The Real Mums series has been an amazing opportunity to get to know lots of different mums and to hear their stories and experiences. But what about the dads? What about their stories and experiences? I was lucky enough to chat with Chris, author and stay-at-home dad, to hear his story. I hope you find it as interesting as I did, hearing about life as a SAHD!
Hi Chris! Thank you for chatting with us today! To start off with, could you please introduce us to yourself and your family?
Wow, where to start! I’m a 37-year-old father of three who lives by the beaches just north of Sydney, Australia. I have lived here my whole life, but have travelled the world extensively – over 60 countries and counting, most of them with my wife Kate. Although I studied Molecular Biology & Genetics at university – where I first met Kate (we’ve been together for 17 years now) – by the time I was finished I was already working as a journalist. And over the proceeding 20-years, I climbed that industry’s ladder until I was leading some of the biggest entertainment media brands in the world, even managing to pick up a few awards along the way.
But that’s the boring work stuff – I am much more excited about my three children, Charlie (5), Jasmine (3) and Patrick (1). I am extremely fortunate in that I moved all my work home in 2009, so have been here day-in, day-out with them as they have grown up. It has not always been easy dealing with work-stress and all the screaming, but we’ve kept our head above water. And I feel Kate and I have produced three amazing humans that have their hearts and sense of adventure in the right place.
How did you and your wife come to the decision for you to be a stay at home dad?
We always planned to share the child raising responsibilities. Kate never wanted to be a stay at home mum and I didn’t want to be a commuter dad. I’m very passionate about family and about being there for everything in their lives as they grow up. So to be honest, I didn’t really consider the idea of returning to work in the city, where I would be leaving at 7am, back at 7pm, and seeing my kids on the weekend. When Kate pointed out how much of looking after the kids would side with me, I was completely ok with that.
So my work has now been contract based since 2009 so I can do everything around the kids. That said, we did naively think I would still get a lot of time for work. But when Kate went back to work full time after nine months of leave with Charlie, I had to turn to my family a fair bit for help.
As it turned out, after Jazzy was born, Kate became the full time commuter Mum, working in Randwick across the other side of Sydney.
What do you do with your time?
I like to get up at 6am every morning and get the kid’s toast and juice ready, before doing some exercise – gym or surf – before Kate goes to work. Then on those days where all the kids are out the door at school or daycare, I can really get stuck into some work.
If Kate needs to leave early or they are not going to daycare, I usually try and take them out of the house. If I stay at home work always distracts me, and then I take my focus off them, and then they seek attention… by destroying my home.
If it’s hot, we’ll hit the beach or the harbour. I’m pretty confident with the three of them near water, thankfully. We like bushwalks as well, which is fun, free entertainment and makes me feel like I have done some exercise. Otherwise I will soak up some hours doing chores we can all do together, like cleaning up the yard or shopping. I’m not much into catching up with other parents, as all my male friends are working.
Working from home and for yourself, it’s a constant challenge to stay focused and manage your hours. Whatever happens, I like to be free between 5 and 7 to help and play with the kids bedtime. And after that time I should be hanging out with Kate and doing stuff around the house, but lately I have been back in the studio working as the end of 2016 was manic. There’s a New Year’s resolution there.
What is it like being a stay at home dad? Do you have many people comment on that?
It’s hard work, no doubt. Especially as I have to run a business at the same time. I worry sometimes that I let them sit for too long, waiting for me to get off an email or phone call that just can’t wait. But what do you do?
It’s great knowing my kids like I do. I know what they like and dislike, their individual moods and what makes them laugh, the clothes they prefer to wear and what their limits are with certain activities. I can’t imagine being blind to all these things by simply not being here during the heat of battle.
Not many people comment to me, but I see it in their reactions often. Like when I am the only dad at pick-up, or drop-off, or wheeling kids around the shops. Kate went away recently for eight-days and I couldn’t believe how many people said “what’s going to happen to the kids” while I was standing there. Like, dad looking after three kids for that long just wasn’t even an option, lol.
I have also heard comments from male friends that do reaffirm my decision to stay at home though. For example, one of my mates said he leaves so early for work, and comes home so late, that come the weekend, his kids look noticeably bigger as there are such gaps between when he sees them. Tragic! I have other friends where only one partner turns up to get-togethers because the other is always under the pump at work, too.
So as successful as my life was going as an editor-in-chief across a number of magazines and websites, it was only a good fit for my old life, pre-kids. After becoming a father, things changed. I will never go back to working remotely – at least, not if I have a choice in the matter I still work really hard and do a lot of hours, but at least it is on my terms, so I can make the choice to go to a kid’s birthday party, take them to the beach, or whatever. I think that is the best thing about being a SAHD.
What have been the highs and lows in your parenting journey?
I’m definitely still struggling with the sleep thing – five years in and we still rarely get a night to sleep through. And one of them is always up by 6am, no matter what time we go to bed. That lack of sleep and frustrations/fears that can pop up around work when you’re doing contract work (as opposed to having stable employment) can combine to produce flammable situations. It does not mix well with tired kids, and those moments where I don’t identify my own fatigue and snap are lows.
We also almost lost our first born five-weeks after he was born – emergency surgery and 10-days in ICU, he was written-off by the doctor and we saw him flat-line at least six times. He’s fighting fit and fully mended now, however – tough little bugger!
As for the highs, definitely when we get a chance to go away. It does not happen too often – or often as I would like – and being away from the computer out in the bush is always magic. When you can focus 100% on the kids, parenting suddenly becomes so much easier and joyful. Charlie’s playacting. Jazzy’s singing. Patrick’s cheekiness. I also love going through my books with the kids, and watching them enjoy the story, but also come up with great new ideas. In fact Charlie came up with the idea for the fourth Willy Nilly book, which will be out soon.
To keep yourself occupied you work with the company you founded, ‘Old Mate Media’. Could you tell us a bit about that and how that works in with your SAHD lifestyle?
After making the decision to be at home, I started my own company with the goal of creating content I owned. With my knowledge and skills working in publishing for 20-years, I began to write, design and publish children’s books. It’s something that I thoroughly enjoy, and get to share with my children. I think as they grow, so will the type of products I make. Right now it is picture books, but soon it will be chapter books, then youth books.
I’m also enjoying helping other parents and grandparents from around the world also turn their ideas into books. Taking them through the creative processes, helping them on that journey and then taking care of the mechanics of designing and publishing. It’s a nice little business opportunity that is family orientated, and family run.
I wanted to build as many residual income portals as possible – such as the kids books, and apps – so that there would be this income flow regardless of whether I was with the kids all day. Or we were on holiday. It’s still a work in progress, but I’ve now got seven children’s books on sale, 11 more in the works, a comic book, a cookbook, and about 11 apps.
I still have a number of companies from my old journalist days who still contract Old Mate Media to make books, or magazines, or consult on websites and editorial direction. So that’s still going on as well. It’s actually taking up a lot of time, but I tend to push it into periods when the kids are at daycare, or a night time. You definitely get better at establishing the best times to go hard on the computer, and how to keep the house running efficiently through processes like clothes washing, cooking, bathing, etc.
2017 will be interesting, as my wife is not returning to full-time employment, but instead partnering with me on the Old Mate Media business, so we can both work from home.
If you could give a piece of advice to other dads out there, what would it be?
Don’t miss out on your kids. Places like Sydney are so expensive nowadays, it drives this routine of work harder, play less. And you can get sucked into that, deeper and deeper. Your bosses and your bank and “the man” will make you feel like that is the only solution. The only way you can put a roof over your head. Your kids in school. Food on the table. Rubbish!
Trust that you are good at what you do, that you have vast knowledge and that you have value in your industry. Quitting and “moving home” is not necessarily the end. It’s a new opportunity for people in your industry to tap into your skills in different ways. And working as a contractor or consultant is usually much more lucrative and gives you more control of your time.
Obviously that does not work for everyone or every industry, but I’d urge other dads to try and negotiate a day from home with their boss or “start early, home early” hours in order to get more active with the caring of their children. It’s worth it.
I’m not saying I don’t still feel overworked and exhausted a lot of the time, but I can say I see way more of my kids now than I would otherwise, which is a good thing.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to chat.
Thank you Chris for sharing your story! To see some of his amazing stories he’s written (including the Willy Nilly series, which I wrote a review for HERE), visit the Old Mate Media website HERE, their Facebook page HERE or Chris’ Instagram page HERE.