The rise of the stay-at-home-dad is sending a clear message: That parenting isn’t just the responsibility of “the wife”.

Just imagine  — your baby’s happily flinging rice cereal on the wall, then adopts a look of red-faced concentration, followed by that all-too-familiar smell. You glance at the clock. It’s 8am but it’s not your problem. “Got to go, darling,” you coo, kissing your baby and husband before heading off to work.

It’s a scenario already playing out in some homes — mum goes to work while dad looks after the baby. Figures suggest that families worldwide are recognising the benefits that fathers bring to the childcare equation. Sweden has its “latte pappas” (men who go on state-funded leave to be their children’s primary caregivers), while the US is reporting a new generation of “Mr Moms”.

In the UK, the population of daytime dads is also growing, with 10 times more stay-at-home-dads (SAHDs) today than there were a decade ago — 44 per cent of men look after the kids while their wives work. And the figure is rising rapidly, thanks to the gradual blurring of gender roles and the enhanced profile of women in the corporate world.

Working women’s roles

According to the Singapore Department of Statistics, the number of house husbands in Singapore has increased nearly seven-fold, from 553 to 3,611 between 2000 and 2005. Of course, this figure pales in comparison to their counterparts in the West.

Notes Maxine Wee, 30, “My lecturing job pays more than my husband’s, so it was a no-brainer that I should return to work after our daughter Evie, now 1, was born,” she says. “But I find it so hard because I just want to be with her. Tim is brilliant with her, but I believe a baby needs her mum.”

In our patriarchal society, the man’s primary role is that of a breadwinner. And we have a long way to go before men will truly embrace their role as equal childcare providers, especially since the work environment also stigmatises fathers who take time off to care for their children.

Parenting coach Sue Atkins also thinks fathers respond differently when it comes to looking after a newborn. “They may be able to look after their baby equally in practical terms, but a mum has a maternal pull that’s incredibly profound and emotional.”

“Men being recognised as carers and experiencing the challenge of looking after children is a positive step.”

And maybe, as mums, we feel it should stay that way. For a start, there’s breastfeeding to consider. “Breastfeeding for at least three months is good for your baby’s body, mind and for bonding,” says psychologist Oliver James and author of Love Bombing: Reset your Child’s Emotional Thermostat. He points out that nearly half of all children under 3 have mothers who choose to stay at home, despite increasing financial pressure.

“In some ways, it’s biologically determined that the mother nurtures her baby, while the father looks after the practical needs in the first six months,” says evolutionary psychologist Dr George Friedman. “But men being recognised as carers and experiencing the challenge of looking after children is a positive step.”

SAHD fringe benefits

Spending time with dad also has plenty of benefits. “There is evidence that fathers bounce and tumble more with their children,” James says. This helps teach them how to take risks and explore their limits. Dads are also known to use less baby talk and more adult language, which can boost baby’s communication skills.

It’s not always down to gender, though —it often boils down to personality. “You find both men and women who are naturals with newborns, and others who would rather work while their partner looks after their child,” James points out. It makes sense to play to your natural talents, especially as your baby thrives if his parents are happy.

“My marketing job involves regular travel,” says Rachel Gupta, 34, mum to Monique, 18 months, and Kevin, 3. “My husband Matt gave up work to be a stay-at-home dad. At first, we both found it hard to adjust, but it’s been brilliant for all of us.”

Whether or not you’re happy to hand over the childcare reins to your spouse, what matters is that parents learn to cope and support each other, especially during baby’s first year.

“A lot of mums feel guilty for returning to work too soon or lose confidence after staying away too long,” says Atkins, adding that couples need to look at the bigger picture and decide what works best for them. And as long as your baby feels loved, he won’t care who’s changing his diaper

Discussing who does what

Don’t leave the parenting responsibility to your spouse. The benefits of shared parenting are spelt out by Sarah Abell, a relationship expert and author of Inside Out: How to have Authentic Relationships with Everyone in your Life.

It reduces resentment 
A first-time mum can feel lonely and resentful when her spouse returns to work. If parents take turns caring for baby, there’ll be greater understanding and fewer “What did you do all day?” remarks.

• It increases appreciation
You’re more likely to understand what the other’s going through, whether it’s staying at home with baby, or surviving a day in the office on no sleep.

It encourages you to think “we”, not “I” 
Instead of thinking about your money, job, time and what he does or doesn’t do, this is an opportunity to think, “How will this work best for us?” and make your relationship stronger.

It forces you to talk 
You’ll need to discuss how shared parenting is going to work.

It opens up opportunities for you both 
Not only will you spend time with your baby, chances are, both of you will up your parenting and career skills, too.

Photo: iStock

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