Cool dad confessional: The truth of being a stay-at-home-dad in Singapore

We've been chatting with with a father-of two (who wishes to remain anonymous) about the trials and tribulations of being a stay-at-home dad in Singapore

A few years ago, I was chatting with a friend about what I do, as a stay-at-home dad, and after a bit, she was like, “Oh, so you’re the guy that walks behind the elephant and sweeps poop,” which, in many ways, I thought was apt. And, to tell you the truth, I feel like I’m suited for it, because I am pretty detail-oriented, conscious of the many practical things that need to get done for my family and our household, and I’m committed to getting those things done.

I have two kids, a son and a daughter, who surprise me everyday. My son is affectionate, kind, cheerful, and loves numbers and letters, so hanging out with him and reading a book is wonderful. My daughter is super perceptive – she endlessly amazes me with all that she picks up on! I love that about her.

So, a typical day of my “sweeping” begins with my two preschoolers coming into my bedroom in the morning, thankfully after 7am usually, and getting on the bed. They are my alarm clock. Then, my spouse, when he doesn’t have an early work meeting, will help the kids brush their teeth, while I set up breakfast, pack afternoon snacks for the kids, make sure the kids’ backpacks have an extra change of clothes or two, water bottle, and anything else that might be needed for school that particular day.

Next up: breakfast! And then I coax the kids to change out of their bedclothes and put on their school uniforms, before setting of on the school run.

At that point, I’ve got several hours (the kids are in a full-day programme) to work out, run errands (including grocery shopping – I like to go to the grocery store myself), load and unload the dishwasher, wash and dry clothes and put them away, handle any administrative and other tasks for myself or the family that inevitably come up each day, support three volunteer organisations I’m affiliated with, catch up on email, sit in the massage chair and do a crossword puzzle (if I have time), prep dinner, pick up the kids, finish up cooking dinner, clean up, load the dishwasher, wash the kids’ uniforms and other laundry, chat with my spouse, watch a bit of Disney Junior (with the kids!), help them brush their teeth (unless my spouse is home by that time, in which case he will help the kids brush their teeth, read the kids a story, get them to bed), catch up on email, chat with my spouse, take the clothes out of the washer and put them in the dryer, so the uniforms are ready for the next day, strategise about the next day and the next several days, and then finally go to bed… phew!

What’s it like being a stay-at-home dad?

stay-at-home dad

Being a stay-at-home dad means more time with the kids. Photography: Jude Beck via Unsplash

Well, it means I’m the primary caregiver for my family. And I feel like I’m the chief operations officer of the family, trying to make sure everyone is ok and everything works right, all of the time, rain or shine, 24 hours per day. It has made me more patient and grateful and prayerful. Especially in the past year, being a stay-at-home dad has allowed me time and space to reflect more on the meaning of life, seriously, and to take more control of my life, rather than being primarily in react mode. I don’t know how successful I am at this, or if I am, nor what the secret might be. I have learned (sometimes the hard way) that patience is essential. Also, I’ve been at this a while now, so I don’t think I have any major hang ups any more about being a stay-at-home dad. I’m a homemaker. I own that, and kind of enjoy it, for now.

Before I was a stay-at-home dad, my life was nuts, tremendously off balance, especially when the kids weren’t yet reliably sleeping through the night. Because when I was working full-time, I really tried to give it my all, and of course there’s no end to how one can be productive, especially with work-provided smartphones and a general expectation of being available beyond the 9-5, and then with my spouse having more demanding positions, it meant I was on full-time at home, too. Although I’m pretty comfortable with and in my role, there are times when I still struggle to explain what I do, when I meet people and they ask what I do. There’s a part of me that still wants to provide a more traditional answer, “I’m an attorney,” which is true, but doesn’t really explain how I spend my time now.

Just today, for example, I was filling out a financial form that asked my occupation, and again kind of struggled – do I select homemaker, which was one of the options, or do I check lawyer? Remembering how another stay-at-home parent I admire deals with these sorts of things, I put self-employed. Part of it was, I think, my own personal back and forth about my identity, which, again, I think I’m good with. I feel like more of the struggle was the practical implications of the choice – would the form be less likely to be approved if I selected homemaker?

What’s the best (and hardest part) of your day?

The best part of my day is sitting in the massage chair for about 20 minutes, if time permits. The most challenging part of my day is dinner! Especially if my spouse isn’t back in time to have dinner with us, which results in me preparing the kids’ meals, they of course want different stuff (I haven’t yet gotten to the point of having one meal for everyone), so I’ll make something for each kid. And it doesn’t end with putting the food on the plate either: they invariably also need this and that and are ready for dessert before I’ve sat down for my own meal. I do try and patiently explain that they can have dessert once I finish my plate, and then hold firm to that. And then, of course, after all that, cleaning up the dinner mess (my kids still eat mostly with their hands). It’s also important that I take time out for myself each day – whether it’s working out, sitting in the massage chair, reading, doing a crossword puzzle, or whatever.

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‘Me time’ is important for all parents! Photography: Victor Freitas via Unsplash

But using the toilet in peace, now that takes some work.  I have to be strategic about it, factoring in when the kids are likely to be around and when my spouse or the babysitter will likely be around to help look after them. We are not yet at the point where I feel comfortable leaving my kids alone, unsupervised, while they are awake. Although when they both have iPads, say in the morning, I feel like I’m safe for a bit, and could even squeeze in a quick shower. And then I go to the toilet before I pick them up from school, because it could be several hours before I can do so again in relative peace.

Who taught you the ropes?

I continue to learn the ropes from HoneyKids, the kids’ schools, my parents and in-laws, my sister, aunts and uncles, cousins, memories of my grandparents, friends, and Google. I’m always on the lookout for parenting info, tips. I don’t yet have stay-at-home dad friends or even stay-at-home mum friends, either. Maybe that will change the longer I stay in Singapore and as I get to know other parents at my kids’ school and in the neighbourhood.

My spouse and I support each other, we stay in touch with family and friends, and I’m no longer shy about asking family and friends and even new acquaintances for tips. Of course each child is different. Some advice I get I appreciate but don’t necessarily think it will work for my kids, but I store it in my head in case I need it for later. Some advice I get and it resonates completely and I try it. And I pray. God is, indeed, good, all the time.

Being a parent has changed my priorities, and being a stay-at-home dad was the result of that. There’s no more important work that I could imagine, I don’t think I could trust anyone else to do it (my spouse’s work continues to be demanding and his hours and presence in the country are unpredictable, so he’s not always available). I’m fortunate enough that my family has the means so that I don’t have to work a second full-time job. And making the decision together with my spouse to be the primary caregiver has definitely changed my life for the better.

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