Being a stay-at-home-parent is both the toughest and most rewarding job in the world. Before having a child, I thought I understood what people meant when they said that. I didn’t. Not until I actually became a dad and took on this job did I realize exactly what I’d gotten myself into.
I am a stay-at-home-dad to my two-year-old daughter, Luci. I accepted the “position” back in 2009, just before moving from New York City to Raleigh, N.C. My wife and I weighed all our options and made many lists. But after a long discussion, we decided that she would continue with her company, which allowed her to work from home. I would become the primary day-to-day caregiver.
Was I was looking forward to it? Yes and no.
I was excited about changing gears, trying something new and different. I thought, “how hard could it be?” I’d survived years of commuting and working in New York City; taking care of one baby in suburbia shouldn’t be too difficult. Even so, I did have reservations. This isn’t traditionally a man’s role. Shouldn’t a father/husband be out in the world earning a living and providing for his family?
Three months after Luci’s birth, my wife finished maternity leave and returned to work. There we were, just me and Luci, from 9 a.m. til 6 p.m., looking at each other and wondering what to do next.
At the beginning, it was tough on me mentally. The days were very regimented, filled with naps, feedings and diaper changes, which confined us to the house most of the time. After awhile we fell into a routine and, as two naps shrank to one, life became easier. Luci and I ventured out into the world.
Our outings started small. We’d take a walk on the greenway, head over to Trader Joe’s with our grocery list for the week, or visit Lowe’s to check out tools for my next house project. But that wasn’t enough real world interaction for me; I was still talking more baby talk than full sentences. My wife could sense my tension. I needed to be around other adults.
She began looking online for activities Luci and I could do or groups we could join, and found Meetup.com. The site brings together people with the same interests and allows them to get together in person. There was a stay-at-home dads group in Raleigh, and she signed me up. That changed everything.
The group gave both Luci and me an outlet. She could play with other kids her age, and I could hang out with other fathers going through the same experience. In the group, we talk about the traditional guy things — sports, tools, cars and beer. But the occasional child-rearing experience, along with ideas for dealing with certain situations, does come up. The group’s administrator sets up times to meet at different parks around the city. We also do more “manly” things with a stay-at-home dad twist, like home-brew play dates. The kids play, and the dads brew five-gallon batches of beer.
There is one thing that I continue to struggle with, even after almost two years as a stay-at-home dad. It’s something that stay-at-home moms often complain about too. How do I entertain Luci and take care of the house at the same time? We make a menu every week and go grocery shopping, and I straighten up when I can. But some days, the chores — cooking, cleaning, laundry — just start to pile up. It definitely adds stress to the family relationship.
But I wouldn’t change my position for the world. I am rewarded every single day; I get to be there for all my daughter’s firsts — her first crawl, her first step, her first word. And I look forward to many more momentous accomplishments. I’ve always heard that you never regret the things you do, only the things you don’t do. I don’t regret making this decision, and I don’t regret spending these formative years with my daughter.
If you are thinking about becoming a stay-at-home dad, go for it. It will be an experience few men get to have. You will never forget this time in your life.