Sean Szeps. Picture: Supplied
Sean Szeps. Picture: Supplied

Hey, mums: stop shunning stay-at-home dads

COMMENT

I'm afraid of playgrounds. There, I said it.

It's not the towering jungle gyms or the bossy toddlers. What terrifies me, if I'm being completely honest, are the mums.

They aren't mean to me, per se. In fact, most of them seem quite lovely from afar. It's just that - how do I say it? - they completely and utterly ignore me.

At first, I thought it was a strange coincidence. Maybe the mums in my neighbourhood are just introverts? But as I left the park with my two-year-old twins in search of adult interaction, I realised that the problem wasn't their personality type. The problem was me.

More specifically, what's between my legs. My junk.

I can't make friends at the playground because I'm a guy.

And I'm not alone in thinking this. Dylan, a 27-year-old stay-at-home father in Sutherland, NSW, says "mums don't acknowledge me as much as they do other women. They smile, but never start a conversation."

Google it. This issue is much more common that you think.

Stay-at-home dads often feel unwelcome in parenting spaces, including at school drop-off, in changing rooms and dance classes. The result is an isolated and marginalised dad who's just trying to do his best.

This might sound like male whingeing, but it's a problem that's growing. There were 80,000 stay-at-home dads in Australia in 2016, up from 68,500 in 2011.

The TV show House Husbands (starring Rhys Muldoon, above) touched on many issues affecting stay-at-home dads, but not the social isolation they can feel.
The TV show House Husbands (starring Rhys Muldoon, above) touched on many issues affecting stay-at-home dads, but not the social isolation they can feel.

We rightly encourage mothers to follow their professional dreams, but are we encouraging men to own their role as fathers?

Oscar is a 41-year-old stay-at-home dad from Geelong. He says "I get the sense that I make [mums] feel uncomfortable. I'm not sure why, because I'm with my two children, but they avoid eye contact."

In hopes of eliminating my playground phobia and doing my part to change this conversation, I decided to ask women point-blank: why are they uncomfortable around fathers in the playground?

In total, I heard from 56 Australian women. While some noted they preferred talking to dads over mums, 83 per cent had honest reasons why they do avoid men at the playground. Their answers ranged from "being worried about being hit on", to "men don't look talkative", to "we have less in common".

There is, in fact, a conscious and unconscious bias toward men stepping into a predominantly female space.

Look, it makes sense. We are all carrying centuries of gender division and stereotypes which won't fall to the wayside by osmosis. We need to do our part to shift the dialogue, on and off the playground.

Dad’s aren’t so scary - but why do so many mums seem uncomfortable around fathers in the playground?
Dad’s aren’t so scary - but why do so many mums seem uncomfortable around fathers in the playground?

By "we", I mean dads and mums. This is a two-way street! Just as it's imperative for office culture to become more welcoming to mothers, it's equally important for kiddie culture to become more welcoming to fathers. You can't complain about men not doing the heavy lifting with kids, and then ostracise us when we do.

My hope is that modern stay-at-home mums will realise that dads aren't at the playground on a Wednesday morning to hook up with you. We're just trying to survive the morning. We're trying to make it to nap-time.

And men, myself included, need to initiate conversations. We have to show the people around us that weren't aren't just babysitters or creepy perves who like sitting in parks. We're dedicated dads, looking to pass the time with a friendly conversation.

So, yes, I am sick of being ignored at the playground. And yes, this is a real problem that needs to be addressed. But no, it's not one group's fault over another.

I'll do my part to change, if you promise to do your part and say hello. I swear I don't bite.

I just can't say the same for my two-year-old son.



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