How many times have you heard a man willingly describe himself as a househusband? It is more likely that he will tell you that he is looking for work or that he simply has not got a job. Despite the increasingly common sight of a man pushing a pushchair or waiting in the school to pick up his children, it seems that society has not caught up with this phenomenon. Part of the problem lies with the men themselves who don’t think of this role as having any worth, simply because it is not paid. If househusbands, and the rest of society, take a close look at the work that they do, they will see that it is in fact one of the important roles that they can undertake. After all, women have been doing it for centuries…
The most difficult thing for househusbands to get used to is the social isolation that goes with their new role. The networking and adult contact that you used to have in your paid employment is no longer there. If you do have a conversation with another adult you find that you are only giving half your attention to that conversation as you watch your children. Your range of conversational topics shrinks as your waking hours are taken up with the minutiae of your children's lives. Even the trip to the pub after a hard day's work is often out of the question as you find yourself going to bed at least an hour earlier than normal.
The School Run
When a man becomes a househusband, the day starts early and, in most cases, far more frantically than it did when he was in paid employment. Before the children get up there is possibly the task of ensuring that the wage earner gets to work with the least possible stress. If she takes a packed lunch then it is time to get on to the production line. Once you add in three children requiring a similar packed lunch then it means four meals to get ready as quickly as possible. It is at this time that the househusband learns the first and most important lesson of his new role. Hot cups of tea belong to your previous life. If you are lucky you may be able to reach it when it is merely lukewarm. Once you have made sure that your partner has left for work it is time to get one or more unenthusiastic children into their uniforms and make sure that they are ready in plenty of time. If possible you should do this without resorting to screams, threats or obscenities but this is unlikely.
Once you get to school you will learn another lesson. The playground is full of mothers, or grandmothers, for the most part. If you are lucky one of the other men may nod at you or say a few words, but unlike women men are not good at sharing information. This has the effect of keeping men out of the loop, meaning that you will invariably learn about school events later than your female counterparts. It can also mean that your child will not necessarily be invited to their friend’s house, even if they are good friends in the classroom. It is more difficult for a mother to ask a father if their child wants to come over after school, but with patience, and an effort to be friendly, this can be overcome.
Looking after your pre-school child
When you get home (possibly with your youngest charge, who has not yet started nursery school) it is time for you, the new househusband to catch your breath. However, despite common misconceptions, looking after a young child is not a case of using the television as a babysitter, though it can be a very useful learning tool if used sensibly. Many of today’s children’s programmes are educationally beneficial, but that benefit can only arise if it is an interactive process. Encourage your child to tell you about the programme they are watching, or ask occasional questions to see if they are following the flow. Don’t make it like a classroom lesson as it needs to be a relaxed enjoyable experience. The programmes can actually become enjoyable and interesting for the househusband as they see their youngest child progressing in leaps and bounds. The only drawback is that it can be a little embarrassing walking along the road singing a song from your favourite children‘s programme.
When approaching housework you should take the Forth Bridge approach1, namely accepting that as soon as you have finished one room another will require attention, and as soon as that is finished the first room will be a mess once more. The attention you give to this process depends upon your level of tolerance for mess. A lot of househusbands feel under some pressure to prove that men can do as good a job as women.
If you go to one of the toddlers clubs that are held at libraries, church halls or even cinemas you should be prepared to be the only man there. This will lead to some uncomfortable silences in the early days as the mothers get to know you, but if you persevere you will find it a nice break for both you and your child.
Shopping can actually be fun for both of you if you treat it as a trip out. Small treats can help the process along, but, if the money is a bit tight, even the chance to choose one of the items for the shopping basket will bring a huge smile to your child’s face. On the way to and from the shops you can play games or point out things of interest to keep the learning experience going.
When you and your youngest child leave the house, to pick up the other children from school, take time to reflect on this. You are playing a vital role in teaching your child about the world around them. It is a tremendous opportunity that very few men get, and one you should grasp with both hands. In the years to come you will have a tremendously close relationship with your child because of this role you have played in their upbringing.
After School, the Fun Starts
If you ever wondered why your mother never got ill while she was looking after you, a stint as a househusband will answer that question. She actually did get ill, but she had no-one else to take over from her so she just got on with it. A sick child must be waited on hand and foot. A sick adult is merely allowed to collapse in a heap at the end of the day.
When the children get home it is a tremendous battle to get everything put in the correct place as you vainly attempt to keep your house tidy. To save arguments just accept that you can tidy up the house when they go to bed. You will want to ask your children how school went, whether they have any homework and what notes need to be read. It is far easier to let them relax in front of a cartoon and then sort out their school bags. All the answers you seek will be found within them without the arguments and the excuses. This is not to say that they shouldn't help out around the house. Indeed, it is a good idea to encourage the drawing up of a chores list, but don't forget that they will need time to get used to the idea. Once you have got drinks and snacks sit down and talk to your children about things they are interested in. In a relaxed atmosphere the children tend to confide in you, and your relationship with them will deepen and strengthen.
Dinner time is an important, but difficult, time for the new househusband, even if you find cooking relaxing. When you are preparing your healthy meal you will have constant interruptions from the children who want something or other. If your partner has arrived home this could provide some respite, but remember she will be tired and may not want constant attention herself. It is a good idea for you and your partner to play this one by ear. Often the help will be forthcoming, but it is not a good idea to assume that your partner will be helping every night. Think back to your own time in the paid workforce when your tiredness levels fluctuated wildly. The easiest way to solve this problem is simply to prepare as much of the meal as possible before you pick up the children from school. The shorter the time you spend away from the children, the better for all sorts of reasons.
Bedtime is a battleground in the best regulated of houses. When you have had an argument with your children, and you find one or more of them shouting for their absent mother, it can be a very difficult situation for a father. It is worth remembering that if you ask your partner then you will almost certainly find that the situation is reversed when you’re not there. One of the best ways to settle your children is the simplest, to read to them. As long as it becomes part of a recognisable bedtime routine it will give them the cue to start relaxing. It is a great time to be close to each other in a mutually positive experience.
When you finally tuck them into bed you can be confident that you have had the kind of job that most fathers would secretly love to have. Yes, it is a stressful and worrying job at times. It can be a boring job at times. Mostly, however, it is the most worthwhile and rewarding job you will ever do. It can be a job paid in smiles, laughter and an ever stronger bond with your children.