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It's a Dad's Life: stay-at-home dad Andrew Miles

We talk to stay-at-home dad Andrew Miles about being a hands-on father in Beijing

For the first interview in our series 'It's a Dad's Life', Time Out Family meets Andrew Miles, a stay-at-home dad, and finds out how he’s adapting to taking time off work and reactions from his community.

Please Introduce us to your wife and daughter.
Our daughter Wilhelmina is two years and three months, my wife Linn is Norwegian and works for UN Women. I come from near Brisbane in Australia, and used to work as a management consultant.

When did you move to Beijing?
We moved in August 2013, for my wife’s job. We live in Sanlitun Soho.

Where is your favourite place to take your daughter?
We love the hutongs. It’s great to just walk around with Wilhelmina, she’s fascinated with everything and it’s different every time. It’s usually quiet too on weekend mornings.

How are you adapting to being a parent here?
The topic of pollution is unavoidable for any parent. It’s a shame. It’s been a big shock for our family, as Wilhelmina was born in Sydney then spent time in Brisbane, so the first few months of her life she was spending outdoors every day. The bad air quality combined with the harsh winter in Beijing meant that we’ve ended up indoors three or four days at a time. But Wilhelmina and I have both learned to be creative! We bought a black board which she loves, and I do things like blow up balloons and draw cats and dogs on ttem, or join multi-coloured drinking straws from one end of the room to the other – that amuses her for hours. To wear her out, we even kick around a ball in the hallway.

What about public play areas?
It’s been a big challenge to get information on child-related activities. Things open up and close down so quickly – during the time we’ve been here, three indoor play centres nearby have come and gone! I’ve found that the best way to source information is to ask around in your community about playgrounds and play dates. People have been very nice and helpful.

How do you find being a stay-at home dad in Beijing?
The local community can be really taken aback at my situation. Once, in a grocery store, the lady at the counter asked me, ‘Who cares for the child?’. Even when I replied that I did, she kept asking where the mother was! Also, a male neighbour made the gesture of putting two fingers to the side of his head, indicating that is what Chinese fathers would end up doing out of stress if they were looking after children full-time.

Wow, how did you react to that?
I have to say, that was slightly intimidating! But overall I think it’s something to laugh at, and I understand that it’s not a common part of their culture.

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How are you adapting to the expat community?
Sometimes I get guys who are not interested when they fi nd out I’m a stay-at-home dad, and playgroups run by mums that would respond to messages from my wife but not to ones from me. But I don’t think it’s specific to Beijing – when my wife posted online a talk by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, about the difficulty of dads joining playgroups, lots of people commented from around the world saying they had the same experience. Having said that, some mums have been really welcoming and helpful, and I’m really grateful to them.

Overall, how do you rate your life in Beijing?
It’s been fantastic. When I was working, I went back to work three days after Wilhelmina was born and we hadn’t bonded that much. In the last seven months, our relationship has improved so much, and I’m grateful that our situation here allows us to do this. Plus, I can’t see how I’d ever get bored in Beijing because it’s such a big cultural learning experience. I feel it would benefit my career too, and if I start working again I’ll try hard to convince recruiters that my experience as a stay-at-home dad has taught me as much as, or more than, if I’d been working in Beijing!

Are you a father in Beijing with an interesting story? Email family@timeoutcn.com
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