James Fox-Robinson, Renaissance Dad.

 

James was put on furlough from April and didn’t return to work until August. His wife continued to work 30 hours a week as an NHS Chaplain, so James was also home schooling their two children. He began to ask questions around what he enjoyed and ultimately what made him happy. As he wasn’t really missing work he wondered whether there was a different way forward for their family. James’ wife  worked hard to gain the experience and knowledge she needs to further her career and so James began to reflect on how he could best support her. The decision to become a stay at home dad was made (which is not just about being a dad, it’s about keeping house and all the other life laundry) and wasn’t taken lightly – it’s an amalgamation of all sorts of reasons for both him and his wife.

 

 

Can you tell us a bit about what changes you’ve experienced over the last six months and how that has impacted your decision to become a stay at home dad?

 I was put on furlough from my half time job in April and didn’t return to work until August. The first few weeks of furlough were fantastic, I jumped straight into creative projects, taught myself InDesign and curated a couple of magazines. I was also completing an MA dissertation in the style of a graphic novel. My wife continued to work 30 hours a week as an NHS Chaplain, so I was also home schooling our two children. After a while though, I began to ask questions around what I enjoyed and ultimately what made me happy. I wasn’t really missing work and wondered whether there was a different way forwards for us as a family. My wife has worked hard to gain the experience and knowledge she needs to further her career, which she is very gifted at, and I began to reflect on how I could best support her. The last 6 months have not been plain sailing, I have had a series of 12 counselling sessions and there’s been some big questions I needed to grapple with about identity, self-worth, how I feel valued and how I can get in touch with my emotions. I share this as I think it helped me to see beyond myself, to get to grips with being present as a husband and a dad. I had always strived to be present but not realised just how caught up in the world I had become. One of the biggest changes I have made is to delete over 20 online and social media accounts. It’s funny how much easier it is to spend time with your family when you have no reason to be looking at your phone. So, I think the decision to become a stay at home dad (which is not just about being a dad, it’s about keeping house and shopping and cooking and making phonecalls and all the other life laundry I’ve become more aware of during lockdown) is an amalgamation of all sorts of reasons for both my wife and myself.

 

 

How has this experience and decision made you feel about your ‘role’ as a man?

The decision to be a stay at home dad has definitely brought up some questions around the role of men. I probably do more than most around the house already – we share the cooking, cleaning etc but taking on the role of primary carer is a new challenge and it does bring into question whether we’ve truly been sharing that responsibility thus far, I suspect not as much as we could have. This process has made me re-assess much of what I think the world is about and whether I am capable of being the carer my children need when my wife is so good at it. I don’t feel less of a ‘man’, in fact I think I’m tapping into something our society has lost and would do well to regain in terms of holistic wholeness.

 

How have others reacted to this decision? I can imagine that some would see this is a sign that you’re under the thumb and your partner ‘must wear the pants in your house’ which is crazy that we are still battling these archaic views!

On reflection, I’ve not been telling people I’m becoming a stay at home dad, I’ve been telling them I’m moving into freelance work. This is not untrue, but actually, it will not be my main focus and perhaps a good step for me in this process would be to begin using the language of stay at home dad. There is undoubtedly a level of social expectation that has led to my unconscious choice to refer to freelancing rather than being dad but I am still in that transition and the very nature of this question is helpful in establishing how I am battling with anarchic views of gender roles.

   

 

What benefits and positive outcomes will you, your partner and child(ren) gain from this change to your family dynamics?

 I will gain the unenviable position of being my own boss. Granted, most of my ‘work’ will be housework and I’ll do some freelancing on the side but I’ll not have some well intentioned line manager with their own agenda telling me what to do with my time. It will bring creative freedoms which for me personally make a huge difference to my mental health.

My wife gets to pursue her career in a full time capacity without having to come home and do all the menu planning, cleaning, school correspondence and other life laundry.

At this point I am unclear what specific benefits this decision will bring to our children, partly because I’m not sure I’m the better parent but happy parents mean happy children (apparently) and we strongly believe this decision will make us happier.

 

 

What would you say to those who are on the fence about making a similar change?

I’d say that this decision needs a lot of thought and reflection for the very reasons we’ve explored here – societal expectations and stereotype threats are deeply ingrained. Make sure you surround yourself with positive people and get in touch with others who are making similar changes in their lives. We have made this decision having had couple counselling and having worked through lots of potential pitfalls. However, If you want to be part of societal change, particularly if it will bring your family a greater level of happiness then DO IT. I’ll be blogging at www.renaissancedad.blog so do join me for the journey.

 

Click here for the second part of our interview with James. We delved further in to harmful male stereotypes, societal pressures and expectations of what a man should be and how we can all pave the way for better balance.

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 James’ blog, Renaissance Dad, is about a dad who’s learning the skills to be a primary carer, keeper of the house, cook and gardener. Follow his journey here or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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