Providing for my family: “As a man, am I supposed to be the breadwinner?”

Stay at home dad

I’m having a one-third-of-life crisis. I recently resigned from my well-paid marketing job after becoming disillusioned with the monotony of 9-5 life*. You know the drill – say g’day to your kid(s), head to work, sit in the same chair for eight hours, head home, say goodnight to your kid(s), cook dinner, dishes, Netflix and bed. Rinse and repeat.

The dream

The plan is to work part-time, spend a weekday at home with my son and spend the rest of my time chasing my dream of becoming a successful writer. My wife has picked up an extra day’s work, so we’re hoping, with our powers combined [cue Captain Planet theme song] we’ll cobble together enough money to get by.

From the looks on some of our friends’ faces, however, you’d think we’ve just swapped our life savings for a bag of magic beans. Admittedly, I’m still grappling with the implications of our decision too.

Who’s the breadwinner?

The first is existential. Aren’t I, as a man, supposed to be the breadwinner, who brings home the bacon, puts food on the table and [insert other hackneyed food metaphors for “providing” for your family]?

It’s 2018, and such antiquated gender roles – that I should work all week while my wife stays home with our son – should be extinct, but I’ve already copped some “I’m sure something will come up for you soon” comments from well-meaning mates and acquaintances at barbecues. The insinuation being, “I’m sure you’ll find a full-time gig and resume the breadwinner role again soon”.

Make do with less

The second implication of our decision is, of course, financial. Going from full-time work to part-time and freelancing – where paycheques are sporadic and chasing up invoices is a part-time job in itself – means we’ll take a financial hit. We have to, at least initially, make do with less.

But this is where good old-fashioned cost-cutting comes in. Instead of buying books, I borrow from the library. We use hand-me-down clothes for our son and buy pre-loved op-shop toys rather than new ones. We make smashed avocado and lattes at home rather than buying café-made ones (take that, Boomers). And those are just some of the less embarrassing in our suite of penny-pinching efforts (don’t get me started on hard rubbish collection). A spreadsheet tracks every dollar we spend. It’s not glamorous – and it doesn’t net me great superannuation, help me achieve long service leave or upgrade my 2004 Subaru – but it beats the alternative of sitting in the same chair for 40 hours a week, bookended by a crawling commute.

Family time

I’m spending more time doing things I love. I’m writing much of the week, I’m surfing weekly again, and we’re spending heaps more time as a family. It has been unbelievable, in the space of just a few weeks, how much happier I’ve been chasing my passions, spending a day at home laughing with my son, keeping fit and having the time – before and after work – to head to the beach as a family. If it means I have to keep a spreadsheet to monitor how much money I’m spending at the bakery, then spreadsheet me up, baby.

There’s evidence backing the importance of strong father-child relationships. A 2013 study that used data from more than 1,000 Western Australian children, found boys whose fathers work more than 55 hours a week were more likely to act out and display delinquent and aggressive behaviour. A 2017 study that observed about 3,000 Australian fathers and their children found a third of Australian children aged 11-13 felt their fathers worked too much, while a third of children didn’t always enjoy time with their dads. The lead researcher on the latter, Australian National University’s Professor Lyndall Strazdins, said, “Australia’s work culture and social norms are making it hard for dads to be the fathers they want to be … more than half of fathers reported missing family events because of work, while a fifth described their family time as more pressured and less fun due to their jobs, and these were problems their children shared.” The study showed nearly half of fathers worked more than 44 hours a week, and about 40 percent regularly worked at night and on weekends.

Clearly quitting your job to spend more time at home isn’t feasible for everyone, and I’m aware of the privilege inherent in our experiment. While some folks work multiple jobs and long hours just to make ends meet, I didn’t want for anything growing up and was extremely fortunate to have received a stellar education. The legacy of this has helped provide a small financial buffer that’ll allow us time to find our feet before my freelance work picks up or I’m eventually forced back to full-time work.

Until then you’ll find me writing more, surfing more and spending more time with my family, being the best provider I can be.

*If any future employer reads this, I was just kidding about not loving full-time work, ha! I totally love it and you should hire me.

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