Ten years ago, I began a new career—as a stay-at-home dad. My friends didn’t understand it. My parents and in-laws nearly suffered a collective heart attack. Faceless message board posters labeled me as a free-loader, lazy and a slacker.
You see, for years the stay-at-home parent role has fallen to the woman. However, the percentage of stay-at-home dads climbs every year. According to athomedad.org, the number of stay-at-home dads goes up by as much as 30 percent every two years. As someone who has been doing the stay-at-home dad thing for 10 years, I have experienced many challenges that men face as stay-at-home parents that women don’t. I sometimes get asked by rookies what advice I have to offer. These, in my opinion, are the most important things to remember that will help you succeed in your new role:
Be Prepared to Work Harder Than You Ever Have In Your Life
I have five children. But that, of course, was not always the case. When I started my job, I only had one. I like to say that as I got better at it, management chose to give me more responsibility. The stereotypical view of a stay-at-home parent is one of days spent on the couch occasionally shoving a bottle in the baby’s face.
Picture instead hours of children’s TV, endlessly stepping on toys, a never-ending stream of dirty diapers and a smell that just can’t be found. Now add getting up in the middle of the night with your little bundle of joy and sneaking in hour-long naps whenever possible. Don’t forget, dinner should be on the table at dinner time. I’d had careers in retail, warehousing, and newspapers prior to starting my new career. Some of those jobs were very physical in nature. None of those jobs left me as exhausted at the end of the day as being a stay-at-home dad.
Search Engines Are Your Friend
You will probably have to learn many, many new skills to succeed in your new job. For instance, did you know that you shouldn’t run a carpet cleaner over freshly vomited Gatorade? It spreads the stain out instead of sucking it up. I wish I had used a search engine before, not after, discovering that fact. While we’re discussing sports drinks, if your child is sick and you plan on keeping them hydrated with Gatorade, don’t buy red. I’ve found White Cherry to be the least visible upon the inevitable reversal of fortune.
When your six-year-old decides to use the towel rack as a chin-up bar, you learn that towel racks don’t support that much weight. Use a search engine to find out how to easily repair a giant hole in your bathroom wall.
You can also easily find that dog food, Play-Dough and 1/4 of an air hockey puck are not dangerous in small quantities.
Check Your Ego at the Door
You’ll hear plenty of well-intended comments. “Oh, a stay-at-home dad!!! Isn’t that neat!” and “Your wife must have a good job” are two of the most common. Early on, I tended to bristle at those comments. Then I learned to embrace them. I usually remark, “Yes, I am very lucky to spend so much time with my boys.” The fact of the matter is, with her engineering degree, my wife has more earning potential than I do, and that’s OK.
If you aren’t careful, the ego can take a hit from your spouse as well. If you are a stay-at-home dad, you will probably be expected to cook, clean and fulfill other household duties. When your wife comes home from work looking for dinner, leaves her clothes lying around the house or makes a mess and doesn’t clean it up, take it to mean that she trusts you to perform your duties well. Interpreting it as disrespect or diminishing to your manhood is foolish. When you agreed to be a stay-at-home parent, you agreed to do those tasks. There aren’t gender-specific jobs when it comes to raising a family, period.
I struggled early on with this concept, complaining to my father about my wife’s habit of putting dirty dishes on the counter without rinsing them. I specifically commented that “She’s a grown woman, and I shouldn’t have to clean up after her like I do the kids.” He looked me straight in the eye and in as stern of a tone as I have heard since I was a child said, “That’s your job now. You don’t go to her office and answer her emails. Why should she have to come to your office and do your work?” A truer statement has never been spoken.
Your Children’s Successes and Failures Belong to Them
It is absolutely your job to teach your children to the best of your ability. Teach them to be polite, to respect authority, to be kind and caring. Expect them to do their best. However, when they fail (and they will fail) understand that it’s not your failure.
When my now-12-year-old (then 5) looked at his very demure grandmother during a company picnic and said, “Grandma, this is f****** fun!” I was horrified. I felt like everyone in earshot must have been thinking what a terrible caregiver my child must have to know such a word.
A week later, I saw an adorable little girl (about 6 years old) at the mall with her family on a Sunday afternoon. She was dressed in a lacy pink dress and had clearly just left church with her family. In behavior typical for their age group, a flock of high-school-aged boys were goofing around near the fountain and popped a plastic bag, startling everyone nearby. The formerly proper little girl unleashed an ear-piercing scream followed by, “Son of a b****, you scared the s*** out of me!” I fought off my laughter until the humiliated parents were out of earshot and then nearly passed out laughing. So remember, when your sweet little cherub cocks up a cheek and lets one rip at a fine restaurant, sometimes, kids behave like kids.
It’s a great job
Being a stay-at-home dad has been the most frustrating, angering, maddening, headache-inducing experience of my life. It also, by far, has been the most rewarding, fulfilling, funny and educational role I have ever played. Given the opportunity, there is no doubt that I would do it all over again.
This article was written by one of our writers. The author’s views are entirely their own and may not reflect the views of WritersDomain.