I’d Rather Be at Work Than Be a Stay At Home Dad

 

A preference for full-time work over full-time childcare does not make for a bad parent

Everyone has been talking about stay-at-home dads.

Over the past decade or so, the amount of dads staying home to take care of the kids while their wives go off to work has gone up 78%, according to Census Bureau data reported in a recent article by the Wall Street Journal.

Some people are touting this as a kind of sea change, but I don’t care if it’s “the new normal” or a changing paradigm or some X-Men-style evolution. I’ve spent the better part of a year as a stay-at-home dad (SAHD), and I don’t like it.

After being laid off in June, I spent the bulk of the summer at home, working alongside Mom and Buried to make sure my kid was getting what he needed every day. Then, when my wife landed a job, I suddenly found myself cast away on an island with an almost-two-year-old. No nanny, no daycare, no grandparents, no Wilson; just me, a collection of toys, and the daily oasis that is my kid’s mid-day nap. What was a summer at home has extended into the fall and now the winter (the fact that we moved from the northeast down to North Carolina in November hasn’t helped my job search).

The subtext often is that those dads—or moms—who don’t want to stay at home with their kids are lesser parents, or somehow don’t love their kids as much. And that’s just not true.

Staying at home with my son has been exhausting and rewarding and challenging and fun. And often overwhelming. I’m not going to lie: I’d prefer to be back at work.

I once joked that hanging out with my son was boring, and some people took offense to the idea that I don’t cherish every minute with my kid. Please. Of course I do. But if you’re always fully engaged when participating in the kinds of activities your two-year-old enjoys, then have I got a TV show for you!

But most of the time you hear a SAHD talking about his role, it’s in glowing terms, either because they really feel that way or don’t want to be criticized for not feeling that way. Unfortunately, the subtext often is that those dads—or moms—who don’t want to stay at home with their kids are lesser parents, or somehow don’t love their kids as much. And that’s just not true.

Not every parent, male or female, is cut out to be a stay-at-homer. Some guys love being at home with the kids, some don’t; the ones that don’t aren’t worse fathers for it. Some women want to go back to work after giving birth, some don’t; the ones that do aren’t worse mothers for it.

No group of parents should be elevated at the expense of the others; as far as I know, there are no stats to back up any version of parenting as the “right” or “best” one, and no parent is better or worse than another simply because of the ways they’ve divvied up their responsibilities. It’s a personal decision that’s none of anyone else’s business.

There are a lot of reasons some dads might choose to stay home with their kids, or might choose not to, especially in this economy. For some families it just makes more sense for a parent to stay home—I know that when we were in New York, the cost of daycare alone could eat an entire salary—and maybe for some of those families Mom just makes more dough.

I’ve been forced into this role by circumstance, rather than having arrived at it by choice, and I know that reality colors my experience. There’s an undercurrent of anxiety and stress that might otherwise not exist if the financial stakes weren’t so high. And I’m sure a lot of other dads have had similar experiences.

But I’m equally sure there a lot of dads who choose the SAHD role because it suits them and they love it. Good for them. I love my son; I love spending time with him and feeding him and dressing him and playing with him. (Maybe not so much feeding him). And preferring to be at work rather than to stay at home does not mean I love him any less than SAHDs love theirs.

Ironically, while I’ve long known that parenting is a tough job, it’s taken this stint as a stay-at-home dad for it to really start feeling like a job. And that feeling is something that I, perhaps selfishly, want to get rid of.

I don’t want to become beaten down by the long days at home with my son. I don’t want our trips to the playground to feel like a chore, or our dancing jags to become a headache. I want to hang on to the fun parts, and while most of my days at home are still full of them, I can sometimes feel the tide turning.

If being a SAHD results in me being an unhappy, aggravated father, that’s no good for me or my son. So more power to all the Mr. Moms out there, holding it down, doing man’s work.

I think I prefer to be a Working Girl.

—photo by Sean MacEntee/Flickr

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About Dad and Buried

Mike Julianelle, the creator behind Dad and Buried, is a 36-year-old relocated Northeasterner currently dealing with the trials and tribulations of being a first-time father. And simultaneously learning to live without a social life. In his words, "Like Elton John said, this thing's a circle. I'm getting used to it, but that doesn't mean I'm always happy about it."

Comments

  1. JoAnne Dietrich says:

    I love this article! I get so frustrated when people condemn women that choose going to work over being at home. Working mothers get so much hatred in our society. It is sad that they are doing it to dads too.

  2. Parenting doesn’t have a magic formula and no book can tell you everything you need to do….yet people try to do just that, tell you what works. In all reality you have to live your life and do what’s best for your family. If that means working full time to maintain your sanity then so be it.

    I love this post. Keep up the good work.

    • I couldn’t agree more. My blog often takes on that very topic, that there is no rule book of proper parenting and that every child, and every parent, is totally unique. You have to do what works for you. Why waste time judging and condescending to other parents who may so things a little differently?

      Thanks for reading!

  3. This is simply a fantastic article! Thank you for writing it.

    I’m not a SAHD, but between my wife and me, I have the more flexible career, so I probably do slightly more than half of the childcare in my home. If I didn’t also get to have a a job (that I happen to love)in which I was in the adult world, I would simply go crazy.

    I love my son, but I”m not only happier, but I’m A BETTER PARENT, when I’m not parenting full time.

    • Scott, that was exactly the point I was trying to make at the end of the piece. If a parent’s desire to have an outlet elsewhere contributes to frustration or resentment at. home while that’s not ideal for either the parent, his spouse or the child. Staying at home IS hard work, but it doesn’t have to feel like a job. For many Moms and Dads, it rarely does, and more power to them. But if it starts to feel like one, maybe it’s time to try a new arrangement that suits your family better.

      Parenting doesn’t happen in a vacuum; staying at home full time may be ideal in some ways, but it’s often not practical, in a variety of others.

      Thanks for reading!

  4. You speak for millions of us, but the message is generally forbidden because it reflects the traditional masculinity that is so despised and ridiculed today. A voice of sanity is always good to hear and read.

  5. Monty Wood says:

    When I became a dad 20 years ago, I was Daddy Daycare during the day and went to my job in the evening. I started joining stay-at-home dad networks, but found them too smug. They thought there were so great for dropping out of the workforce to care for their children. I was doing what they were doing — changing diapers, going to the library and the park, etc. — but I was working too. It was tough, but looking back, it was a wonderful time in my life.

  6. See, I look at it from the other perspective. I have been a stay-home dad for more than five years now, and I am still getting all the shitty comments from people (male and female, married and single, parent and non-parent) like, “Can’t you get a job?” or “Sponging off your wife?” or “I see who wears the penis in YOUR family” or “So you’re the little woman” or “What do you do all day- eat bonbons and watch Oprah and ‘The View’?” etc. etc. etc. I’ve heard them all.

    But as someone touched on above, there is no one magic parenting solution. What works for me and my kids might not work for you and yours. I consider myself extremely fortunate to get to stay home with my kids and to have the opportunity read at library period at school and go to cross-country meets and music programs and what not. But here’s the thing- I would NEVER judge any other parent for choosing to work, or to say that I’m a ‘better’ parent. It’s no more my business how they raise their kids any more than it is their business how I raise mine, which is to say NONE, in both cases.

    I can definitely see how, as Monty Wood mentioned, some stay-home dads and SAHD networks can come across as smug. I get that. There are some that I find *incredibly* smug- and I’m a stay-home dad. But on the other side of that, I don’t need anyone judging me and questioning my manliness for choosing to stay home with my kids. I appreciate that you didn’t come across with a “Stay-at-home dads are pussies” vibe in your article.

    Eventually I’m going to have to (or want to) rejoin the workforce, and I know that. But for right now, I’m loving my SAHD status and I’m in no hurry to change it. That’s just me.

    Great article, Mr. Dad and Buried. Love the perspective from the ‘other side’. :)

  7. Great article … So glad you wrote this in that it brings another perspective to how men are developing. I think it’s outstanding that men have the opportunity to stay at home but there are many that don’t want it. Doesn’t mean they’re bad dads, it simply means that they have a different interest.

    I often wonder if the “career” dad is being lost in the shuffle? Men in higher education is down, economy hit men hard.

    I was the working dad and wife was the stay at home wife/mom. Even now, wife (grandma) stays home and I’m still working at 38 years into our marriage. I don’t think I’ll ever not work.

  8. Chad Welch says:

    I appreciate that you are an at-home dad not by your own choice and it is not something you want to do. I wouldn’t suggest all men should be at-home dads or even that all women should be at-home moms.

    Where the disconnect comes for me is this statement.

    “Unfortunately, the subtext often is that those dads—or moms—who don’t want to stay at home with their kids are lesser parents, or somehow don’t love their kids as much.”

    I’m not sure where you are getting this from. By definition it would mean that at-home dads think their wives are lesser parents or don’t love their kids as much because they are working. Frankly, I find this ludicrous.

    The message I see in the coverage is that being an at-home parent is not a gender specific duty. Every family has to look at various factors to decide together how they are going to operate. I don’t understand why you seem so upset that their are men who have chosen to stay home and are happy about that choice? It is not a statement about your family.

    So I have no problem personally that you would rather be at work. But please don’t take positive articles about at-home dads as an assault on your desire to have a job.

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