a joint column for mamas and babas in chengdu
This month we talk to Christian Wossel, our first baba to contribute to Mama Huhu. Christian is an unusual expat parent in that he's a SAHD (stay-at-home dad). After his wife was offered a job at the German Consulate of Chengdu two-and-a-half years ago, Christian quit his decade-long post at a telecommunications company, and he, his wife, and their kids (ages 18 months, 5 years, and 7 years) moved to Chengdu.
Was becoming a SAHD a difficult decision to make?
No, the decision was easy and quick. My wife finished her study of sinology and art history in 2007. And with her (our) application for the foreign ministry, we knew that we could go abroad one day. But it took two more years before we had the opportunity to go abroad. From that moment on, I was excited because I had a vivid imagination of all the things I could do in the future. I could do any job I felt just even a little interest in (not to earn some money)—I could work at McDonald's or as a pizza-delivery guy. Or I could learn to restore antiques or something.
What's your typical day?
We get up at 6:30, have breakfast together at 7, and the kids leave before 8. Between 8 and 11 I check some things online, wash clothes, and at this time my youngest daughter has a nap. From 11:30 to 1 o'clock I prepare and then have lunch and from 1 to 3:30 I go and buy the daily necessities like fruits and vegetables and so on. At 4:30 I pick up the kids from the bus and help them do their homework and then start to prepare dinner for 6. The kids go to bed around 7:30 and then it's time for me and my wife.
Do you have an ayi/paid helper?
Yes—she cleans, does the dishes and laundry, and sometimes looks after my youngest daughter for a couple of hours.
How are stay-at-home dads perceived in Germany?
They are still rare. In my circle of acquaintances in Germany, both women and men go to work. But in general I believe in the change from the understanding of a traditional family to a modern family, as part of the emancipation and equality of women. That means there is no difference if the wife works and the husband stays at home or other way around. But I realise that in expat circles there are many more stay-at-home dads than back in Berlin. However I think most of the stay-at-home dads here have made their lifestyle choice more due to their circumstances being sent abroad then their mindset about the family.
How are you perceived by your friends here in Chengdu?
Most of them are respectful and don't judge. But with many local businesspeople, when they notice I am a stay-at-home dad, they stop talking to me and walk away.
Do you ever feel like your friends' wives are jealous of your wife's situation?
It's a pity that you're implying that [most of] the women stay at home and the men go to work, but I think that is reality. But that's what I meant about circumstances. Most companies just send the specialist and his/her family, so the spouse has no other option than to stay at home. And most [expat wives] I know here in Chengdu can be separated into two types: One type is here just because it's an exciting adventure to stay abroad, and they know that they will go back to their "normal" life in one or two years, so it's just fun. But the other type has accepted that they are mostly "just" the spouse and they try to find some replacement for going-to-work-and-earning-my-own-esteem. But in countries like China where you need a visa to work it's not so easy, so there remains charity or NGO work.
What do you do when you have free time?
I get my fingernails done or go to B&Q to go window shopping. Both things are really relaxing to me. To be honest, I really do nothing special. Free time for me can be going to Metro and buying some stuff, or I try to go play badminton twice a week. If I'm only responsible for myself then I can relax by doing other things.
Do you hang out with any other expat SAHDs here?
Yeah, I have two buddies. One of them I meet weekly to play badminton, and with the other I share my thoughts, emotions, concerns, and we talk about what will happen in the future.
How long will you continue to be a SAHD?
My plan is to stay at home until the youngest one is 8 years old at least. I think, since we decided that my wife will work and I will stay at home, for the kids, we both want to do what we're responsible for 100 percent. So we both consider it best to encourage and support each of our children throughout their early childhood. And of course this is possible because of the well-paid job my wife has. That is a great luxury for us!
I think the time will come when the children are older and won't need my permanent presence, it'll be important again for me to work and have a so-called career. That will be in almost six or seven years. So today I really don't know which country we will be in then and what kind of possibilities there will be.
What suggestions would you make to other expat SAHDs in Chengdu?
Do what you want and enjoy the time with your kids. I'm sure your fathers are jealous.
Do you have any suggestions for things to do with kids in Chengdu?
Chengdu Youth Sports League on Saturdays during the school year.
This article was first published in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 60 ("old school").