For over six years, I was very comfortable in my role as stay-at-home dad. But I knew it was time for a change.
My kids are in school full time. They don’t need me in the same ways. They don’t need me to hover. A healthy sign of their growing independence.
I started to feel obsolete. Realized I was becoming redundant.
This notion first arose on a crisp morning, early in the school year, when my second-born declared I didn’t need to walk him to the bus stop anymore.
“Really?” I asked, curious.
“I’m a big boy now.”
I knew the day would come. He was ready, but was I? “Well, maybe we can try tomorrow,” I shrugged.
The next day, I saw my boys off from the driveway.
“No looking!” second-born yelled, halfway down the street.
I stood and waved, with a silly smile.
“Go inside, Dad!”
From the picture window, I watched them saunter, skip. Felt proud they embarked on a new adventure; sad I sensed a chapter closing. I smiled wistfully as they jostled each other, so cute with their red and gray toques, pompoms swaying with bobbing heads.
The big yellow bus arrived. Saw my boys through its windows as it pulled away. I sat, quiet, wondered if my time as stay-at-home dad was nearing its end.
I had always planned to go back to work once second-born hit school. In Ontario, Canada, children are eligible to enter junior kindergarten if they turn 4 by the end of the calendar year. When he started in September, 2013, he was one month shy of 4 and timid in large groups. It was the first year of full-day kindergarten at our local school. Class sizes increased considerably; he had a tough time adjusting after being home with me.
The first couple weeks proved a bit much. We decided to integrate him slowly, alternating half and full days, necessitating my presence at home. We found it convenient. Maybe it was an excuse for me to stay “comfortable.” The kids were relatively young and I was used to doting on them.
By November, second-born was acclimatized and attended school full time.
Initially, being alone at home felt like a godsend. The house was eerily quiet. I could hear myself think, clocks tick. I had more time to write, exercise. But I missed my boys.
Over three years later, my sons are in fourth and second grades, respectively. Until recently, I was still in stay-at-home mode, having settled into a routine. I provided before and after school care, did the household chores, got groceries, cooked, managed finances, volunteered at school. Some odd jobs: web design, writing, landscaping, handyman stuff. But my primary duties remained domestic.
As a stay-at-home dad, I supported my wife’s ability to work. She didn’t have to worry about the “second shift” when she got home. Dinner was prepped, the house was clean, appointments were made, the calendar was organized. She spent time with the kids while I cooked supper.
During the day, I kept busy. Sometimes I missed taking them to the park, having a toddler trail at my feet. I grew weary of cleaning, always doing dishes. Didn’t feel as useful. I was ready for a change, but felt uneasy. How would I re-enter the workforce, over six years since my last full-time job? I wondered if other at-home dads felt the same.
I was nervous to leave the familiar.
Being a stay-at-home dad can be an isolating experience. You take care of your family’s needs first. At times, I resented putting my professional desires on the back burner. But it was easier to continue on the path of least resistance.
My stay-at-home work was the most rewarding, fulfilling enterprise I had ever undertaken. I learned patience, humility, empathy. Changing diapers, cooking meals, coping with tantrums (the kids’ and mine!), carting them around in the stroller—I wouldn’t change a thing. I will always be proud of it. But it was time to move on. To reclaim an identity separate from stay-at-home dad.
I discussed with my wife (who is patient as a saint) how to enter this new phase for our family. I still wanted to be there for the kids before and after school. The answer: work from home. It was a simple flip. During school hours, jobs take priority over domestic duties. The living room is my office. I run a freelance web design and writing business. I began networking, meeting with old and new contacts. With some elbow grease and discipline, the jobs are transforming from “odd” to steady.
Our new arrangement means the house is not as clean. Dinner is often simpler; I try my best to keep it healthy. I have to work some evenings. But it gives me the flexibility to provide before and after school care and to be my own boss. It has allowed me to rediscover a measure of independence.
It means I no longer feel obsolete.
Photo: Getty Images