There is an emergency in my house! My wife has to go out of town for a very important meeting with very important people. But we have kids, and they have activities. There is archery practice, my teenager needs the car for hijinks, and there is the scheduled bedtime meltdown with my youngest. Not to mention that the roofer is going to come out, as well as the TV repair man, because in this example they still exist. Whatever will we do?
Well, as the stay-at-home parent, I will take care of this like I have for the last 15 years. There is no emergency, just the stuff that I do daily while my wife focuses on her career. For us, this is normal, and there is a lot less stress in our lives because of it.
There is a conversation right now about the unseen labor of the stay-at-home parent. Most of that conversation takes place in the mom sphere, but at-home dads are finally becoming part of the conversation. What that conversation is missing is what are the benefits to the working spouse. This is as big as all my unseen labor.
What at-home parents really do.
There is a misconception that at-home parents clean all day, cook five course meals, and in our spare time watch TV. We get little toddlers dressed and make sure we attend story hour. Some days, we may shower.
The truth is that we do a lot more than that. People tend to like to focus on the cooking and cleaning bit of at-home parenting. Honestly, I spend a lot less time on that than people would think. Yes, I clean daily. But I only do a deep clean once a week. The rest of the time is keeping things tidy. I also clean the bathroom but I’m trying to get that written out of my contract. And I can make you homemade bread. It takes about 20 minutes tops. The cooking time takes longer than mixing, and during that time, I’m on my phone.
No, what an at-home parent really does is so much more complex, and this is the unseen labor that should be talked about. I’m more than a chauffeur to my kid’s activities, which I do while listening to my books on tape.
I provide relaxation to the home. I allow my wife’s mind to be free of worry when it comes to our house and our kids. In the example above, which I have been through numerous times over the years, my wife simply goes on her last-minute business meetings. Then she texts me pictures of her steak dinners and I threaten to divorce her. Having an at-home spouse lessons daily stress. And that is the true benefit of what I provide my family and my wife. It’s not cooking and cleaning. It’s giving her a moment to breath and focus on what she’s good at while I focus on what I’m good at.
The benefits and luxuries of having an at-home spouse.
My wife comes home and spends the next 30 minutes getting ready for her evening. She goes up stairs and opts in for pajamas almost immediately, and I remain awed at how quick she can change. It’s like a magic act. During dinner, our kids talk about their day and and what’s going on in their lives. She’s active and engaged, because she knows that I have everything handled. She can parent by offering guidance to our teens or challenging their beliefs.
After dinner, we typically talk about what’s going on in the world, then we move onto her job. She tells me about her schedule, and then vents about whatever is going on in her world. I do the same. At the end of the night, we go to bed and talk about life, goals, and occasionally donuts because they are God’s gifts to humanity.
I’ll read her an article or part of my new book to see if she laughs. The best laughs are the ones she can’t control. When that happens, I know I’ve got something special. By the end of the night, she knows that she doesn’t have to worry about the kids.
Staying home with the kids is not about cooking and cleaning. It’s not about taking them to their appointments or activities. It’s about giving them the life skills to succeed in life. That’s the real job of an at home parent. That’s the biggest part of the unseen labor.
Staying home with the kids is teaching a masterclass in life, by a professor that often is figuring it out as I go along. But the point is that I show up every day to make sure they have that support and guidance. And that’s the part that my spouse truly doesn’t have to worry about.
Should at-home parents be paid? It’s a hard question to answer, but you can’t answer it without focusing on the true job of the at-home parent instead of the cooking and cleaning. I don’t know if we should, and there’s debate on each side. But what is clear to me now, after so many years, is that having an at-home parent is a luxury for the well off. I couldn’t do this job if my wife didn’t make enough income to support us. It didn’t always used to be this way, and I find it very troubling that more don’t get the opportunity to do it. It’s our future, and for us, that’s an investment worth making. It will benefit everyone.
This is a conversation that my wife and I have had many times over the years. The fact that she can up and go on a business trip, work late, or take client Gil out for a night on the town without worry. A quick phone call or text message is all it takes. Because the more she succeeds, the more my family does. It allows me to put all my energy into making sure my kids have a good start in life. This is what is missed in the conversation about the labors of the at-home parent. It’s the unseen value that matters more.
BUY SHANNON’S BOOK
A practical guide for modern-day parenting geared towards stay-at-home dads, offering advice on everything from learning to cook and clean with children, to dealing with mental health and relationships, with the easygoing perspective that dads can use their natural talents to parent any way that they choose.
The Ultimate Stay-at-Home Dad manual takes the best advice and wisdom from a dads’ group, and puts it into a format to help new stay-at-home fathers. Characterized by actionable and direct advice to fathers, the book takes on parenting from a father’s point of view and encourages dads to use their natural talents to become a better parent. That advice is further bolstered by an additional 57 other dads who also give advice. All this advice is framed by the author’s personal stories, which help the reader connect with the content and drives the advice home. This is a book that takes on day-to-day parenting, not just as a stay-at-home dad–working fathers could benefit from this book as much as at-home dads.