After we got pregnant with Bits, our daycare announced she was also due at the same time, and asked if we would consider keeping our baby home for 6 months while she figured out her world. Perfectly fair request, given with plenty of notice, and tons of consideration. And quite possibly the best thing that happened to our family. Mike is now a full time SAHD (if you are new to the lingo as I was, that’s Stay At Home Dad). As we made this transition from two working parents where I was the one who was home most often with the kids by myself, to where he is home all the time, it’s taking adjustments of our expectations.(For the record, Bits is nearly 2, so that whole 6 month thing kinda went by the wayside by mutual agreement.)
Here’s my top 5 rules I try to abide by to make this work.
- Never ask “well, what DID you do today?”
Clearly, he took care of the kids, dressed them, changed those that need changing, went it to public restrooms with them, got them on/off the bus, fed them multiple times, cleaned them untold amounts of time, took them to parks or playdates, loved them, hugged them, kissed them, played with them, made them feel safe, loved, and important. Forget the mundane like getting supper ready, homework, getting dogs out, etc. (Mine also probably made my lunch for tomorrow because he’s just that kind of guy.) He got them ready for any evening activities. He put them down for naps and listened to cries and tattling and whining and who knows what else.
What did I do today? I went to work, talked with grown ups generally on the same education/capabilities as me. I went to the bathroom BY MYSELF. I had a lunch where I didn’t have to wipe 2-3 other sets of hands, and mouths. And never once said “sit in your chair right please”. I focused on a task without someone over my shoulder asking what I was doing, if they could do it, or generally pushing buttons. I probably got some sort of validation for the type of job I’m doing (or I should find a new one).
- Accept his way of parenting.
Early on in our parenthood, there were times when I’d look at him like he was crazy for whatever rule he was enforcing, or discipline he was doling out. I still backed him. I promise you, he was thinking the same thing about the battles I picked. Now, I have to do it even more. I have no idea what’s happening in the house minute to minute. So when I get home, I accept (or at least I try) that his way of parenting is the one the kids are used to and understand. While I might do it differently, I try to remember my way isn’t ‘better’, just ‘different’. And the minute I accept that the kids are still pretty good kids with his way of parenting, I realize his way is just fine.
- Do not complain about the state of the house.
My dad once said that his mom said “I’m not raising carpet, I’m raising kids.” I think it’s a fabulous job description for a SAHD. His job isn’t to clean the house. His job isn’t to be sole caretaker of house, too. I’d rather he was free to go outside and play or go to a play date or run to the local indoor play arena rather than be stuck in the house cleaning. Besides, if the house needs it that badly, I can do it, too. If the bathroom isn’t clean, my two hands work too. If the fur from the dogs may have created a third dog, I can use a broom.
- When he does things “just for himself”, let him do it, guilt free.
Mike spends the majority of his waking hours taking care of kids or dogs or something. There are some activities that are sacred, and I try my best to not let get interrupted. If he wants to go hang out with friends once in a while, I say go for it. I don’t text or call while he’s out, and I don’t expect him to text or call either. He belongs to a relatively expensive gym, and when we look at cutting other expenses, the gym is never a consideration. He needs his time to work out and stay healthy. Crossfit provides a community too, so his workout provides some encouragement for him. Plus, my kids see their dad taking care of himself. It’s a win-win in my book. The upshot, when I go to work, I get to keep my adult side and lose the mommy side for a while. Stay at home parents rarely do, so any time they get the opportunity to be them again, I say give them the chance.
- Remind him how great he is doing at this. Be supportive of him with others too.
I’m amazed at how often I hear other parents openly critical of their spouse’s parenting. I often will hear things about how other parent (not even divorced folks) is incapable of being home alone with the kids. people will say things like “if my husband had to do that, he’d be horrible”, or “how do you let him do this, do the kids eat right, etc”. My husband is an amazing dad, and although the girls would sometimes take issue with that, it’s usually because they have been disciplined for something recently. He’s perfectly capable of taking care of the kids every day all day, and I won’t let anyone suggest otherwise.
A stay at home parent is rarely thanked. For some reason we degrade men, particularly, who choose to stay home and spend time with their kids. Let’s change that out, and start honoring all the choices that men and women, moms and dads, make to do the best by their family. Mike has been home for nearly two years now, and has never had a raise. He still makes $0.00/hour, and his job is still harder than mine.