Mum's at work, dad's minding the kids

A small but growing number of men are choosing to be stay-at-home dads to care for their children.

In a gender role reversal, they cook, clean and oversee the children's schoolwork while their wives bring home the bacon.

Last year, 10,200 male Singaporeans and permanent residents cited "family responsibilities" such as childcare, care-giving to family members and housework as the main reason for not working.

That was more than triple the number in 2006, when about 3,000 men said they stayed home for the same reasons.

Of the men last year, 1,600 cited childcare as the main reason they were not in the workforce - more than double the number in 2006.

The data is from the Manpower Ministry's Report on Labour Force. A ministry spokesman told The Sunday Times that 2006 was the earliest year in the past decade that the 2014 data could be compared with using the same methodology.

Sociologist Tan Ern Ser said the growing number of stay-at-home dads reflects changes in attitudes, with greater gender equality and more flexible gender roles.

Now that many women earn as much as - or even more than - their husbands, the spouse who stops working to focus on the children is no longer necessarily the woman.

"It is the arrangement that works best in that situation," he said.

Centre for Fathering chief executive Peter Quek said today's fathers are a lot more hands-on in raising their children and more are choosing to be full-time fathers if the need arises, such as when the grandparents can no longer help to mind the children.

Mr Kelvin Tan, 34, quit his teaching job last year when his wife's mother, who had been looking after their three children aged between two and seven, suffered a stroke and died within months.

He said: "It makes more sense for me to stay at home as I drive and my wife can't, so I can ferry my kids around."

Former bank manager Kelvin Ang, 38, decided to stay home as his wife wanted to work full-time as a curriculum developer and pursue a master's degree at night. Their eight-year-old son started Primary 1 last year, and they also have a six-year-old daughter.

"If my wife has to study at night and I have to work late, I'm afraid our kids might be neglected," he said. "We see many parents sending their children to tuition once they start primary school but we don't want to do that. We want to guide our children with their homework."

Aside from Singaporean men choosing to be stay-at-home dads, there are also foreign men who do the same when they accompany their high-flying wives to Singapore.

Australian Carlos Mari, 45, moved from Sydney to Mexico before coming to Singapore as his wife leads a sales team at Google and overseas work postings are necessary for her to climb the corporate ladder.

He ran a digital marketing consultancy but became a full-time dad after their daughter, Carla, was born two years ago. The couple also have a son, 15.

"We decided that my wife had the best chances of making it to top management, so my career became secondary," he said.

After arriving here four years ago, he joined an expatriate mothers' group for Carla to play with other children.

But he felt the other women did not feel comfortable having a man around. So last year, he started Amigo Singapore Dads, an informal group for the men to socialise and support one another and for their children to play together.

The group has about 20 members now, mostly foreign men who are stay-at-home fathers.

But whether the men are Singaporean or expatriate, deciding to quit the rat race and stay home as a full-time father is not easy.

Mr Tan said: "I was brought up in a traditional Chinese family and the man's main role is to provide for the family. So I had to get past my own barrier about depending on my wife."

Like career women who stop work to raise their children, the men also worry about their job prospects when the time comes to return to work.

Both Mr Ang and Mr Tan do a little work on the side, for a couple of hours each week, teaching and giving tuition respectively, largely to remain plugged into the job market.

And though they all say they have no regrets about putting their children's needs first, it can be a challenge telling other people about their choice.

Mr Ang said: "When people ask me what I do, I'm still hesitant to tell them I'm a stay-at-home dad.

"I think people find it hard to comprehend and do not really accept this."

This article was first published on June 21, 2015.
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