“I like the sound of it”, Tim Gouw suddenly said 10 years ago. He was studying Economics at the time and was on a first date with a female student. He had no idea what to say and hardly dared to look at her.
“What do you like the sound of?”, she asked.
“Well, becoming a stay-at-home dad.”
About 10 years later, this became a reality for Tim (34). The student – who laughed a lot at his comment – is now his wife, and he spends all week at home taking care of their young son and daughter.
Little time at the breakfast table
Initially, Tim did exactly what you would expect from an alumnus with a Bachelor’s in Economics and a Master’s in Marketing: he started working at a marketing agency in 2011. But he did not really enjoy his work. “Apparently, it was important to stand around the coffee machine and to declare your hours, so I did those things very well”, he says. “But it wasn’t very inspiring, and I don’t like having a manager breathing down my neck.”
Three years later, he therefore decided to become his own boss and start a consultancy firm. And successfully, too: as well as an office in Rotterdam, he also opened one in Toronto, Canada, where he and his wife went to live. After the birth of his daughter, his desire to become a stay-at-home dad began to grow. He enjoyed his parental leave and was having doubts about his career. “I was spending so much time travelling for work and so little time at the breakfast table that I thought: this has to change.”
Even then, his life did not really change until he moved to Barcelona in 2019 and his son was born. His wife got a job in Switzerland, so it meant she could not be at home half the time. “It was at that point that I decided: I’m going to be a stay-at-home dad.” Tim saved up his money and sold his shares. The last time he set foot in an office is now three years ago.
His days look completely different now. In the evening, he already prepares breakfast, and in the morning, he is usually woken by his children. In the afternoon, the three of them often go out together, usually to the playground or the supermarket. In the meantime, he is kept busy thinking up the menu for the day and working on long-term planning for things like visits to the doctor.
In the meantime, Tim was writing a book entitled De thuisblijfvader (The stay-at-home dad), which is being released this week. In the book, he shares his personal story and advocates for a fairer distribution of the household tasks. “If I constantly step over the laundry basket, ignore the washing machine, don’t know what kind of clothes my children wear and don’t know how to prepare a decent meal, I’m maintaining the inequality between men and women.”
Not without setbacks
All the same, the tasks were still not evenly divided at the beginning of his stay-at-home fatherhood. “My wife did more than me around the house, even though I was at home every day,” he says. “I thought, ‘If I don’t do it, she’ll be sure to do it instead.’ Like many other fathers, I had that biased attitude.”
He had to learn how to be a stay-at-home father, and there were certainly a few setbacks along the way. “I sometimes ended up sitting with my head between my knees crying when things didn’t go as expected”, he says. He remembers one particular morning when his children got into a fight with each other. “My daughter threw sticky honingringetjes (a Dutch version of Honey Loops) at her brother’s head. And while I was cleaning up, my son hit me very hard on the head with a toy. I thought, ‘I’m getting nowhere, and I’ve still got the rest of the day to go…’”
In the beginning, he mainly missed a feeling of satisfaction. “At work, success is expressed in terms of performance and money, but as a stay-at-home parent, it’s very difficult to tell when you’re successful”, he says. “We’ve taken for granted many of the things that stay-at-home parents do. Nobody pats you on the back because you folded the laundry really neatly or got the kids dressed.”
We need to appreciate unpaid work more, thinks Tim. “It feels a bit strange to say that, because mothers have been calling for this for a long time”, he says. “I needed to experience for myself how much work it is, and now I completely understand that it’s simply not possible to get much else done alongside it.”
Now that his children are three and five years old and are going to school, he does have time for a new job. All the same, he is still holding out for a bit longer. For now, he would rather make sure that his book becomes a conversation starter with families, so that fathers eventually experience both the difficult and the wonderful sides of being a stay-at-home dad.
Tim has also learned how to derive a lot of satisfaction from his stay-at-home fatherhood. “I enjoy sitting on a bench in the sun in a playground, having brought sandwiches and knowing that the kids can keep playing for a while.”