I’m a man in addition to, not in spite of, being a stay home parent
Just over 4 years ago, I was working as Vice President of Operations with a nation-wide private investigative firm. Everything was great; my career was on track and my wife’s career was off to an even better start. I really didn’t see any reason to change a thing. My life’s trajectory was just as I had imagined it. I had graduated college and entered the intriguing world of sub rosa. After a few years in the field and being promoted to a supervisory role, I felt I was doing “Man’s Work” in an office environment at a cool place with plenty of testosterone to go around. I enjoyed the camaraderie of my associates, the challenge of the job, the satisfaction of “knowing your shit” one reaches after some time in a career. Life was good.
Where am I now? Do I run my own firm? Am I an executive with a Fortune 500 company? Not exactly. I’m sitting on my couch typing away in my boxers while my son naps and my daughter entertains herself with a craft I set her to work on a few minutes ago. While trying to write, I’m worried about deadlines. There is an overflowing laundry basket (or 3), a floor that needs vacuuming and a dinner to be prepared but I need to get some thoughts down. I don’t get stressed about these things; I handle it like I did in my previous position. Take a look at what has to be done, estimate the time needed to do them, prioritize tasks and tackle them. You see, my second career is well underway as a full-time Stay At Home Dad. My wife and I decided the right thing for our family was to set aside my less lucrative career so we could travel and live as nomads of the world for her higher-paying consulting career.
I dabbled in part time work with online background investigations once I was in my groove as a stay home parent of one. I tried it because I was thinking what so many people seem fond of saying in one way or another: “Stay home Dads Can Never Really Be Content”. That was the boneheaded assertion of James S. Fell on AskMen.com. The job of stay-at-home-parent is not meant for Men (at least not a real man, “a man’s man”). Given the demands of looking after a toddler, and with little time to spare, I found the part-time work to be tedious and felt it was taking away from my primary focus so I stopped taking assignments before our second child was born. The money I was making was negligible and the job did not bring me to a Zen-like place so I let it go.
These days I try to make people laugh on my blog, nothing too serious, no money to be made to speak of (unless this article launches me to the status of internet celebrity) and no business plan on the table. I thoroughly enjoy the creative outlet because it is not a job for me, it is a hobby. I already have a full time job. Whether Dad On The Run becomes more or not, it does not define me, the footprint I leave on the world is what defines me. I’m a man in addition to, not in spite of, being a stay home parent. Some may disagree with me on the best way to impact the world, but we should be able to agree there are many, many parts to play in our story and they are filled by men and women with differing motivations, needs, values and perceptions. What we’re saying as a society when we tie contentment to a job is that some jobs are lowly, as are the people who do them, and other jobs are worthwhile. We’re saying there is a line in the list of occupational choices you can’t cross if you are to be satisfied with your life as a man. We’re saying that if an Army veteran chooses to turn down a lucrative job and become a stay home parent that he’s taking a step down, that he is less of a man. How can that be? If we put the position of stay home parent below that imaginary line then we belittle all the people who do that job now and have done it through the ages. If you say a Man can’t be content in this position but a Woman can, then you are suggesting men’s ambition and drive to impact the world is greater than women’s and being an at-home parent is not impactful. On both of those counts, I call bullshit.
Repeat after me, “Stay home parenting is a job and it is fulfilling.” Of course there are stark differences in the day to day between my new career and the previous corporate occupation, like the fact I am now under a literal barrage of crap rather than a metaphorical one. There are less water cooler talks and more pillow forts, fewer meetings and more tea parties, not as many performance reviews and way more roughhousing. My commute is a lot easier but the noise level is… oppressive. However, there are also things which parallel with my old job. Managing people is a skill and it is challenging; no matter the age or size of the people it is largely the same animal. Continually working to expand the training and education of those I supervise remains a large part of my day (though there is now slightly less whining and crying when it comes to corrective action). I also constantly review process management/improvement in my new career. For example, I examine where to put the clothes to facilitate dressing quickly, how/when to fold laundry quickly, how to most effectively navigate other routines like getting little people dressed, fed and out the door, bedtime preparation, craft-time clean-ups, etc. Scheduling remains a large part of the job: how do I make time to stay healthy (though completely lacking in discernible abs), get kids to school and activities, foster socialization through play dates, and maintain a network/support system without co-workers? Stay home parents juggle these routines with frequent medical appointments, keeping school/park/gym activity registrations current, making time for grocery shopping and meal planning… don’t even get me started on meal planning. What I am trying to illustrate here is that I am still a manager, I still have a job. That is my skill set; it is what I’m good at and probably where I will look for compensated employment when my tenure as a stay home Dad comes to an end.
I don’t worry about starting a third career, I’m not stressed about the time I have lost, the opportunity for advancement I have missed, or the lack of expansion of my knowledge in a marketable field. I entered this career willingly and I believe the skills it will provide and the dividends it will pay outweigh anything I could have gained on the corporate ladder. My time as a caregiver has changed my outlook. I don’t need to make a certain amount of money (thanks to my wife’s continued success in her own career). I don’t need to change the world by rolling out a new product or selling one to the masses. I don’t need to interview a rock and roll drummer to feel complete; I might be raising one.
Who knows what my children will become? Talk about exploring an unknown frontier and going where no man has gone before! I’m beyond satisfied knowing when I am done here I will have changed the world for the better even if I never punch a clock again. I will have raised children with infinite potential for changing the world in their own rite and I will have shown them how to raise yet another generation in an environment fostering independence, honor, a thirst for learning and an appreciation of the not-so-obvious way so many people impact the world positively every day.
My daughter might become president or she may choose to raise her children while her significant other works at a paid job. I will love and respect her in either case or an infinite number of other scenarios. Her happiness is my goal and I know her impact on the world will not be measured by the lines on a resume or the zeros on her paycheck. My son might write a best-selling novel, be an expert in anthropology or “just” be an expert domestic caregiver. I have no idea which direction they will take, but I do know that it makes me feel good to do this for them and I am grateful that we have the financial ability for a parent to be there for them day in and day out in these formative years. The cherry on top of my job satisfaction is that I am changing for the better in ways I could not have imagined; so please don’t tell me I can’t be content with what I have.
The secret to fulfillment as a stay home parent is in making parenting your job. You don’t just spend time taking care of the kids and leaning in to the stack of household duties; you spend your time thinking about, researching, and implementing practices to be the best parent you can be and there is always more to take in. Anyone who thinks there is more to learn about production, marketing, analyzing inventory, managing a group of employees or even rocket propulsion than there is to discover about how to successfully raise a child has completely missed the point of the exercise. If that is the way you feel then I agree you will never be fulfilled as a full-time stay home parent, if you think the job is menial, simple and beneath you then it shall be. The job is what you make of it. If you do understand the challenges and the task at hand and you rise to the occasion then you might come to see that raising children IS your life’s work.
I’m among the bottom 1% of writers when it comes to compensation and I’m probably in the bottom 5% for 6-pack abs as well, but I’m in the top .05% of job satisfaction and contentment in my life and there’s no bracket I’d rather be in. Anyone, trying to define what contentment looks like for all men, or women for that matter, needs to have their head examined. It’s not a competition and we don’t need to hold our lives up to one another for comparison. There are many shades of man and a fulfilled life and I don’t presume to tell men what will make them happy or content, I’m just here to tell you that I am a Full-Time at-Home Father and I am happy and content.
—first appeared at Dad On The Run
—photo by tenplaces/Flickr