Being a stay-at home dad 'tiring but very rewarding'
- 17 January 2011
- From the section Magazine
From April, fathers will be able to share maternity leave with their wives. Currently they get just two weeks off after a child is born, while women can take up to a year. So what is it like being a stay-at home dad?
"At first, my dad kept sending me the jobs pages from the Telegraph," says Thom Chesser.
"I don't think he was really sure what I was doing all day. Then he looked after his two nephews for a week and realised I already had a full-time job."
Thom, 41, has two boys, Jacob, four, and Isaac, two, and another child on the way. His wife Ann is a personnel manager for Network Rail and they live in London.
After what he admits was an "eclectic" job history - including working as an agent for circus performers and a graphic designer for a bank - he gave up work in 2006, just before Jacob was born.
"The childcare costs were about what I was making and Ann wasn't keen to leave him in a nursery all day, so when she asked me I was more than happy to do it.
"My job was mostly designing bits of paper that were going to be thrown away. It could be exciting when deadlines were looming, but ultimately it wasn't particularly fulfilling.
"I was fearful in that I didn't know what it was going to be like, but I was convinced I could do it."
'Lots of lists'
Ann took six months' maternity leave and during that time Thom helped in any way he could.
"When she went back to work she wrote me lots and lots of lists about what I should be doing and I just got on with it."
A report released by Demos says new parents are increasingly relying on friends, rather than family, for support, and the government should do more to help them develop local networks.
"NCT (National Childbirth Trust) classes teach you to change a nappy, but they also introduce you to five other couples in your area who are about to have a baby. It's an instant support network. I also go to a group on Fridays called Dads and Little 'Uns, which I help run, and to another group on a Saturday morning.
"If you go to a park there'll always be a group of mums with babies chatting and having coffee. There'll be some dads too, but they'll be on their own - they're less gregarious than women. So I've spent four years collecting them. If I see a dad with a buggy I'll always go up and talk to them."
Being a stay-at-home dad has transformed Thom's personal and professional life, he's now taking an NVQ in childcare and wants to do a primary school teaching course.
And apart from his slightly sceptical father - who is now fully on board - Thom says he has received almost universal support.
"I've had the odd comment from random blokes in the street, but that's it. Women are very supportive. They always say 'it's marvellous what you're doing'. And I think 'why? It's no more marvellous than you doing it.'
"Clearly it's hard work. The kids can be frustrating and I'm so tired, but every day they'll do something new, something I taught them, and that's very rewarding.
"It would be lovely if more men got the chance to spend more time with their children. Fathers tend to take longer to bond with babies, so it can only be a positive. It's tiring, but very rewarding thing. And even where dads do go to work, if they didn't have to work such long hours it would make a big difference."