Some people think staying at home to look after a new baby is a breeze. Beats going out to work for a living, right? Or maybe you think that couldn’t be more wrong? It’s a contentious issue that’s often the cause of conflict for new parents.
Craig Jones heads up the Clinical and Provider Relations team here at CBHS. A practising midwife specialising in postnatal care, and the father of two young children, Craig knows a thing or two about getting it right. And getting it wrong.
Getting it wrong
When Craig’s first daughter was born in 2012, he took unpaid leave for three days then went straight back to work.
‘My career came first,’ he admits. ‘I thought I was ‘present’ as a dad, but I spent nearly all my time working, or thinking about work, even on weekends. I’d come home and wonder what Ness, my wife, had been doing all day.’
Thankfully, Craig kept his thoughts to himself (most of the time). A change of job to a less stressful environment and a second baby did little to shift his perspective on parenting. Then, when the couple’s daughter, Liv, was five and their youngest, Kenzie, was nine months old, Craig’s wife Ness decided to go back to work full-time.
‘I hadn’t taken any parental leave at that stage, so I made arrangements to take it on a part-time basis,’ says Craig
For two days a week Craig would be a stay-at-home dad. How hard could it be?
Learning to get it right
Craig admits he was naively unprepared for what lay ahead.
‘Getting Liv to kindy, arranging doctor’s appointments, cleaning up vomit, taking pets to the vet, doing the shopping, the cooking, the cleaning, feeding the kids, remembering to fill the car with petrol, paying the bills, arranging repairs, doing the housework.’ His voice rises slightly as he remembers the multiple challenges of his six-month stint as a stay at home dad. ‘And I wasn’t even doing everything,’ he adds, confessing that he wasn’t trusted to do the washing.
He can look back now and laugh.
‘Before, I’d come home from work and notice Ness hadn’t wiped down the benchtops. When it was my turn to stay at home, it was a win if you could still see the benchtop at the end of the day. The breakfast dishes would barely make it as far as the sink.’
One of his biggest challenges? ‘You have no time alone. None. You can’t even go to the bathroom on your own!’
One day early on, Craig came out of the bathroom to find the dog, the cat and his two children lined up at the door waiting for him. He was so astonished he took a photo and sent it to Ness.
‘Welcome to my life,’ she replied.
Flipping the traditional roles gave Craig an entirely new perspective on parenting.
‘Complete strangers would come up to me when I was out and make encouraging comments. They’d tell me how lovely it was to see a dad looking after his kids. They’d offer to help, and I’d earn brownie points for the simplest things that Ness had been doing for years without any praise at all.’
Craig has two pieces of advice for new parents.
- Swap roles
- Never criticise
‘Swapping roles, even for a couple of days, gives you a better perspective on what’s involved. And make sure you include the night shift,’ he adds. ‘It’s also important not to criticise the person staying at home. New parents – often new mums – already feel judged and under pressure, and criticism doesn’t help. It only makes people feel worse.’
In Craig’s opinion – professional and personal - staying at home with a new baby is as hard, if not harder, than going out to work.
‘The person going to work may be tired at the end of the day, but I can guarantee the parent who has been at home with bub is just as tired.’
Traditional roles still dominate
According to a recent survey, women earn more than men in only a quarter of Australian households, and it’s still unusual for men to stay at home to look after children. Very often, if the woman’s the main breadwinner, it won’t mean the man does more of the child care or more housework. Men in such households still did an average of five hours less housework and eight hours less childcare per week.
Tips for new dads
Becoming a parent is one of the biggest events in most people’s lives. It’s a huge change for both parents, but dads can often make the mistake of thinking their partner has it covered and step back. Here are some tips for new dads from the parenting website Raising Children.
- Be hands on with bathing, nappy changing and playing, right from the beginning
- Pay attention to your baby’s cues and learn what they mean
- Help with breastfeeding, even if it’s just fetching your partner a pillow or a glass of water
- Carry and hold your baby as often as possible
- Be willing to accept and ask for help
- Enjoy one-on-one time with your new baby
- Share the load with your partner, stay positive and support each other
Welcoming a new baby into your life can be an emotional, exciting, overwhelming and sometimes stressful experience for both parents.
Remember that parenting skills need patience and hands-on practice, and the more time you spend with your baby, the more of a rest your partner will get.
Do you need help?
If you’re a new parent and you’re feeling overwhelmed right now, seek help from your GP or call Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Disclaimer: All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.