Everyone has been talking about stay-at-home dads.
Over the past decade or so, the amount of dads staying home to take care of the kids while their wives go off to work has gone up 78%, according to Census Bureau data reported in a recent article by the Wall Street Journal.
Some people are touting this as a kind of sea change, but I don’t care if it’s “the new normal” or a changing paradigm or some X-Men-style evolution. I’ve spent the better part of a year as a stay-at-home dad (SAHD), and I don’t like it.
After being laid off in June, I spent the bulk of the summer at home, working alongside Mom and Buried to make sure my kid was getting what he needed every day. Then, when my wife landed a job, I suddenly found myself cast away on an island with an almost-two-year-old. No nanny, no daycare, no grandparents, no Wilson; just me, a collection of toys, and the daily oasis that is my kid’s mid-day nap. What was a summer at home has extended into the fall and now the winter (the fact that we moved from the northeast down to North Carolina in November hasn’t helped my job search).
Staying at home with my son has been exhausting and rewarding and challenging and fun. And often overwhelming. I’m not going to lie: I’d prefer to be back at work.
I once joked that hanging out with my son was boring, and some people took offense to the idea that I don’t cherish every minute with my kid. Please. Of course I do. But if you’re always fully engaged when participating in the kinds of activities your two-year-old enjoys, then have I got a TV show for you!
But most of the time you hear a SAHD talking about his role, it’s in glowing terms, either because they really feel that way or don’t want to be criticized for not feeling that way. Unfortunately, the subtext often is that those dads—or moms—who don’t want to stay at home with their kids are lesser parents, or somehow don’t love their kids as much. And that’s just not true.
Not every parent, male or female, is cut out to be a stay-at-homer. Some guys love being at home with the kids, some don’t; the ones that don’t aren’t worse fathers for it. Some women want to go back to work after giving birth, some don’t; the ones that do aren’t worse mothers for it.
No group of parents should be elevated at the expense of the others; as far as I know, there are no stats to back up any version of parenting as the “right” or “best” one, and no parent is better or worse than another simply because of the ways they’ve divvied up their responsibilities. It’s a personal decision that’s none of anyone else’s business.
There are a lot of reasons some dads might choose to stay home with their kids, or might choose not to, especially in this economy. For some families it just makes more sense for a parent to stay home—I know that when we were in New York, the cost of daycare alone could eat an entire salary—and maybe for some of those families Mom just makes more dough.
I’ve been forced into this role by circumstance, rather than having arrived at it by choice, and I know that reality colors my experience. There’s an undercurrent of anxiety and stress that might otherwise not exist if the financial stakes weren’t so high. And I’m sure a lot of other dads have had similar experiences.
But I’m equally sure there a lot of dads who choose the SAHD role because it suits them and they love it. Good for them. I love my son; I love spending time with him and feeding him and dressing him and playing with him. (Maybe not so much feeding him). And preferring to be at work rather than to stay at home does not mean I love him any less than SAHDs love theirs.
Ironically, while I’ve long known that parenting is a tough job, it’s taken this stint as a stay-at-home dad for it to really start feeling like a job. And that feeling is something that I, perhaps selfishly, want to get rid of.
I don’t want to become beaten down by the long days at home with my son. I don’t want our trips to the playground to feel like a chore, or our dancing jags to become a headache. I want to hang on to the fun parts, and while most of my days at home are still full of them, I can sometimes feel the tide turning.
If being a SAHD results in me being an unhappy, aggravated father, that’s no good for me or my son. So more power to all the Mr. Moms out there, holding it down, doing man’s work.
I think I prefer to be a Working Girl.