In Australia a majority of stay-at-home parents are mothers, but not in the Szeps household. At various times of his toddler twins’ lives, Sean Szeps has been the stay-at-home dad.
So Feed Play Love’s Shevonne Hunt spoke to Sean about parenting from a dad point-of-view. She was keen to get an idea of the challenges dads face every day out in the community.
Listen to Sean Szeps on Feed Play Love:
4 things about being a dad in Australia which totally suck
1. Lack of inclusive parenting groups
Sean explained that he was refused entry into a couple of local mother’s groups when his babies were small, and that the one that agreed to accept a man into their group was not easily accessible – a 30-minute drive from the suburb he lived in.
“I actually completely understand the need and desire for a mother’s group of just women after the birth,” Sean noted. “Specifically, you’re going through so many physical changes, you’ve just gone through pregnancy and men can’t relate to that.”
But in Sean’s experience, the proliferation of mother’s groups – and lack of more inclusive parenting groups – leaves men feeling unsupported.
“You know men are struggling,” Sean said. “One out of every ten dads has postnatal depression of some sort. That’s a really high number. That means in your group of girlfriends one of their husbands is probably suffering. And if he’s a stay at home parent he’s more likely to suffer and so they need the support of people who are going through similar things as much as anybody else.”
2. Dads being overlooked and excluded
Support out in the wider community is geared almost exclusively to mums because they carry babies and go through childbirth. But plenty of dads are deep in the parenting trenches and they’re tackling the challenges of looking after small children too. So why are they still being side-lined?
“I think anyone who’s survived a month, six months, a year of parenting knows that parenting doesn’t go easier or harder on you because of your gender. It is difficult,” Sean pointed out, noting that if we want equality, then men should be included in conversations about childbirth and postpartum health.
“All of the women who I’m close with who have children talk openly about their experience, vagina or not. And if you can’t handle that then you’re in the wrong role as a parent; it’s just a part of life.”
Sean points out that men do know where babies come from, and the more they know about the experience and after effects of giving birth, the better.
3. Dads being brazenly ignored altogether
Sean notes that when he takes his toddlers to the park, he almost always gets ignored by the women who are playing with their own children.
They’re not friendly and if he fancies a chat he always has to initiate, and even that doesn’t always go well.
“I’ve actually asked a couple of women [why],” Sean said, “because I’ve wanted to write about the subject. Because it’s so interesting to me … why they ignore me. And the answer is quite simple – most men who watch children at parks are only there on the weekends to cover for their wives so they can sleep. They’re just there for a day.”
Women don’t see much point in bonding with the passing parade of fathers who don’t really want to be there (and who they may never see again.) Thus all dads get sidelined. Again.
4. Suspicious minds
Sadly for many people, a man showing an interest in connecting with a child raises red flags. Sean admitted that this was pretty challenging and upsetting.
“I still get nervous sometimes talking to other people’s kids,” he admitted. “I’m like, ‘I wonder if they’re gonna think I’m like a creepy paedophile.’ Or on a bus, for example, I see a little kid the same age as mine and I’ll start talking to them.”
“I love kids. I was desperate to be a dad. I’m totally meant to be one. And so sometimes I’ll get this look of like, ‘What are you doing? Like stop it,’ but if I was a woman people would be thrilled.”
For some, it still seems unusual to see a man caring for a child, and Sean’s often mistaken for his twins’ nanny.
“I actually had that today,” he laughed. “She asked me, ‘How long have you been watching these kids?’ and I was like ‘their entire lives!'”
You can read more about Sean and the twins on his blog Bringing Up Gaybies