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Sassy Papas In Hong Kong: Stay-At-Home Dads

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Family LifePost Category - Family LifeFamily Life - Post Category - RelationshipsRelationshipsParentingPost Category - ParentingParenting

Because it’s high time we break gender stereotypes!

It’s 2020. Parenting is a shared and equal responsibility. Simple truths that sometimes get ignored by society. With Hong Kong being an expat city, it’s not uncommon to find mums following their partners and then looking for a job here, while also having to juggle household duties, childcare, school runs, etc. As a result, these women often put their own careers on hold, opting for less-paying or part-time jobs so that they can manage it all. And that’s why we want to turn the spotlight on three awesome fathers who have chosen to break the mould. By opting to be stay-at-home dads or work from home or part-time, they have let their equally-wonderful wives to shine at their careers. Sassy Mama salutes them!

Read more: Career Choices For Expats In Hong Kong: How To Get Back To Work

stay at home dad alyn family life

Alyn Watkins, Dad to Polina (Polly) May (3 years) and Maya Seren (6 months) and Founder, Bravera

Why did you decide to be a stay-at-home dad?

I’m not exactly a stay-at-home dad as I do work part-time from a co-working space. Previously, I had a full-time job while also being part of two accelerator programmes (Founders Institute and Hong Kong Cyberport Startup Incubation Programme) and working on my start-up idea on the side. After having children, I was inspired to focus on a startup that could create an impact so I started  Bravera. With my wife going back to work full-time after maternity leave in April, we knew I had to quit my job in order to balance family and work on my startup, while also being close to home for the family (with schools shut for our 3-year-old and also having a 6-month- old).

How easy or difficult is it for others to accept a father as the lead parent or a mother as the breadwinner?

My wife is the breadwinner, and rightly so! She’s a multilingual (speaks four languages fluently!) aerospace engineer.

Since quitting my job, I’ve had mixed reactions — from both male and female sides of society. Mostly, men view me with a kind of pity as they feel their pride would be dented by having the family supported by the wife. Women, although initially surprised, provide more encouragement, and even give support and offers of help with contacts and introductions that may help.

stay at home dad alyn daughter family life

What does a typical day look like for you?

5:30am: My 3-year-old old usually wakes me up by poking me on my forehead after I’ve already had to sleep on the floor next to her in her bedroom. I half laugh, half cry from tiredness! We get up, I pick up our 6-month-old, we go to the kitchen and warm up milk and then go to the clubhouse for an hour or more to give my wife extra sleep. We go through my 3-year-old’s work sent by her pre-school, play educational games on the iPad, while I hold our younger one, try to occupy her with some early learning toys, battling sleep deprivation and trying (not successfully) to sip a coffee.

7am: We go back to our apartment where we wake mum up with a coffee, our helper starts breakfast around 7:15am.

7:50am: Mum starts her commute to work and we all gather by the elevator and kiss and hug and say our goodbyes.

8am: I begin work (calls, emails, product designing, business/strategy planning), usually from our compound clubhouse. Being close to home to help with the kids if the need arises. I spend a lot of time rushing around Hong Kong Island for meetings, and if I am not in the compound in the day, then I’m rushing back to ensure I get back for bath and bedtime (Polly currently loves taking bath time with Maya and being read books)

10pm and beyond: Between both children, we’re kept up until past 10pm and woken up every 2 to 3 hrs until 5:30am…

5:30am: Repeat!

Do you believe that fathers make as good primary caregivers as mothers? Do you have any personal parenting triumphs or fails?

Yes. I do. But only after the very important breastfeeding stage. In the early months, the mother-child bond is so critical. The best is a combination of maternity/paternity sharing between both as they do in Scandinavian countries.

Parenting triumph: Finding a public toilet in Hong Kong with decent changing facilities and managing to both change the nappy of the 6-month-old, while making sure my 3-year-old old doesn’t press the emergency alarm, even though she knows what it does!

Parenting fail: not stopping my daughter in time in the above scenario!

Read more: Ideas for Dad And Kids Adventures Around Hong Kong

stay at home dad james family life

John McGrane, Dad to Jack (2 years) and Serenna (1 year)

Why did you decide to be a stay-at-home dad and what was your previous job?

It was when my wife was offered her current job in Hong Kong. Our son Jack was six months old when we moved, and we agreed that we wanted one of us to be looking after him full-time for at least his first year. I left behind a successful career in property, but was excited to embrace this new challenge of being a full-time Dad in a new city, country and continent!

I was an Associate Director of an estate agency in South West London. The property market had already taken a big hit because of the Brexit chaos when I left a couple of years ago, and that has now been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, and so it feels like I left that job at a very good time.

Do you see your stay-at-home dad role as temporary?

Days after landing in Hong Kong, literally, we discovered we were three months pregnant with our daughter Serenna, and so my role as a stay-at-home Dad was automatically extended by a year! Jack is now 2.5 years and Serenna is 1.5 years and I’m starting to turn my head back to finding employment again. However, my wife’s job is very time-consuming and the plan is to find something that fits around the kids, if possible. I can’t see myself losing the Chief Parent role any time soon!

What is the toughest thing about being a stay-at-home dad?

There is a romanticised view that people have of being a stay-at-home parent (which seems to be held by everybody other than these parents themselves!) but it does not reflect the reality. There are plenty of stressful times to balance out the joyous moments that you have with your kids, but none of that is specific to being a father. Inevitably, becoming financially dependant on your wife can be quite damaging to the male ego, and so I think you need the right mindset to combat that.

I think, in Hong Kong, there is generally a more modern, progressive way of thinking amongst the expat community here than I would have experienced in the UK. I only seem to get respect and kudos (and often jealousy from men!) when I tell people about my “job”. I have been to plenty of playdates with groups of mums and always felt accepted completely. I’ve found that all stay at home parents are united by their stresses and anxieties regardless of gender!

stay at home dad john kids family life

What is your favourite thing to do with your kids?

We live in Ap Lei Chau, and there is a promenade alongside Aberdeen Harbour, virtually on our doorstep, which is great for the kids. There are no steps (so great for buggies and scooters), you’re safely away from the dirt and noise of the traffic, there’s two public playgrounds and great views across the Harbour. Despite being so young, my kids are very keen walkers, and this area gives them plenty of safe space to roam and play.

Both kids love the playroom and music classes at Baumhaus in Wan Chai. Their coffee is some of the best I’ve had in Hong Kong, and their mac ’n cheese is always well appreciated by the kids.

Going to the playgroup at St John’s Cathedral in Central was instrumental for me in terms of settling into being a stay-at-home Dad in Hong Kong. The ladies who run it are extremely friendly and make a point of introducing parents to each other and looking after Hong Kong newbies. I’ve made some of my best friends in Hong Kong through that playgroup and met a few other stay-at-home Dads as well.

How do you and your wife divide parenting roles and responsibilities amongst yourselves?

By the time my wife gets home from work, she’s desperate to spend time with the kids, and so she loves to be fully involved with the dinner, bath and bed routine in the evenings. Otherwise, it’s all on me on a normal weekday. However, on my wife’s days off, we’re a formidable co-parenting team! We try to take it in turns to get up with the kids in the morning, allowing our partner to have a well-earned lie-in! It’s impossible not to factor our helper Rizza into this answer though, because the pressure she takes off us as parents is invaluable when life gets hectic.

Read more: Parenting With Your Helper’s Assistance: How to Create and Maintain Unity

stay at home dad james family life

James Ockenden, Dad to Oona (4 years) and Aoife (2 years) and Founder of Transit Jam.

Why did you decide to be a stay-at-home dad?

After our first daughter, my wife and I tried both of us working part-time. But her job tended to be more full-time on part-time pay (law firms don’t really respect working hours!), so we decided we’d be better off with just one of us working. And I was quite happy to try working with the little ones. I’m a writer so, in theory, I can work at home or on the move.

What is the toughest thing about being a stay-at-home dad?

Actually right now it’s a golden time, they’re two and four, so we can do quite a lot together – we go out every day for a few hours, they play together pretty nicely when we’re at home so I can get a little bit of work done. The hardest time was when the little one wasn’t yet walking and the elder didn’t like to walk too much either, so if we needed to go out it was a struggle carrying them both (I invented a new dual-sling method) or struggling with the stroller.

But now, we’re in a good rhythm. The challenge for me was ego — I wasn’t “doing” anything. People say it’s the most important job, but it really doesn’t feel like it, especially when my wife was off fighting crime or representing major clients in landmark cases, and I’d spent the day sellotaping pages back into library books. It’s also hard to find time to exercise, and I find that lack of exercise quite draining.

But I switched my work mode lately. I’d been working for corporate clients, handling big research projects and it’s just impossible with two little ones tugging at your socks. So I launched a tabloid news daily (Transit Jam) covering sustainable transport. We recently got official “registered newspaper” status. It was a lot of work – I’ve written about 100 stories in the last three months. My new work pattern involves this “short window” mode, so I bash out a 100-word story or do a quick interview while the kids are compliant and then don’t worry about it the rest of the time.

stay at home dad james kids family life

How easy or difficult is it for others/society to accept a father as the lead parent?

I find it OK here. We were sharing parenting time in Dorset in the UK for six months on maternity leave for our younger one. Some of the villages there, that’s a lesson in outdated attitudes! There would be all mums at the playgroups and this sort of feeling “what’s that guy doing here?”. But in Hong Kong, although the playgroup I went to was 98% mums, I always felt more than welcome. In fact, people were a lot more supportive of a full-time dad than they might be of a full-time mum.

And my mother-in-law (who’s a local Hongkonger) in particular seems to really appreciate what I’m doing, she sees it as supporting her daughter, and always gives me a thumbs up, tells everyone I’m a good dad, which is quite special if you think about the traditional mother-in-law relationship stereotype.

That “hero factor” of being a rare full-time dad is pretty nice sometimes. But quite like the “positive discrimination” expats often get in Hong Kong, it’s best to keep reminding yourself that there are people (mums, helpers, grandparents, etc.) who do this all day every day without the slightest compliment.

In all honesty, do you believe that fathers make as good primary caregivers as mothers? Can you narrate any personal anecdotes of parenting triumphs or fails?

I don’t know. I get pretty mad with them sometimes but I’m told that’s normal. I also get angry with other people (drivers who park on the pavement!), whereas I think most mothers I know are much more resilient and accepting of things like that. So the kids see me yelling at other people quite a lot and that can’t be good. Also, I got arrested while protesting about a truck who had driven onto the pavement and nearly hit our stroller. I created a big fuss and the police came they arrested me for “obstructing an FEHD officer in her duties”, so the two babies and I were bundled into the police van and taken to Central Police Station. That was a pretty big parenting fail!

How do you and your wife divide parenting roles and responsibilities amongst yourselves?

Well, right now it’s pretty much me full-time day-to-day. Although my wife buys all their clothes, online. I used to object to this as I would like to help choose their clothes but that was a battle I lost long ago!

Read more: Arguing In Front Of The Kids: Resolving Conflicts Respectfully And Healthfully

Featured image courtesy of Getty Images, all other images courtesy of the dads featured in the post.

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