I was a stay-at-home dad once, for almost two years. I wasn’t a fan. But that wasn’t my wife’s fault.
It was boring. It was isolating. It was exhausting. That wasn’t my wife’s fault either. (It was my son’s.)
Yes, I bonded with Detective Munch and we had plenty of good times, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t prefer going to work to being home all day. And it’s partly because I remember those days that now that my wife is home with a new baby, I’m determined to help her out as much as I can.
I don’t care if you’re a mom or a dad, staying at home with the kids is hard work and deserves appreciation, respect, and the occasional helping hand. Because no matter how much you enjoy staying home with the kids, when your spouse walks in the door at 5/6/7 p.m., it’s his/her turn.
No one gives less fucks than a parent whose shift is over.
My son could be covered in Vaseline and Sriracha and the minute I enter the house Mom and Buried will hand him to me and make a beeline for the wine. Which is fine. When I walk in, it’s my turn. As a working husband, taking over for a few hours is one of the things I can do to ease my wife’s load.
First things first, whenever she has a chance to go out for a girls’ night? I tell her I’ll handle the kids — both that night and the next morning — and to go have fun. This gives her a chance to play with grown-ups for a bit, which can be a luxury when you’re a SAHM who spends all day inside with children, and blow off some steam. But I’m no saint. Once the kids are in bed, I have the house to myself, which means I can watch that Netflix movie she has no interest in, or the playoffs with no griping. Besides, every night she gets out of jail is one in the bank for me!
Another hot tip? When you get home, don’t add to the mess (and there will be a mess). You’d better not even mention the fucking mess, goddammit! You try herding a 5-year-old and a baby without some Lego, laundry, and leftover yogurt littering the living room (alliteration!). Don’t drop your work bag and your jacket on the floor, don’t kick off your shoes in the middle of the bedroom, don’t head straight for the fridge and leave bottle caps on the kitchen counter (trust me, I’ve learned these “don’ts” first-hand). Handle yo shit.
My wife literally just texted me that The Hammer had a blowout, put his hands in it, and started painting the wall. I think the least I can do after she’s had a day like that is not throw my shit around when I get home.
If you are going to drop something when you walk in, maybe make it some take-out so she doesn’t have to cook, or a bottle of wine so she doesn’t mind cooking, or a bouquet of flowers. Doing something thoughtful to help her out once in a while is always welcome, but so is simply letting her know you appreciate her and what she does for your family every day.
Let her know that you know how difficult staying at home with the kids can be, because in its own way, it’s as stressful and exhausting and as psychologically taxing as hitting deadlines at the office, and answering client calls, and dealing with a micromanaging boss. Don’t belittle what she does. No, she doesn’t have a commute, she doesn’t clock in and out, she doesn’t get a paycheck. But that doesn’t make what she’s doing any less valuable or challenging. Sure, if you screw up, you’ll get fired, but if she screws up, one of your kids dies. No pressure!
On the weekends, when you’re both at home, get up first and make the coffee. Take the kids to the playground so she can sleep in. When you work in an office five days a week, weekends are a respite. When you work at home seven days a week, weekends hardly register. When you’re there, make sure you’re actually there.
You both have full-time jobs; just because your spouse’s isn’t in an office doesn’t make it any less legitimate. Weekends certainly aren’t a vacation for the stay-at-home parent, and the working parent shouldn’t treat them like one either. Besides, parenting is a full-time job for both of you, even if you have different roles and contribute in different ways.
And remember, you don’t have to be a mom to stay at home with the kids, so all of this goes for the stay-at-home dads too. Except maybe the bouquet of flowers part (guys don’t care about flowers.)
This post originally ran on Scary Mommy