Caring for toddler

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Leaving the Day Job

Matt Calman
Supplied
BIGGEST ROLE: Matt Calman's decision to be a stay-at-home dad means he has had to swap roles quite dramatically.

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I'm on the northern side of 35 with 37 in my sights and 40 not too far down the highway.

I'm not complaining. I like being 36. My childhood is behind me and it's my 3-year-old daughter Kahutaiki's turn now. You really know a chasm is opening between you and the next generation when you sadly cling to the belief (as I misguidedly do) that the Smashing Pumpkins - circa 1994 - passes for modern music.

Nowadays I think about how the experience of my generation differs from that of my daughter's. All of the kids I knew when I grew up in middle-of-the-pack Christchurch suburbia had mum at home and dad at work. My mum gave up work for seven years to look after my older sister and me. Now that I'm a stay-at-home-dad I'm starting to appreciate what that meant for her.

My dad wanted to be at my birth, but mine was a particularly hurried entry to the world - my speedy arrival into the nervous hands of a junior nurse even took my mother by surprise. Dad was chatting to the cleaning lady in the corridor when I arrived and missed it completely!

In the 1970s, he says, men were expected to earn a living and "the mothers did everything for the kids, really". My dad always made a great effort to spend time with us when he could. I appreciate, more so now I'm a parent, how great a job he and my mum did.

That was just the way it was then.

Parenting roles between mums and dads are more blurred now. Flexible working hours are becoming more common, giving parents more options. You're not expected to give up work when you have kids now and many parents need to keep working to make ends meet - giving grandparents and child-care professionals a greater role.

There are also more and more dads at home now. When I gave up work in late 2010, I was the only dad at all the baby groups I went to. But that is changing fast. They're everywhere now!!!

But I think there's still a hangover from the past in terms of the role society expects men to play. That societal hardwiring, engrained in my childhood, is powerful.

I can try and rationalise it all I like, but I can't help feeling pressure to earn money and do something on top of the at-home-dad thing to be a worthy citizen - a real man if you like. 

I asked a few of my fellow dads at the South Wellington Dads' Coffee Group whether they felt less manly sometimes being a stay-at-home-dad and the answer was "No". But when I asked them whether they felt society in general perceives them as being less manly they said they felt that was true, but they feel it mainly from older men.

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It is quite a big thing to give up or postpone a career. When I was a 9 -5 reporter I could measure my worth in tangibleways; a front-page article, praise from the editor, feedback from readers and money in our bank account every fortnight.

When I gave up work a major part of how I measured my self-worth was no longer there and I guess I still struggle with that sometimes. Maybe that's why I'm writing this blog!

Now I measure my contribution to the world in terms of watching Miss K play with other children; her loving and happy nature, sense of humour and empathy. I feel proud when people compliment her. I love seeing her learning new things and getting taller.

Surely that should be enough! Right?

I'm a long-term prospect at home, repeating what my mum did for me in my own childhood.

One day I'm going to have to make that great leap back to the workforce, as she did.

What was your experience of leaving your jobs to care for your kids, or going back to work?

- Essential Mums

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