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What It's Like to Be This Stay-At-Home Dad

When Cole was born, six years ago, I knew I was more interested in raising him than any paid professional job I would ever have. When the opportunity for me to stay home with my two boys came up three and a half years ago, I was quite nervous but embraced the opportunity. Despite the fact that I now juggle more tasks than I ever have and, frankly, fail more often than ever, I love being a stay at home dad.

That said, it’s not easy to be me. First, I have the most demanding boss I’ve ever had. He’s four-headed, after all, and has four different sets of demands. None of which I could ever completely meet, since Stacy, Cole, Finian and Wesley often have opposing requirements. Accordingly, satisfying one head often means failing one of the others. Parenting guilt is very real. Every time I have to do a necessary chore, it’s time I’m not spending with my children; whenever I play with the kids, I feel like I’m letting something else slip.

On top of that is the schedule. I used to be very rigorous about getting places on time and never being late. In fact, before I stayed home, it was very frustrating for me that Stacy wasn’t as obsessive about timeliness as I was. Well, that sort of crazed demand to arrive early or on time has slipped a lot over the intervening years. Nowadays, I arrive late quite frequently (children are always having a crisis on your way out the door) and Stacy’s the one who pushes me to be better about time management.

That said, you working-type people don’t want to hear about that. You have to be out of the house working at jobs you often resent because you find them to be demanding, depressing or even just plain boring. Meanwhile, I get to have a dynamic schedule filled with fun activities with my favorite boys. And it’s absolutely true!

It took a while after the change for me to put that in proper perspective. As I’m sure is the case for most at-home parents, after a honeymoon period, I find the day-to-day of household chores, errand running, and child-rearing very challenging. And as a stay-at-home-DAD, in addition to the domestic tasks I had taken on (cooking, cleaning, etc.), I am still expected to do the more traditionally masculine tasks as well (fixing the house, working on cars, etc.). It was frustrating and overwhelming at first; but, I love it now more than ever. And it’s something with which I’ve become good.

It is unfortunate, then, that many at-home moms feel uncomfortable with me around. They don’t realize, I think, that I’m more scared of them than they are of me! I honestly thought the second I started as a full time parent, a large community of other parents would embrace me and immediately feel a kinship with me. This is, unfortunately, not the case. It’s a double standard women don’t even realize they’re placing on me. Seemingly, women want the SAHD to exist – but I find in actuality they don’t want me to part of their “team.”

I could wax philosophically about why I think that might be the case, but the reality is women feel invaded by my trying to participate. Problem is, no matter how hard I try, I’m never going to have the entrance requirements to join that international sisterhood of mothers.

Please don’t misunderstand: some moms are really wonderful. One of the best moments of my life was the first time Cole and I were invited to a playdate at another mother’s house. Eventually, we did find a small group of friends that accepted our situation and embraced all of us. But that doesn’t undo the constant negatives, like day I was told I couldn’t attend a local playgroup – because one of the mothers had a nursling and had informed the group she would be uncomfortable if I attended.

Gender roles are much harder to break than people realize.  Imagine this: Stacy and I attend a grown-up event. In the setting among other couples, moms relate to Stacy. Because she was pregnant, nursed babies and is better at putting band-aids on gently. Then the dads also relate more to Stacy, since they both work outside the home and can talk business. Luckily, I get to relate to the most entertaining party: the kids. They love reading stories or playing super heroes, and so do I. Gender roles don’t matter to 3 year-olds. I’m great with the children, and it’s why I not only love my current job, but I’m also able to have pride in what I do.

At any gathering, be it at a party, a playgroup or a playground, I’m the first parent to jump into the kids’ games, chasing them and playing with them until everyone is tired. I love to climb trees and teach other kids how to do it. I’ll play superheroes forever with them, giving them the best ideas I’ve gleaned from a lifetime of reading comic books. As a dad to 3 boys, playing is very special. Our boys tend to gravitate towards physical activities like wrestling or playing action pretend games. I happen to prefer these activities over any others, too.

What I’m learning in my time playing with these kids at parties and social events, is that children just aren’t getting information on cool topics like bugs or snakes or dinosaurs. Not a day goes by where a child (or often times a mother) will ask me “boy” questions. Kids, somehow, have come to see me as some sort of science expert. I’m fine with that. I’d be more fine with that if there mothers were treating me as an equal, rather than someone simply good at “boy” stuff.

It’d be nice to be seen as a peer who might not have the same skills as seasoned stay-at-home-mothers but capabilities just as valid of taking care of my home and children. After all, I’ve kept the kids healthy and happy for longer than half the moms who scoff at me or insist on offering their help. The patronizing comments about “how great it is” I’m spending time with my boys while I attempt to grocery shop were old years ago.

The good news is, I like what I do and I’m good at it. I get to be the savior that moves heavy objects or fixes things at the preschool or wherever I may be needed. I really enjoy that role; it feeds my ravenous masculine ego. And furthermore, it’s not just the children who are benefiting from me staying home; Stacy’s and I’s marriage has become much more stable, focused, and amazing as the result.

For those considering fulfilling the role of an at-home father, learn from our efforts:

  1. Find an inclusive community and fulfill a role you’re comfortable with, don’t expect to be one of the gals and everyone will be happy with what you’ll be able to do in other ways.
  2. Don’t fight the biological drivers for gender roles: let the at-home dad feel as masculine as much as possible – let him open jars, let him drive when you are both in the car or give him a few hours on Sunday to watch television with his hands down his pants, whatever works!
  3. Understand that sometimes, you ought to let your wife ease introductions. Most of these mommy groups find themselves ill equipped to accept dads. You might find them more accepting if they first hear a female voice.
  4. Be prepared to have your feelings hurt. Even just recently an elementary friend of Cole’s – his first female friend – was told she wasn’t allowed to have play dates with Cole after school “unless Cole’s mom is home.” No amount of preparation on my part could’ve kept that from stinging.

What are your experiences? How do you think you would honestly feel if this unusual situation presented itself in your life?  If anyone wants to know anything about my experience as an at-home dad, don’t hesitate to ask! I’m always ready to help!

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