see a doctor, but too high to ignore).

Fighting social stigma and misconceptions
Samyaji Chaudhuri, with his daughter and his wife. Image source: Samyajit Chaudhuri

Part of the problem stems from not knowing the realities of parenting.

Another contributing factor is the prevalence of societal gender norms – people who cling to the belief that stay-at-home dads are somehow “less of a man” to take on what has traditionally been a woman’s role. .

Samyajit Chaudhuri, 56, became a stay-at-home husband (as he calls him) in 2015, after retiring from his job as CEO of a battery company. At that time, he and his wife worked long hours, which hurt their family.

When they were younger, his wife, Kanika, a gynecologist, took a step back in her career when hers was just beginning, and so this time was her chance to reciprocate.

“Socially, it’s not an actively supported idea. I can feel a difference (in how people see me), but I don’t mind. I have better things to do. “

For Samyajit, the problem comes down to the male ego.

“Basically, we live in a male-dominated society. The lady is expected to work and come home and cook and do everything to support the family,” he shares, “The change might affect the male ego, but that’s something. something you need to fix before taking the plunge (reversing the roles).”

Samyajit and her daughter, Sumona.
Samyajit and her daughter, Sumona. Image source: Samyajit Chaudhuri

It’s a sentiment that Glenn echoes.

“Our society still has strong views about gender roles that are hard to change,” he says. “It’s sad to see. We haven’t progressed as far as some countries (on) more equality in roles in society.

Glenn wants to see positive change in gender equality for the next generation.

“I would like to see my children grow up to see a world where women and men share their roles and are represented at all levels of society – from the home to corporate boardrooms and government cabinets.”

It’s all worth it in the end

It's all worth it in the end
The Chaudhuri family. Image source: Samyajit Chaudhuri

Despite the challenges they face, every stay-at-home dad The Pride has spoken to says that given the chance, they would do it again.

Wee Teck missed his son’s first steps because he was at work – but he was there for his son’s first word (it was “Mom”), the first time he ate ice cream, the first time he received an award and the first time he rode a roller coaster.

“It would be so sad if I missed her childhood more,” he shares.

For Glenn, some of his favorite memories include putting his kids to bed and picking them up after school. Ronnie cherishes the time spent with his daughters, getting to know their personalities and quirks.

It’s about capturing the little moments, the things you might not realize you had missed if you hadn’t been there.

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Being a parent is challenging – being entrusted with shaping young minds and characters, while learning your own life lessons. It’s easy to focus on the daily necessities of parenting and forget to enjoy time with your children.

In Glenn’s words, “Every parent and every child is different and we need to work to find ourselves and become more aware of the needs of those closest to us in our lives.”

To all fathers (at home or not) – Happy Father’s Day! Thank you for all you have sacrificed for your family and take the time to celebrate being a father!

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