Stay at home dads, a survival guide
At a time in my life when I had reached my early 40’s, a baby arrived and, soon after, we were posted to Moscow from Slovakia. I found myself stuck at home living in a small high rise flat. These were two life-changing events for me: both positive and negative. A steep learning curve was required along with hard adjustment to living in Moscow and to being a SAHD (Stay At Home Dad) or as we are also called hand bag carriers, bums and trailing spouses, the last term is usually reserved for accompanying wives abroad. We are like the lesser spotted red baboon, shy and rarely seen out of our natural habitat. There are some SAHDs in Moscow and SAHD situational circumstances can differ. Some guys are on a career break, some are looking for high-flying jobs in Moscow and some are not actually looking after their kids at all as they have a full time nanny. In my situation, we had no nanny and I found myself alone looking after a six-month baby, pushing him in his stroller in a local park. I felt more scared than anything else I have ever done in my life. If you find yourself as a SAHD in Moscow or in any other city or in any country, don’t worry, in time you will get used to your new full-time dad role.
If you are a SAHD, you will find it harder than a female trailing spouse to adapt. A lot will depend on your life situation before you decide to move abroad. Stereotypes die hard and it’s still expected even in the 21st century, that women will follow their husbands abroad rather than a man following his wife abroad. If you are in a modern relationship and in an equal relationship, moving abroad to live off your wife’s income will be a lot easier. If you have nothing left to prove and are happy within yourself as man and as a person, then adjustment will be less painful.
If you give up a well-paid job to follow your wife and even if you hate your wellpaid job, your pride may take a beating when you change your lifestyle to live abroad, especially in a big city like Moscow. Even in a strong relationship being a stay-at-home dad will bring with some tensions that are unavoidable. Adjustment will be easier if you have a business or skill that you can take with you to your new country. Perhaps you have a qualification in medicine, engineering, IT or design? If so, you can simply take your qualification and experience with you are start anew. If you have a business that can be run or done on a laptop you will be able to work wherever you go.
They key to surviving and even enjoying your new life abroad as a SAHD, is to network, make new friends and to be as active as possible. If you move abroad with your partner and just stay locked in at home in your new flat you will feel very isolated and very lonely. On arrival within the first few weeks, it would be an idea to join clubs and take part in sport activities. When I moved to Moscow, I joined the British Women’s Club. They allow men to join via their wife’s name. I expected a lot of middle class women with young kids or babies and that’s exactly what I got. I went to one coffee morning and never went back. However, this meeting led to getting an email invite to one of the many baby groups that are here in Moscow. They are run by and for ex-pat women. They have mostly been set up by the wives of British Embassy staff but there are also American Women’s groups.
I went along to these groups for about four months. There were only two men at these groups. Sure I felt awkward, but they were a welcome lifeline to me and will help you to get advice on baby care and will remove some of the isolation that you may feel if you are a new SAHD living in an impersonal city like Moscow.
There are also international baby groups where you will meet an interesting mix of people from many other countries. You can get lots of useful information off the Internet and join sites on facebook, such as Living In Moscow. You can also join some of the many expat forums, they can be easily found by searching on the net. As with most forums, be very careful about your online identity and privacy and only use them as information sources, forums can have a strange people on them. Despite this, you will find these sites useful and genuine ex-pats are often very happy to help you with any questions that you may have about Moscow.
Regardless of your financial situation, try and find a part time job if you can, it will allow you to get out the house while the kid or kids are at kindergarten or at school and will give you some financial independence and will allow you meet with the locals and to live and feel your new country. Don’t just stay within the ex-pat community. Live and feel your host country. Going to local play grounds will allow you to meet other parents most of whom will be women and Russian, but Russians love kids and you will make some new friends. I noticed that Russians are not used to seeing a man with a kid, so get used to some bewildered looks from some women.
Ex-pats abroad, often have many sports clubs that you can join. You could join a football team, gym, walking club, cooking club, book club and many other clubs. If you like languages, try and learn the language of your new host country. It will make integration a lot easier.
The key to being happy abroad in your new role is to enjoy it and make the most of it. Situations change like the wind and your situation abroad will not be forever. Your partner will probably be on a high ex-pat salary and you will enjoy all the benefits that go with being an ex-pat abroad but jobs change and come and go, save while abroad if you can and don’t just spend all your money on dining out and living the high life, be wise with your money. If you have children you will have the chance to be with them and to shape them and raise them. As a stay-at-home dad you will form a strong bond with your child, a bond that will probably last a long time or at least until they become a rebellious teenager!
You may only be aboard for a few years, so enjoy it and good luck.
To find out more information and to read about life in Moscow as a SHAD see English Ddad In Moscow at: www.englishdadinmoscow. com