So You Want to be a Stay-At-Home Dad?

by Steely Dad on October 21, 2009

When people find out that I’m a stay-at-home dad (SAHD), I usually receive one of two different reactions.

The first is an overly-effusive and sometimes disingenuous diatribe about how wonderful it is that I stay home with the kids, and how progressive I am and all that crap. For those of you who do this in an effort to be complimentary, you’re not. Please just save your breath. Fortunately for me, I do not live my life for your approval. I must add, however, that sometimes people are sincere in their praise. Believe me, I, and the rest of we SAHDs, can tell the difference.

The other reaction I get is “Oh, that’s nice.” ‘Nuff said about that one.

Everyone has a personal reason why they become a stay-at-home dad, just as people have different reasons for becoming doctors, attorneys, fire fighters, garbage picker-uppers and crack whores. If you’d like a personal account of my reasons for becoming a SAHD, read this post.

Some men become SAHDs, not because they want to, but out of necessity. The economy has contracted and with it many male-dominated industries have shrunk. Check out this recent story. Many families have reevaluated their financial circumstances, deciding that Dad should stay home to care for the kids. I bet that at least some of these men who, after recognizing the bond they’ve created with their kids, decide to stay at home with the kids even after job opportunities present themselves. Other men make the conscious decision to be the primary caretaker of their children because by so doing they feel more fulfilled. These men wish to develop and nurture a different type of relationship with their children than compared with the “traditional role” dads.

Whatever the case, the transition to becoming a stay-at-home dad can be daunting if one is not fully prepared.  In this post, I’d like to provide some practical advice to help with the transition from breadwinner to bread-maker.

1. Understand that you will be surrounded by morons. What do I mean? You’re going to meet people who either disapprove of your role as a SAHD or are condescending about it. My advice? Ignore them or, if you’re particularly perturbed, hurl an insult like, “I hope your kids inherit your open-mindedness.”

2. You’ll meet moms who, by the virtue of the fact that they have a vagina, believe they are better at caring for children than you. Again, ignoring them is the path of least resistance but is certainly not as fun as slipping in a left-handed compliment. I recall an incident when my nine-month old daughter started to cry for food when she saw another baby being given a bottle. My kid wasn’t crying for more than five seconds when the mom of the other baby said, “You need to feed your child when she’s hungry.” Mind you, this “wonderful, caring” mother had one child compared to my two; that she had been a stay-at-home parent for all of a few months compared to my years of such experience and her baby’s mouth was infested with the worst case of thrush I’d ever seen, yet she still felt compelled to share this sage advice with me. I responded sarcastically with, “What? Really? You actually have to feed your children? I didn’t know that. I thought they lived by pooping and crying. Why thank you for opening my eyes. I would’ve never known.”  The weird part?  Most of the other mothers didn’t, as far as I could determine, thought her comments were inappropriate.

Whatever you decide, know that you need not compare your ability as a father to anyone. You are a good dad and it does not matter what others might think. Who gives a rat’s ass what they think? Can the comments and rude looks be hurtful? Sure they can but don’t let them get to you. Parenting is the one job in which comparison to your peers is a fruitless path. Plus, I find that those parents who try to take a holier-than-thou approach are usually deeply insecure about their own parenting style.

3. Listen and observe. Parenting, like golf, can never be mastered. It is an ever-changing and evolving medium that requires adaptable skills. You can always learn something new so it’s best to watch and listen to other parents who have similar parenting styles and philosophies. Ask for advice and most are more than willing to answer your questions.

Will you get unsolicited advice? Absolutely and you can take it or leave it. It’s not unusual for me to receive unsolicited advice from people who don’t have kids or their kids are in their 30s. Consider the source.

4. Be prepared. This might seem like a no-brainer but have all the essential items to cover most emergencies. A well-equipped diaper bag can help you eliminate stressful situations that fall under the “not-if-but-when” category. What’s my top emergency for which to be prepared? Hands down, “The Blowout.” Just make certain you have more than enough diapers and wipes. A couple of plastic groceries bags can be helpful in order to isolate soiled clothes. Also, make sure you have plenty of snacks, bottles/sippy cups, hand sanitizer, etc. It’s amazing how food can be such an effective distraction. My wife likes to bribe our offspring with lollipops in order to maintain her sanity during times of extreme stress.  I rarely resort to such tactics as I have developed “The Look,” which is also quite nice to have in one’s arsenal. My father-in-law once gave me “The Look” and I haven’t quite been the same ever since. Mind you, The Look is not effective with babies and really small children as they are not at all impacted by your evil eye.  Nevertheless, do as you see fit.

5. Kids cry. That’s right. Kids cry. Many have also become quite handy with the Fake Cry, an offshoot of its annoying cousin, Constant Whine. An experienced parent can quickly differentiate between the two in a way non-parents simply cannot. Some children genuinely cry a lot (those who have survived a baby with colic can attest here) and when they do, it can be unnerving when all efforts to placate the apoplectic child are unsuccessful. Don’t fret and don’t get frustrated. Just do your best and remember everyone has been there before. It does not indicate your failure as a father (a meth addiction would do so but not a crying child). This happened to me once when at the bowling alley, my daughter fell and hit her head on a fiberglass bowling ramp. I fetched some ice and was applying it to the injury, which only made her more upset. I knew she needed the ice but she was making quite a fuss. A woman came over to offer her assistance. Sometimes people, and for me it’s been exclusively women, who offer help or advice. Some are sincere in helping and others do so because they probably think you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. It’s a case-by-case issue so respond accordingly. In this case, I felt the woman was genuinely trying to help so I politely declined.

6. Have fun. This is perhaps the most important piece of advice I have to share and it’s one I need to remind myself of from time to time. Above all else, remember that spending time with your kids should be fun. Instead of going to an office, you get to go to the zoo or a museum or a baseball game. Yea, there are trade-offs that aren’t so fun, like changing diapers or sporting the Seattle grunge look 24/7 but for the most part, spending quality time with your kids is fun and should be so. Remember that this time is as fleeting as it is precious. Before you know it, all those requests for playing games and doing things together will be made by you. Remember, Harry Chapin’s melancholic little ditty “Cats In The Cradle”? But in the same way, it’s also important to make and take some time out for yourself. No, I’m not talking bubble baths and mani/pedis (unless you’re into that sort of thing, in which case you probably need not the advice offered in this post). I’m talking about doing something you like to do: read, watch TV, catch up on our fantasy football stats, whatever it is, do it. Why? Because kids can be very demanding and if you don’t take time out to recharge your batteries, you’ll soon lose all energy and motivation. So don’t feel guilty for taking time for yourself; in reality, you’re actually doing your kids a favor.

This list is far from a complete one and I know there are many stay-at-home dads and parents who have their own pearls of wisdom to share. Please feel free to add to the discussion in the “comments” section to this post.

Cheers!
Steely Dad

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