Tuesday, 9 November 2010

In Defense of Stay-at-Home Parents

I know, I know. It's been a while. Again. Since returning from my trips to Barcelona and the Yorkshire moors (both in the same week), it's been really hard to get back into a writing groove. So here's an extra long post to make up for my absence (one that's been brewing for quite some time).

We are about two months (and some change) into our second year of role reversal, with me as the primary bread-winner and The Other Half as the primary caregiver (or stay-at-home dad, as he is colloquially referred). So far, it has worked well for us. I've rediscovered my passion for teaching literature and have taken advantage of some exciting new career opportunities, which could benefit us more than financially in the long term. (The prospect of Crumpet getting to go to a world-renowned private school for a fraction of the price is certainly an incentive to stick around for a few years. And then there is the allure of overseas teaching opportunities, even if just for a year or two. But we're getting ahead of ourselves a bit.) On the home-front, The Other Half has really enjoyed his time bonding with Crumpet in these oh-so-important formative years, which has been a wonderful thing to watch. And I've had all of the school holidays off, which means we get to spend lots of family time together.

But... there is still a slightly awkward pause after I respond to someone's question about what my husband does. "Oh," they say. "How long has that been going on?" As if they are expecting me to follow that up with a deadline by which he will get a real job. Or there's the half-joking, "Wow, that sounds like a great set-up," with a tone suggesting that all he does all day is hang out at the park or lounge on the sofa watching episodes of "Dora the Explorer." I doubt anyone would ask these questions of me if our roles were reversed.

So, while studies show that the amount of stay-at-home dads is on the rise, I still feel like I have to provide a defense for our lifestyle. And my defense is quite simple, really. When we decided to have children, it was always our intention for one of us to stay at home with them, at least until they're in school. Originally, that person was going to be me, but when The Other Half was made redundant just before Crumpet was born, we had to re-think that plan. We realized then that it didn't really matter who stayed home; what was important was that Crumpet had one of us at home to take care of her. So whoever got the best offer would be the one to go out to work.

I've never been keen on the idea of nurseries (or day cares, in Ameri-speak). Now, I'm not saying that all nurseries are bad and that parents who send their children to nurseries are bad. I realize that not everyone can afford to live on one income. But a lot of times it's not so much that people can't afford to live on one income; it's that they're not willing to sacrifice the lifestyle they have become accustomed to on two incomes. Personally, I would rather cut back a little each month than have someone else raise my child. An added bonus of not having Crumpet in nursery is that (touch wood) she has remained healthy (chicken pox incident at 13 months old aside). It seems like my friends whose children are in nurseries are always talking about a cold or a virus their children have picked up.

I won't lie and say that I have never felt the slightest bit jealous of The Other Half since going back to work. There have been times when I have thought, "Why can't it be me who gets to be the stay-at-home mo(u)mmy? That's what we had always planned." But life doesn't always work out as planned, and, at the end of the day, I'm just thankful that we are in a position where one of us can stay at home

I guess the direct inspiration for this post is the fairly recent news that the Tories will be cutting the child benefit here in the UK. Currently, every family with at least one child receives child benefit each month. It's not a lot; maybe about £1,000 a year for one child, roughly. This benefit is not means-based, meaning that Lord and Lady Dashwood (should they exist, and should they have one child like we do) receive the same amount of child benefit each month as we do. But under the new policy, families where one parent is earning £44,000 or more a year will no longer receive the benefit. Which means that you could have one family where two parents are working, each earning £40,000, for a combined a total of £80,000, and they will still receive the benefit. However, if another family is living on one income of £45,000, let's say, they will no longer receive the benefit. Someone please tell me where the logic is in that. So, essentially, the same government that bemoans the decline of family values is encouraging both parents to work and farm their children out to nurseries and child minders so they can make as much money off of us in taxes as they can.

On the heels of that announcement, David Cameron has stated that he wants to help stay-at-home mothers (whatever that means), prompting The Other Half to ask (rightfully), "What about stay-at-home fathers? Surely he should be helping stay-at-home parents."

Okay, rant over. Writing this post has been a rather cathartic experience....

Here's an inspiring image from the Yorkshire moors to leave you with.