A stay-at-home dad shares his insights on how he became depressed in his new role and offers advice on ways to combat stay-at-home ‘dadpression’.
Are you a stay-at-home dad? Do you know one? Have you hit ‘The Wall’ yet? Have you had the soul-crushing doubts? Have you begun to lose your identity? Have you walked into your garage and cried because you can’t handle it anymore, or are you a super dad who has it all under control?
Chances are, if you’ve been doing this for any amount of time, you’ve dealt with Stay-at-Home Dadpression. It really is a thing! It hit me early on. I walked into being a SAHD with the confidence of a champion prize fighter. I was going to own this! I did own this- for a few weeks. Then this niggling thought crept into my head. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, but it was there.
My wife was admitted to the hospital on bed rest with our second son. That left me at home with the oldest. I took my Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave and ventured into the brand new waters of being a SAHD. Within a week, I was severely sleep deprived and on the verge of a mental breakdown. My issue with being alone at nights was the fear that I wouldn’t hear my son crying through the monitor, never mind the fact that I had never slept through anything more than a hard fart before that. But that was with my wife as back-up just in case. Now, I was truly flying solo and I was on high alert.
Luckily, my body took over and I started sleeping more. Everything went back to normal. Every day we started our routine that ended up with us eating lunch and dinner at the hospital. My son and I made a ton of new friends in the process: the ladies at the bakery who gave him a free cookie; the nurses in the postpartum unit who took care of my wife and unborn son; the ladies at the hospital cafeteria that gave him free apples and chocolate milk, and yelled out: “Spider-Man!” whenever he walked in. These are the same ladies who started giving me the employee discount in the cafeteria because we were there so much. Yep. We were popular, and I was rocking this SAHD thing.
Then, I started getting the questions. Mostly about going back to work when my other son was born. Our idea was that I was going to give up my job to take care of the kids because daycare was going to cost so much for two kids that I was going to clear less than $300 a month after taxes and expenses – but society didn’t see it that way. I’m not one to paint myself as a trailblazer or a martyr for any causes, but I was shocked at the assumptions society was having regarding how we were choosing to raise our family. These assumptions were in direct opposition to where we were heading.
And I didn’t care. See, when I beat my bout with self-doubt, I decided I was invincible. The world would never drag me down with its outmoded ideas of family units. Nope – and my hubris was my downfall.
The cracks in the facade began to appear around Christmas of the first year. It was the first year I didn’t have my own money to buy my wife Christmas presents. I had a few bucks stashed back but it wasn’t going to be enough. Then a part time gig fell into my lap. I worked for a short time on a friend’s blog doing some maintenance items, et cetera. It wasn’t much, but I could work mostly at night and still pull daddy-duty during the day. My sleep deprivation was gone. Mostly because by this time I had reset my body clock to be able to exist on a couple hours of sleep at a time – and coffee. Copious amounts of coffee.
At any rate, the money helped me skate through that Christmas with ego and manhood intact. Except that thought was the problem. The very ‘fate’ I dodged is the one that haunts every stay-at-home dad at some point. I had a very real problem and I didn’t realize it, but I had to face it soon enough. Can you be a man, while not providing for your family financially? The longer I was a SAHD, the more questions I had. You are familiar with them. The first you have to deal with are the innocuous ones you’ve been answering for years, with nary a thought. “What do you do for a living?” “Where do you work?”
No-brainers! We’ve been answering them so long, we don’t even notice they become stitches in the fabric that makes us who we are. But, once you’re a SAHD, those questions are harder. Sure, they are asked with the same feelings and thoughts behind them as before, but now, they have another side to them. And if you aren’t totally comfortable with the answer you’re about to give, they become questions you dread. You envision yourself as standing tall, chest out, cape flowing in the breeze as you plant your hands on your hips and stare off into the distance. The sun glints off of your too-white teeth as you flash a wink and proclaim, “I AM A STAY AT HOME DAD!”
Then everyone nods in approval and you get back to chasing your kids across the playground or telling them to stop eating dirt or taking a snail out of their mouth…you get the idea.
The fantasy is awesome. But it almost never plays out that way. At least, not in the beginning. No, in the beginning, you’re like that new cashier at Target that just got handed fourteen coupons from competing stores, three gift cards and a two-party check as payment and you have three minutes to complete the transaction without calling on your supervisor to come bail your butt out. The questions hit and you know, from balls to bones, that you will be judged on your answer. What you never realized before was, you were being judged before as well. But you had a job, something to identify with, and something to label you as a ‘Productive Member of Society’.
No matter how awesome you feel about what you’re doing, you are uncomfortable at first. It’s like putting on a new pair of shoes for the first time. Sure they feel great, but you know there’s going to be some breaking in to do before they fit perfectly. So, the question hits and your alter ego comes out but instead of turning into Super Dad, you transform into an amalgamation of Super Dad and Turbo Dork. You puff your chest out, because you’re proud of what you’re doing and then you notice them staring at you and you look down at your feet ever so subtly before saying, “Um, I, uh, I’m a stay at home dad.”
And some of them nod, hardly ever in appreciation. It’s usually followed by, “Oh,” (semi uncomfortable pause) “that’s, that’s cool.”
It usually devolves from there. Sure, on occasion you get a super awesome person who throws you a lifeline and they start swapping war stories with you. There is nothing better than finding a kindred spirit in the battlefield. And later on, you may not need those lifelines. They are always amazing when they happen, though.
But be warned, even those who have seen you with your kids for years, will still manage to offend or show their ignorance by making comments like: “Ah, babysitting the kids today, eh daddy?” Or, “Aww, you have the kids. Is your wife sick?” Or, when a doctor or school calls: “This is in regards to <your kid’s name>…is your wife home?”
It happens to all of us. But, as a new SAHD, you probably don’t have a support net to help you out. At least, not in the beginning. Trust me, you are going to need one. The old saying ‘No man is an island,’ is true. If you try to go it totally alone, you will fail. Not at first, but eventually, your ship will begin to take on water, and the more water you take on, the more time you spend bailing it out and the less time you spend sailing, and nautical metaphors aside – it sucks. It’s a bad place for you and your kids.
SO WHAT DO I DO ABOUT IT?
I’m so glad you asked! I’m not sure why you yelled, though. I’m mean, I’m right here, in your computer, where I can’t actually see or hear you. So, if you don’t want to look crazy, stop yelling questions at your computer! Although, you do get bonus points if you happen to be in a coffee shop or something when you do it!
- Recognize ‘the funk’– Once you feel it coming on, you have to engage it head on and stop it as quickly as you can.
- Set up a support network– This is easier than it sounds. Get on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and connect with other dads. Sure, they may not be SAHDs, but they are awesome to go to when you’re having a mini-meltdown and just need to vent. Or, if you’re feeling really good and want to help support another dad in need.
- Get a hobby– I don’t care what it is. Find one. Then make time to do it. This is imperative.
- Set up Mommy and Daddy ‘alone time’– And, no, I’m not talking about making sure sexy times happen (although, that is important). I’m saying, pick an evening or afternoon or whatever, to get out of the house by yourself, then let your significant other do the same. I make my wife leave every Tuesday evening to go hang out with a friend and she’s not allowed to come home for three hours or more. In turn, she allows me the time to come to Starbucks and write. It’s been a real life saver.
- Talk to your spouse– Seriously, there are two types of dads: Schedulers and Pantsers. If you’re a scheduler, your spouse needs to know your schedule and respect it. If you’re more of a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ type, great! Just make sure your spouse knows this and isn’t expecting you to adhere to a schedule you weren’t aware of.
- Mostly, though, make sure you take time to just have fun with the kiddos – It’s not easy, but it doesn’t have to be depressing. You have to carve a new identity for yourself. It may or may not be easy at first, but it is possible. Just keep your chin up and don’t be afraid to seek out some help. I have two friends on speed dial and I’m not afraid to call them in a pinch. I am part of a couple of groups on Facebook, and G+ and I have been known to have some all-night parenting rants on Twitter. I’m going to drop a ton of links below. Some are standard resources, some are places where you can find me if you just want to shoot the breeze and not feel so alone in your quest for raising awesome kids. Just know this: you are a stay at home dad because you are doing the best for your family. No one loves your family like you do. They don’t have the right to tell you how to dad.
You’ve got nothing but mad respect from this daddy. Stay strong!
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Photo: Flickr/U.S. Army
Originally appeared on: Dads Who Change Diapers. Reprinted with permission.
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