According to new figures released today, there has been rise in the number of stay- at- home dads. Official employment statistics reveal that there are now 227,000 men in the UK staying at home to look after the children- that equates to ten per cent of the total number of people who look after children full- time.
Experts claim this is due to the economic downturn causing more and more redundancies, particularly in male-dominated sectors such as banking. They claim that men are either failing to find new employment or simply deciding that it makes more financial sense for their wife to be the main salary earner while they stay at home with the children.
When I read the story in this morning’s Telegraph, I thought how wonderful to see the beginnings of a cultural shift in the area of full- time childcare. I gave up work almost four years ago to be a full- time mum and I still find myself saying having to apologise for this or explain what I do with my time: when I tell people of my day job, it’s always quickly followed by “but I’m also a freelance journalist”, and my listener always looks a little more at ease, that I’m not just out lunching all day- as if full- time childcare is that easy or that fun. (It can be, but it’s also tiring, lonely and hard work, but that’s a separate post.)
While reading through the Telegraph’s write-up, I noticed the photo that goes with it- and then it clicked. It shows a white dad and a white baby. The figures only tell half the story. This rise in full-time fatherhood- is this mainly amongst English middle-class families?
My brother was made redundant last summer. This is in itself was taboo, that- shock horror- he had lost his job. It flew in the face of his status as the head of the household, the bread winner. Thankfully he found something else very quickly and all was right in the world again. The idea that he would send his wife out to support the family was never ever considered. My parents would never allow it and her parents, well they would see it as he was doing a disservice to their marriage vows.
In the Asian culture, still today, there hasn’t been a blurring of the gender roles. Men are the bread winners, women raise the children. Sure, women are ‘allowed’ to do something on the side, continuing a career is not entirely frowned upon. But where there are children, it is still considered her responsibility, her duty in life to be the primary care-giver.
I simply cannot imagine an Asian family where it would be acceptable for the husband to stay at home with the children while the wife worked full time. I’m not saying this is right- followers of my blog will know I’m all about the mixing up of traditions and the blurring of cultural expectation. My husband and I often joke about swapping our day jobs- if it made financial sense we’d seriously consider it. (Oh if only my writing made me enough money to live on!)
But frankly, in the setting of a traditional British Asian family, if the man stayed at home, our culture would think there is something wrong with him. The Telegraph article points out that there is still a taboo in mainstream British society around female bread- winners and stay- at- home dads, saying that “it’s something that’s kept quiet or treated as a bit embarrassing”. How much more would this be the case amongst British Asians?
I’d love to be proved wrong! Are there any of you where the traditional gender roles have been swapped?