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.
17 thoughts on “Stay-at-home Cad”
FANTASTIC POST! You not only nailed it for SAHDs, but I’d say you got it right for a lot of SAHMs, too. Very impressed.
I’m a SAHM and I can relate to this. I get tired of the cherish every moment crowd. You just can’t cherish EVERY moment. That in itself would be exhausting. Being home does get boring at times. Two year olds get boring at times too. That is just a reality. It doesn’t help anyone to sugar coat it and pretend it’s all flowers and rainbows.
Congratulations on the Blogger Idol Top 13!
That’s half the point of this blog. Sugar-coating is BS. Just because I get frustrated or bored sometimes doesn’t mean I hate my kid or hate parenting. It’s just life. Very few things are black and white. You take the good with the bad and hopefully the good outweighs the rest in the end. I refuse to use this blog to paint a pretty picture regardless of what is actually going on. The truth is far more valuable. And more entertaining!
Thanks for reading!
It seems to me that there are way too many SAHD’s that have a woe is me I need more recognition attitude. It’s nauseating! Like you said, Man Up!
Everyone is looking for recognition. Whining about it doesn’t do any good. Just be quiet and keep doing your job; recognition will come. Even if it’s only from your wife and kids, it will come. And besides, that’s the best kind, right?
I tried the stay-at-home mom gig a few years back…. that was the hardest shit I ever did! Ever! I was begging places to hire me, after a year…
Ha! It’s only been a few months for me but CHECK PLEASE!
Thanks for reading!
Good work. I have three grown children and you are so right. Parenting is very difficult. I was a SAHM some of the time and a working mom at other times. If you are home, even though you love them dearly, you wish for engaging work to keep your brain from rotting and wish to contribute to the family financially. And if you are working, you miss them terribly, feel guilty about them being in day care, and worry about them all day long. Bravo to you and your efforts. I’m sure you’re a great dad,. whether you are in the house all day with your child or working to feed/clothe/educate him. Congrats on Blogger Idol status as well. Glad it led me here to read your work.
Thanks for reading and for the congrats. Not sure I realized how much work the BI competition was gonna take but hopefully I’ll stick around a few weeks.
I knew parenting would be hard – I actually went in under the mistaken impression that babies were the hard part but man do I get proven wrong with every month of growth – but I didn’t realize how frustrating it could be. Like you said, you can’t win, you get burned out at home, or you get guilty when you’re at work. You just gotta figure out which is better for you, and for your kids.
Thanks for reading!
As long as they know they are loved and valued, have freedom and support to be who they are, grow up kind, caring and helpful you’ve done your job. When your son’s girlfriend thanks you for raising such a wonderful young man, it’s going to make you know it was all worth it and that you did it right–no matter how you got there.
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