Most cities have a strong expat network which makes it easy for stay-at-home mums to meet other women in a similar situation. But what’s it like to be an expat stay-at-home dad? We chat with Paul Simpson to get a father’s perspective on bringing up kids in Singapore.
Tell us about yourself and your family.
I’m English. Angelina is Chinese Swiss; she was born in Malta, grew up in Hong Kong, lived in the US and moved to the UK at 14 years of age to study. I didn’t board a plane until I was 10! We each lived in South London for the best part of 20 years, married in 2010 and moved to Singapore in 2016. We have two children: Miller (4) and Estelle (2). They both attend EtonHouse International Pre-School. We live in a landed house just off Mountbatten Road, around 10 minutes’ walk to the school.
Are you a stay-at-home dad or do you work?
I quit my digital media job in London to project-manage the move to Singapore and help the family settle in. At first I hated being a SAHD but I’ve learned to embrace it. It was a personal journey of reconciling my lack of financial contribution and the loss of identity through work. I’ve had to learn to recognise that the value I deliver to our family isn’t simply a dollar sign.
Currently, I’m undertaking a part-time Master’s degree at Hyper Island, volunteering at TalentTrust (a non-profit that improves the lives of disadvantaged people in Singapore by uniting business people with ambitious charities that want help), learning Mandarin and, most importantly, spending time with the children every day.
Tell us a bit about your “role” during the birth of your children.
Birth is as incredible as it is daunting. Just remember that it’s all about making Mum comfortable. Angelina had close female support through the delivery (breathing, cranial, essential oils and so on) that helped her remain in the zone. If I were there clumsily stroking her brow and nervously asking “Are you ok, my love?” a thousand times it really wouldn’t have helped.
I was with Angelina throughout but my role also included pushing medical staff for answers, getting everything into place for our return home and, for Estelle’s birth, making things seem perfectly normal for Miller.
Was sleep deprivation an issue for either of you?
Absolutely. This is probably the worst part of being a new parent. If the child is being breastfed and is waking hungry there’s not a lot the father can do. So, try and balance things out by taking a bigger role around the house to take the stress away. If, or when, the baby is taking a bottle then share the responsibility. I used to be “on duty” Friday and Saturday nights, giving Angelina a much-needed full night’s sleep. That sucks from a social point of view but get used to it: you’re in this together.
One way or another, get the baby into a routine as quickly as possible. It wasn’t cheap but one of the best investments we made was hiring a sleep trainer. She stayed with us for four nights, took full responsibility of night-time duties (bringing the child to Angelina in bed for feeding and giving her much needed extra rest) and established a strict routine that proved to be very successful. Both our kids were sleeping through within four months.
How do you try to give your children a good attitude towards food?
I tell Miller he needs fish and vegetables to grow muscles as big as He-Man’s. He also loves human body books so I try to reinforce why food matters during our reading time. Our best food hack? Give the kids a smoothie as part of breakfast every morning. We throw spinach (comes frozen in cubes), papaya, banana, apple juice and water into the NutriBullet. They love that it’s green and, as it’s a little sweet, lap up a cup most mornings. This means we don’t stress about their fruit and veg intake.
What local dishes do your kids enjoy at hawker centres?
With Angelina being from Hong Kong we’re not strangers to Asian food. The kids will still turn their noses up at a lot, which is quite normal. They typically stick to fried rice, chicken rice or buns. That said, Miller has been known to pick up and start gnawing on a chicken’s foot; he definitely takes after his mother on that one.
What’s your approach towards your children and screen time?
Parenting is hard, so we don’t carry a heavy conscience about sticking them in front of Netflix if we need a quiet hour at home or 15 minutes to eat our food in a restaurant; just try to make it the exception rather than the rule. My other tip is to end screen time at least 30 minutes before bedtime to give their brains a chance to stop fizzing. I’ve found this can help reduce bad behaviour and aid better sleep.
Any advice for readers who are about to become fathers for the first time?
No one is born with knowledge of what to do as a parent. There is no “right” way. Babies sleep, eat, poop and cry (a lot!) for a variety of reasons. It will often be frustrating but you’ll figure it out. Try not to compare yourself with other fathers or other families. Just trust your instincts, dig deep with your patience and be the best father that you can. You will argue with your partner a lot – often about the silliest thing – so remember to keep talking and keep laughing.
On more practical terms, try and get a little fitter before the baby comes as you won’t have as much time or energy afterwards. Make sure that you write stuff down that will be useful or interesting to recall in the future such as routines or those funny first words. Finally, remember that no good ever came from a toddler sitting naked on the sofa! Follow Paul’s family life in Singapore on Instagram @ thirdkulturekids.
quote: “If the child is being breastfed and is waking hungry there’s not a lot the father can do. So, try and balance things out by taking a bigger role around the house to take the stress away.”
For more see our Mums & Babies section!
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Baby travel tips: safety and comfort
Safe and stylish strollers, prams and baby scooters
This article first appeared in the Kids guide 2018 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy or subscribe so you never miss an issue!