Step into the Tardis with me, and travel back two years to when I first became a stay-at-home dad of twins. It's a rainy thursday morning. I clatter the double buggy through the sports centre doors to join a soft play session. I scan the room for anyone I know.
There's not another man in sight!
I manoeuvre the buggy across the sports hall, passing mums who are beast-feeding, nannies chattering to each other in different languages and toddlers examining plug points and chasing brightly coloured plastic balls across the floor.
I find a spot alongside 50 or so other buggies and set my two babies free.
I look up again, anxiously, to see if there's anyone out there I know. I'm thrilled as a smartly-dressed woman waves hello to me as she guides her child down a baby slide.
But still not another man in sight.
So that was the scenario two years ago. Since then more men now come to the play sessions one of the fantastic supervisors working there assures me.
"Two years ago you, Jeff and Howie were just about the blokes who came here," she said.
Today, up to 120 parents, nannies and toddlers throng the sports hall on a thursday morning and it's unusual if there's more than six or seven chaps amongst the number. And that's a change I hear you ask?
Now I'm not here to bang the drum that more men should be at home looking after the children. And I'm not saying that I'm intimidated by a room full of women, although I am aware that I'm in the minority. But it doesn't bother me. It doesn't bother me like it would, say, if I was the only man sitting around the board table of some grandiose company. Sound familiar?
What I am here to say is that despite my being vastly outnumbered by women in all the playgroups and libraries of London which we go to, one thing that has struck me during my 28-month reign as a stay-at-home dad (SAHD) is that in the end we are all the same (well, apart from the obvious bits).
We all like to share our parenting horror stories
One of the great joys of working as a SAHD is that every now and again I meet parents who are willing to share their terrifying parenting tales. It's on these occasions that I'm reminded that I'm not a total disaster of a parent. I totally agree with blogger James & Jax who wishes 'more of us would share our horror stories of toddler parenting, so that fewer of us would feel like parental failures!'
Indeed, only last week, during a nursery playgroup, two women confided in me that they had suffered postpartum depression. Their willingness to talk about their struggles served as some form of personal therapy to me (and I am sure to them). Fathers suffer from postpartum depression too, especially first-time fathers and those fathers whose partners suffer from depression.
Listening to parenting horror stories demonstrates what we actually all know; that parenting is a bloody difficult job, but outside of the blogging world we don't talk about this enough. The fact that we are all muddling our way though life as parents unites us. Our experiences unite us.
We all want the best for our child
I seldom bump into someone at a playgroup who doesn't want to be there (apart from the odd child). Yes, we all whine a bit about the relentlessness and monotony of parenting (indeed, I moan a lot) but ultimately we all feel good about spending time with our children during their formative years. We wouldn't be at a playgroup or library together otherwise. We are bonded by a common purpose. Giving our children the best possible start in life.
We are all members of the same club
I have heard tales of men being asked to leave playgroups by breastfeeding mothers and of young fathers feeling ill-equipped to survive in a world which is naturally the preserve of women. I haven't experienced this; I just don't get it.
I feel somehow accepted by the majority of primary carers (mothers) I meet because I think I behave, struggle and muddle my way through life like any other parent. I join in with the informal chats on how tough parenting is because doing so helps me and consequently I feel as if I have been accepted as another memberof the club.
My belief is that I have assimilated into a predominately woman's world because I don't behave or speak in a macho way, bleating on about how easy being a parent is to everybody. That's because it isn't easy, so why pretend. Yes, I'm sure people see me as a man (I would hope so) but not as a threat. I may even be seen as a novelty, but I am also seen as another stressed-out parent, drinking too much wine, eating too much ice cream and in desperate need of exercise.
I'm not after congratulations or a pat on the back. It's just the way it is...