I recently had the pleasure and opportunity of being the stay-at-home parent for two weeks during the school holidays with my two children.
My daughter is 8 and my son is 4.
Despite not having previously experienced being the full-time stay at home parent, I wasn’t surprised how exhausting it was.
I have seen my wife deal with this level of intensity, where I get to ‘escape’ to work while she is called upon 24/7.
When there is a primary carer, the kids tend to gravitate to that parent for every little thing, which can, over time, become exhausting and lonely work.
So, when an opportunity came up for my wife to gain valuable experience within her unique and specialised industry, we jumped at it.
She has just released a book and we could not let her pass up such an opportunity. It also provided the chance for me to step into the full-time domestic god role.
My wife was away from home for the whole two-week period allowing a real role reversal!
And what an experience it was! I learnt two valuable lessons during this time spent with my children at home.
1) My wife and I have our individual strengths regarding running the house.
2) Having to depend on me made my role more integral to my son.
My wife and I already knew that we prioritise the housework and standards differently from each other. We simply each see different things that need doing and give different priority to these tasks.
I’m sure this is not a situation unique to our family!
We both do things our own way, depending on what we personally value, neither being right or wrong. But during this time of sole parenting, it became particularly obvious.
There were jobs I spent considerable time on with great ‘focus’, and other tasks I didn’t even consider (or my wife might say I didn’t see).
When she returned home, I felt she was oblivious to what I had achieved, seeing only the jobs that were priorities in her mind.
It made me rethink how we talk about domestic chores and how we can support and complement each other in the ongoing domestic tedium that never really ends. Team work right!
What I really learnt to appreciate, was that somehow, while having two children and managing the domestic load, my wife managed to write and publish a book.
In these two weeks as primary parent, I managed some of my studies, but nothing in comparison.
The other consequence was the change in how my son started to look to me to help with everyday activities.
He started to rely on me a bit more, whereas before he would only look to his mum for his emotional and physical needs.
This may have been a slight change in routine for him, one he may not have even noticed, but it was astronomically huge for me!
You see my daughter has always been daddy’s girl, while still seeking her mother’s attention and affection, but my son, despite knowing he loves me, has sought my attention and help far less in comparison.
While his habit may still be to call out for “mum”, he does now seek me out more since our quality bonding time. He has learnt to accept my help, my attention and my role as his go to person. He discovered he can depend on me.
Even after my wife came home to upheave my beautifully organised domestic life and the old habits kicked back in, my son still snuggles with me now on more occasions.
Without turning his back on his mother, he now reaches out to two parents he wants to feel close to.
I am certain this new bond grew from being there every day for the simple things, the things you miss when you are away for most of the waking day.
It’s my mission to maintain this newfound connection with my boy.
Upon reflection, I considered FIFO parents and how hard it must be to come home and have to try to fit in, let alone the effort required to maintain and nurture your connection with wife/husband and children.
My father did this all my life.
It is hard work and not something that just happens without commitment.
You have to be there for the everyday things like helping kids get dressed, finding their things, feeding them, playing with them, reading with them and listening to what they have to say.
When you give children your time, it means everything to them. You become more of a priority in their lives.
They know they can turn to you, because you will actually be there, rather than always focused on work, or fixing things, or adult concerns they don’t understand.
Clearly the experience has been good for my mental health too.
How good does it feel for fathers or mothers that work full time (and are not the standard go-to parent) when your child looks for you, when they ask for you, when the reach for you?
When it happens, it feels great!
My advice, after these two intensive weeks, is to make that time.
I know I will continue to prioritise being there, doing the everyday little things with my kids, because I don’t want to lose that feeling.
Moving down to Margaret River almost five years ago, Chris has spent most of his life in the Sport and Recreation industry. As a father, he now focuses a lot of his time and energy towards mental health, trying to ensure a brighter future for his children and the community.
MINDFUL Margaret River is an alliance of professionals, agencies and community members working to promote health & wellbeing. Find out more at mindfulmargarteriver.org.au and follow us on Facebook.
First published on 18 February 2022