What’s it like to go from being a successful TV producer, at the height of your career, to being a full time dad? We asked dad-of-one Simon Ragoonanan about being primary carer for his daughter, housework division and his battle against pink…
Simon Ragoonanan, 45, lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and their four-year-old daughter
What’s your home like?
We live in a classic two up, two down terraced house.
What time are you up in the morning?
I’m up (aptly enough) at around 5am – usually a bit earlier in the summer months.
What wakes you up?
I just wake up. I don’t use an alarm clock, and haven’t for decades. My sleep cycle is pretty rigid (which makes travelling to different time zones a right pain). The main reason I’m happy to get up when I do is to have some time to myself – if I didn’t, I would have none all day and I find it one of the most productive times of the day, whether it’s catching up on emails, paying bills, blogging, etc.
How do you feel?
In the morning? Good. A cup of tea is essential, but I don’t know if that’s as much out of habit than need for caffeine.
What do you do first thing?
I’ll generally fire up the computer and then make a cup of tea while it’s whirring it’s way into life. I then catch up on whatever admin, blogging, email, reading I can do before the rest of the house wakes, at around 6am.
On being a full time dad
How might the rest of your day pan out?
Well, my week has three distinct periods. For three days, I am an all day stay-at-home parent, and it’s just me and the kid from 6am to past 6pm. We go to playgroups (I help run one), playdates, outings, shopping, library – all the usual stuff. When my wife gets home (about 6.30) she’ll do bath and bedtime while I get our dinner ready (our daughter eats earlier, at 6).
For the other two weekdays, my daughter attends nursery 8.30-3.30, so while I’m still the at-home parent, I get a five-six hour period of my 12 hour parenting day to myself. This is generally when I blog. Weekends are all three of us home, and while I am still up at 5, and my daughter at 6, my wife generally has a lie-in.
Where were you working, before the birth of your daughter?
Before I became a parent, I was a TV producer, though at the tail end of that I was venturing into social media too. My daughter was born in New Zealand, where we lived for four years. Prior to NZ, I was a TV producer in London, mostly working on showbiz/movie related TV shows – which I still occasionally do some freelance work in now we’re back in the UK.
Deciding to become a full time dad…
At what stage did you decide you’d like to be a full time dad, and what inspired this decision?
This is a tricky one to pin down. The seeds of it probably began 20 years ago, when my niece was born. I loved spending time with her, and my mother looked after her when my sister returned to work. I was home too – in a lean period between graduating and working – so spent a lot of time with my baby niece and loved it.
When we became parents, my wife was always keen to return to work as she was rightly proud of what she had achieved in her career. If I’m honest, I felt I had peaked so didn’t have the same pull. When the time came to return to work, we both eventually agreed that we were uncomfortable with one of us not being home with our baby – and we also agreed that I was the best one to be home with her.
It made sense financially (my wife was earning a lot more than me), but also pragmatically. It’s easy to feel very alone with a baby. My wife has a much greater need for day-to-day social interaction than I do, while I am as happy in my own company as with others.
So when our daughter was around six months old, I became a stay-at-home dad and my wife returned to work.
What does your partner do?
My wife works full-time as a programme manager for NESTA in London.
Do mums and dads parent differently, if so – how?
I can’t possibly answer that. I certainly don’t subscribe to this notion that dads are more fun and carefree parents than mums, because that’s divisive and sexist. I know that my wife and I have differences, but have far more in common than separate in our approach to parenting.
In what ways is your relationship affected by the traditional gender roles (mum at home, dad at work) being switched?
None at all as far as I’m concerned. As far as I know, my wife feels the same.
As well as parenting, do you take on the cooking and housework?
I do the majority of cooking, laundry, washing up. My tolerance to dust and other minor grubbiness is higher so my wife does more of that than I do. She enjoys working in the garden, but I mow the lawn, sort the bins out.
Your website Man Vs Pink looks at roles/ toys/ colours assigned to girls and boys and challenges them. Where did your protest against the ‘pinkification’ of girls begin?
Hard to say when it began. I remember when I knew we were having a girl, I held many assumptions about them. I know my sister broached the idea of not ‘pinkifying’ my niece’s childhood – but it had little effect. This left me with the idea that girls naturally gravitated towards the pink aisle – and that marketing and socialisation had nothing to do with it.
When my wife was pregnant, the big reason she didn’t want anyone to know that we were having a girl was that she didn’t want us to be inundated with pink stuff. I didn’t understand the problem with that.
But at some point I read an article about princess culture – which I now realise was likely about or by Peggy Orenstein and her book ‘Cinderella Ate My Daughter’, a riveting takedown of Disney Princesses from their problematic characters and stories to especially the merchandising that drives their continuing hold on little girls. It explores how limiting it is to label girls things ‘pink’ as it clearly then implies that everything else is for boys – including sports, science, and construction toys.
Soon after that, I read of a great proposed LEGO project for a set of female scientists to counteract the lack of female minifigures in standard LEGO, and the creation of the LEGO friends line. Pre-blogging, I decided that this was awesome, and made it a bit of a mission to get support for this project (it needed 10,000 votes to be considered for production by LEGO). Using Twitter, I targeted feminist opinion formers – especially in the girl empowerment space. It created a buzz, and I also made many key connections that I maintain today as a blogger in this area.
How were you raised by your own parents – gender neutral, or with specific expectations because of your sex?
I can’t think of any instances of gender playing into it. But the toy market was not gender split in this way either. I remember the biggest Star Wars fan I knew was a girl who lived round the corner.
I’m also not comfortable with the term ‘gender neutral’. We are definitely raising our daughter as a girl, but countering limiting gender stereotypes that specifically apply to them. So for instance, I encourage her interest in Star Wars and superheroes to counteract the torrent of Disney Princesses targeted at her. But she is in no doubt that she is a girl, and will grow up to be a woman.
What are your plans for the future, will you re-enter the workplace at some point?
Now my daughter is about to go to school, returning to work would be great. However, it’s not as easy as me saying “Hello, I’m back – can I have a job please?”.
As many stay-at-home mothers also have to deal with, I now have a big gap in my CV and need to convince potential employers this doesn’t make me a lesser potential employee than someone who hasn’t. I have been frustrated that some organisations that specialise in helping at-home parents get back into the workplace – such as Digital Mums – don’t let at-home dads join their schemes.
What are your dreams for your daughter?
The usual – I’d like her to be happy, successful, and loved. I hope we can enable her to take advantage of opportunities and passions she experiences in her life.
If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would it be?
Here is good.
Are you a full time dad? How are you finding it? We’d love to hear about both the amazing bits and the challenges in the comment section below…