Whalley dad writes about life in a mums’ world

Stay-at-home dad Garry Cook out for a walk with daughter Betsy.
Stay-at-home dad Garry Cook out for a walk with daughter Betsy.

Stay-at-home dad Garry Cook found it “an excruciating experience” being the only man in the mum-dominated world of children’s playgroups.

Now Garry (39), from Whalley, has written a book about his travels – and travails – across Lancashire visiting playgroups with his one-year-old daughter Betsy.

His humorous book “Stay At Home Dads Are Not Welcome Here” documents his experiences of mad mothers, over-enthusiastic class leaders and screaming children.

Garry also explores his own prejudices concerning the role of males and females in society, and questions whether playgroups, pre-school and child care benefit children.

He claims he discovered some surprising evidence these groups can have a negative effect on child development.

He said: “The common perception is that a playgroup will benefit your child, help them develop social skills and learn to mix with other children.

“But the reality could not be more different. Some research labels children’s groups, and specifically pre-school, as harmful to a child’s development, stating they learn bad habits and develop unattractive social skills.”

Garry’s previous documentary research and photography has explored social behaviour close up. His projects have included “Flashes to Ashes” examining smoking in public, “Brilliant Blackpool” celebrating life in Britain’s brashest seaside town, and “Outsiders” with portrait photos and interviews with unique, unusual and misunderstood people.

The main focus of his latest book is being a male in female-dominated environment.

Garry said: “I’m a fairly laid-back person, comfortable in most social situations but right from the start I found being the only dad at playgroups difficult.

“Much of the academic research into playgroups highlight how beneficial they are to mothers, giving them a support network and an opportunity to discuss parenting issues.

“But for a man in these groups such support networks do not exist. It is a lonely experience.”

He added: “There were some mothers happy to chat – and I was so grateful to them – but there was never any prospect of developing close friendships. Can you imagine their husband’s face if he came home early from work to see me sitting at the kitchen table drinking a glass of wine?

“The reality of playgroups is they are for mums. Talking about nappies, birthday party arrangements or the new hairdressers in Clitheroe is not really a male thing.

“Society has been able to bring down social barriers and encourage equality in many areas of life but, for men, I feel that being a stay at home dad will be a lonely experience, particularly in playgroups, for decades to come.

“My advice for any stay-at-home dad is to not be pressured into doing what other people think is good for your child. If you’re taking them to parks, going on walks or bike rides with them, or sitting reading and drawing, and your child is enjoying themselves, that is all they need.

“I don’t think children need to be at a playgroup mixing with other children when they are two and three. The reality is they play on their own – or with you – anyway.

“At such a young age, children aren’t really too concerned with playing with others. They have plenty of time to develop those social skills at school. In fact, they are already developing their social skills with you.”

Garry’s new book is available on Kindle now, and a paper version will be published soon. Website: www.gazcook.com

For the latest updates visit: www.arenotwelcomehere.wordpress.com

Garry collaborated with Nokia on the book and shot all images on his Nokia Lumia 1020 camera phone.