Before moving to Switzerland five years ago, I worked outside the home full time, but life is a little different now.
As a stay-at-home dad or “man of leisure”, I spend a fair amount of time with other parents. One thing I have learned is that each one of us is unique and that mothers and fathers tend to see things in slightly different ways. The documentary film The Evolution of Dad takes a look at how the role of fathering has evolved and how mothers and fathers differ in their parenting styles. This subject is interesting on its own so I recommend the film. In this column, I would like to look at being a stay-at-home dad in a culture where the role of the father is met with very different expectations.
Becoming a stay-at-home parent is a big adjustment to make whether you are a mother or father. When you throw in different languages, school systems, traditions, etc., it becomes a lot to consider. So, what were my expectations when we first arrived?
I heard about the “traditional” Swiss family structure where the man of the house works and the mom stays home to care for the children. My situation was definitely unique, but I expected everything to work out. I just hoped that the transition into this nontraditional role would go smoothly and that we would feel comfortable here.
Getting involved in local activities and meeting local people have been important in making my wife and I feel connected here. The big key has been getting involved and contributing to the community. I have had the opportunity to coordinate one of our local playgroups. I have done the same thing with a dads’ networking group and a running group. These experiences have given me opportunities to learn all about local traditions, parenting values and people’s expectations.
Most feedback has been positive and reassuring. Other feedback brings up big question marks in some pretty important aspects of life. In a conversation about local kindergarten for my daughter, I was warned that I will be the only father out there. “They’re gonna eat you without salt”, I was told. This still makes me smile. I do not know if I was told this because my German was not great, or because I am a stay-at-home dad or if it was just based on her own experience. Anyway, that is not important. After nearly two years of kindergarten, I have learned you should do your best and see for yourself.
If you are in a unique situation and do not fit the standard “mould”, maintain an objective view of parenting. Set expectations for yourself by identifying what your child needs to have a healthy, well-rounded childhood and determine how you can provide this for them.
So has it all turned out ok? Yes, even better than expected. I think everyone, locals and expats alike, respects effort and most find the stay-at-home dad thing interesting, if nothing else. Nearly every person I have met in Switzerland thinks it is a positive thing for me to be home to care for my children. However, I would also say that the vast majority of people are very surprised to hear that I stay at home and even more surprised when they find out that my wife works full time. It usually takes a moment for this to sink in, but in the end people say it is good to have a parent there for the children, no matter who it is.
Different cultures will have different expectations, just do your own thing, make it work and surprise people.
This article was originally published inMothering Matters
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