Lego has a new toy on the block.
Children can now play with a hipster stay-at-home father who is holding a baby’s feeder bottle, stroller in tow.
“We need to stay in tune with the world around us,” Soren Torp Laursen, president of Lego Systems, told Fortune magazine in February this year.
The world around us is definitely changing. With the transformation of socio-economic systems and office environments, the traditional family is also going through a makeover.
A Pew research conducted late last year showed that the share of two-parent households in the US in which both parents work full time now stands at 46 per cent compared to 31 per cent in 1970.
But the change doesn’t just stop there. More and more families are now opening up to the idea of the father becoming the parent who stays at home, while mother works full time.
How much fun is it for a man to be the primary caretaker? Very, if you ask Mustafa Hassan, a Dubai-based stay-at-home dad.
“I enjoy it. It’s not easy looking after children, but I’m happy. I see my children smiling and happy and growing up in front of my eyes. You don’t want to miss all this time, it’s amazing,” he told Gulf News.
The Egyptian expatriate said that he and his wife never wanted to leave the caregiving to someone else.
“When we got married, we spoke about how we would not hire a nanny to look after the children,” he said.
Living in Qatar when his first daughter was born, Hassan and his wife Brittany – an American expatriate – decided that he would stay back with his daughter while she worked full-time.
“When it comes to taking care of the family, both the husband and the wife have to share the responsibility. It’s not like a man should get married and leave everything for the mum. She carried the baby for nine months, so even if the dad is taking care of the expenses, cooperation is still important. Taking care of your children is more important than anything in life. If you don’t want to share the responsibility with your wife, don’t have children,” he said.
When the family moved to the UAE in 2014, his wife decided to address the piles of journals and notebooks that Hassan seemed to have been collecting.
“She would move them from one drawer to another. Finally, last year around July, she was putting stuff away and wanted to move them again and asked if we could toss them. I said no way!”
Hassan explained that these were his memories as a father, that he had documented over the years. Curious to find out what he had written in Arabic, she asked him to translate it for her.
“I remember her just sitting on the bed when I told her, with tears in her eyes, not realising I had been writing all of these years. We sat for hours remembering so many memories,” he said.
His wife urged Hassan to share these experiences with others as well and that was the start of ArabBaba.org, a blog that documents ‘the ups, downs and sideways of being an Arab Stay-At-Home Baba (dad)’.
But is society accepting of the changing gender roles? Whether it came to making identity cards for his children or speaking with family and friends, explaining his role as a stay-at-home dad would sometimes prove to be tricky.
“Although I don’t care what people think because it was my choice and these are my children, I really had a hard time for a while saying I didn’t have a job. It bothered me so much that I started to make it my own thing to try and get the UAE and the Arab World more exposed to understanding how important a relationship with a Baba (dad) is and even if it is not for hours and hours, 10 minutes can make a huge memory for a child,” he said.
Abu Dhabi resident Alex Malouf agrees.
As someone whose work allows him to spend a couple of work days a week at home with his 11-month-old daughter, Malouf said he would love to be a stay-at-home father if he could.
“She’s our first child, my wife is also working and obviously living in the UAE is not cheap. We are both expatriates – while I’m from the UK, my wife is from Bahrain, so we do have her family close by. Still, we wanted to raise our daughter, not give her to a nanny. We were thinking about me being a stay-at-home dad, I would have loved it because I would really enjoy being with our daughter Jenna, making sure that she’s taken care of,” he told Gulf News.
How does having a stay-at-home father impact the mindset of a child? Clinical psychologist Dr Valeria Risoli felt that it is crucial to not jump to stereotypes by claiming the father is taking on the mother’s role. Parenting, according to Dr Risoli, is a gender-neutral term and should stay that way.
“I think that for children it is not as difficult to accept as it is for adults. Adults have learnt social rules, are aware of social expectations, know social stereotypes and their opinion about this will be inevitably influenced by these social ideas,” she said.
Another clinical psychologist, Dr Mary John, felt that the changing gender roles are simply a reflection of the changing world.
“There are many traits that were traditionally considered feminine. For example, washing clothes was supposed to be a very feminine chore but nowadays you can see fathers taking out laundry and sons being asked to clean the room. It is reaching a point where any job applies equally to both a man and woman,” she added. Indeed, a more equal world does not sound like such a bad idea.
— The writer is a freelance journalist with Gulf News