14 January 2022

Living the dad life (or how I quit my job to be a full-time parent)

| Damien Larkins
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Dad and son holding hands

Can Damien Larkins hold it together as a stay-at-home dad? Photo: Vasyl Dolmatov.

Is life as a stay-at-home dad all it’s cracked up to be? Damien Larkins is discovering if he’s up to the challenge.

Life takes you strange places, and I never expected I’d quit work to become a full-time parent to my two-year-old son.

The lead-up to my first day was mixed with excitement and nerves.

We all slept in a little longer than usual, a gift to the whole household out of new management’s benevolence and slight hubris.

But we soon found that was the last of the peace and quiet for the day.

The fridge had stopped working overnight.

With widespread food shortages, COVID-19 Omicron-variant case numbers rising daily and my wife returning to full-time work, this was precisely the last thing I needed.

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I didn’t quit my job and go into this new role with my eyes closed. I knew there’d be good and bad days, I just didn’t expect a major appliance catastrophe on day one.

And I’ve always been as involved as a parent as possible. Making milk bottles, putting together cots, toys and safety gates, singing and rocking on so, so many sleepless nights.

I don’t want to brag, but I can change a nappy like nobody’s business.

Now it’s time for my wife to return to work and for me to take over the primary care.

Immediately it was clear: I’m not the favourite parent.

There were tears and wailing as mum left the room to go upstairs to the study to work from home. (No, not from me.)

You’d think she’d abandoned us to travel the world and make her fortune, perhaps never to return.

playground

Parks are great: highly recommended for swings and climbing. Photo: Boundless, Facebook.

They say you don’t get into journalism for the money, so my wife definitely has the greater earning capacity.

Plus, maybe I can do my bit to close the yawning chasm of inequality when it comes to the division of household labour between men and women.

In June 2021, the Australian Bureau of Statistics Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey looked at unpaid work.

It found in last May last year, women were almost twice as likely as men to have spent 20 or more hours a week on unpaid caring and supervision of children (28 per cent compared with 15 per cent).

It also found women were more likely than men to have spent five or more hours on unpaid indoor housework (62 per cent compared with 35 per cent).

We’ve got a pretty good mutually agreed division of tasks at our house – mostly based on which chores we don’t completely hate.

As a former kitchen hand, I don’t mind getting stuck into a dirty sink, whereas my wife prefers to be on laundry duty.

(Maybe ‘don’t mind’ and ‘prefers’ are a strong choice of words, but it’s got to be done.)

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The ABS also found 64 per cent of women spent five or more hours on unpaid cooking and baking, compared with almost 37 per cent of men.

I may yet find this is a controversial position, but I’m going to say we definitely buck that trend.

All the dirty outdoor jobs like rubbish, gardening and assorted heavy lifting are inevitably delegated to me. But I’m big enough to admit that, until now, my wife has done a lot more toddler-wrangling than me.

So this new allocation of duties, being the full-time dad, is going to take some getting used to.

In the wild, male emus are the primary carers, so maybe I’ll be okay at it too.

Emus

Male emus do most of the work raising their brood, so maybe I could do it too? Photo: Glynis Quinlan.

I pondered emu dads and all of my responsibilities, new and old, as I pushed my son on the swing at the local park.

Meanwhile, I was frantically making phone calls to find a working fridge and have it delivered that day, all without coming within 1.5 metres of another human being.

By the end of the day, we’d replaced the fridge and saved all of our food.

We’d also had a play at the park, built a blanket fort, skipped our naps and managed not to starve or simultaneously break down into tears.

Not bad for day one.

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