5 Harsh Realities of Becoming a Stay-at-Home Dad
Here’s some observations from my first stint as a stay-at-home dad. Very topical for me considering mom’s second mat leave is coming to an end and I’ll soon have two kids on my hands.
God help me.
Just kidding! Being this hands-on in the lives of your children makes it all worthwhile. Trust me. But here’s a heads-up on some of the challenges you may face.
Sure, you’re constantly in the presence of another human being. But it’s not the same as being surrounded by co-workers and having adult conversations all day. And because being a SAHD is still on the rare side, you’ll likely not have many pals to connect with in the same boat. Stay-at-home moms have a bit of an advantage here as their chances of having friends in the same situation are higher. During her maternity leave, my wife had two close friends she could frequently meet up with for playdates. Moms are also better at making new mom friends along the way – perhaps because there’s just more SAHMs out there. It’s worth it to look for local SAHD group meet-ups or playgroups and try to make some new pals. The long, lonely days can pile up and, in some cases, this monotony may spiral into depression. This imbalance was one of the inspirations behind this site: to connect all types of dads (even if only virtually) and promote the idea that we’re all in it together.
2.Other Dads Don’t Fully Understand
This isn’t a knock against 9-5 dads. We all have different challenges. I can imagine that working a full day and then mustering up more energy to spend with the kids would be tough. And the fear of missing out must also be hard to cope with. But the upside to the work-away-from-home dad is that he gets a daily break from the kids. And, sometimes, as a stay-at-home dad, I yearn for that scenario. You know it: the grass is always greener. But their grass doesn’t have mind-bending tantrums and diapers. Being around your kids around-the-clock is bittersweet. On one hand, you’re right there during all those magical moments. On the other hand, you’re right there during all those tough moments – which, let’s face it, the majority of moments are. When you talk shop with a dad who isn’t a SAHD and not suffering from severe kid burn-out, you quickly realize he doesn’t feel your pain quite the same way. He doesn’t understand behavioural issues the way you do because he witnesses a lot fewer of them. So try to connect with other SAHDs for a proper rant session.
3.Feelings of Failure
You’re doing the most important job you’ll ever do. Yet every now and then you feel like you’re failing when you see friends announce new career milestones or big life achievements on social media. You’ll also start to stress about your post-SAHD career because you’ll be out of the game for several years. Even though I was in complete agreement about becoming a SAHD – and welcomed the challenge – my career was the expendable one. My wife made a lot more money than I did and her job had health benefits, so it was a no-brainer. Yet the decision still stung a bit, because it was my own business I had to sacrifice and I enjoyed what I did. The reminder that I was “taking one for the team” would cross my mind on particularly tough days. But I’ve been able to keep myself in check, knowing that I will never look back in my later years and say, “Yeah, spending all that time with the kids was a huge mistake.” In reality, one of the biggest regrets many people have is how their careers came at the expense of family time.
4.Expectation (and Desire) to Earn
I clearly remember wheeling my son down the street one day when I ran into an old friend. He asked me what I was up to and I pointed to my son, saying, “That’s my boss right there. I’m taking care of him these days.” He replied, “Very cool! But what are you doing work-wise?” I didn’t want to get into some offended SAHD rant about how taking care of a toddler is actually quite tough and that’s my full-time job. And, in turn, I wasn’t offended either. He was just making small-talk and wasn’t a parent so he didn’t have the faintest clue about kids. My knee-jerk reply was that I still ran my small businesses from home (which I did/do) because I felt an obligation – as a guy and, especially, as a father – to be viewed as an earner. It’s a bit of a conundrum: your instinct to earn more after becoming a father is at odds with your ability to earn because of being a stay-at-home father. In the early goings I put a lot of pressure on myself to work as much as I could and I burnt out really quickly. That, and I also found my mind was taken out of dad-mode too often for my liking. So I scaled back my side business until I was comfortable with the extra workload, which wasn’t much. My advice? Take it easy on the extra-curriculars – there’s no shame in not earning.
5.Mom Still Gets the Credit
I remember another time, walking down the street with my boy, and an elderly woman started chatting with us. I mentioned we’d had a busy morning at the playground and how I was really looking forward to nap time. She said, with a mild bit of sarcasm, “Oh you seem very, very tried. Does mom have the day off?” Her assumption was that I was just minding my boy for the day while mom finally got a break. And many times since, I’ve heard lines like, “Check with mom and let me know,” or other similar remarks. People will make all sorts of quirky, mom-centric comments. No big deal. Stay-at-home dads aren’t the norm and it will be some time before we shake this reputation of being a secondary parent – especially when chatting with an older generation. But the tough one to swallow is when my little guy isn’t feeling well and while I’m tending to him, he still sometimes cries out for mommy.
Check out my previous list of Unexpected Side-Effects of Becoming a Dad.
Oh, and if you’re a SAHD – sound off in the comments section below – let us know what stuff caught you off-guard.