Tag Archives: work life balance

Why I Never Want to be a Stay-at-Home Dad

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“If things were different and I didn’t have to work full time, I’d love to be a stay-at-home dad.”

Like many working dads I know, I’ve said that a lot over the years. After all, these two kids are my life. My heart and soul. My reason for existing and doing what I do. They are, quite literally, the best parts of me. So knowing all that, what kind of dad wouldn’t want to genuinely quit his job and be a stay-at-home dad?

This kind. Right here. Me.

I was on vacation last week, which means I spent a ton of time with my two sons. And I enjoyed that time. Most of that time. Definitely some of it, anyway.

But in between wrestling a screwdriver out of Sam’s hands with my oldest on my back, and trying to figure out how Sam managed to make Chinese the default language on my smartphone, I came to a realization. An epiphany, if you will.

I don’t want to be a stay-at-home dad. Not even a little bit. Not ever.

Now let me make something very clear. I love stay-at-home dads and I support them 100%. I know a TON of guys who made this decision, and they are badasses whom I love. I’m not denigrating them or downplaying what they do. What I’m writing is not meant as an insult to stay-at-home dads, nor will it turn into into yet another piece by a working parent blowing sunshine up the collective asses of at-home parents while spouting that “hardest job in the world” nonsense (your job is not more difficult than coal miners, those Deadliest Catch guys, military personnel, cops, firefighters, and air traffic controllers).

This is about me. It’s about finally overcoming the self-imposed shame and stigma of not wanting to care for my kids full time. Because that’s not an easy thing to admit — to you or to myself.

I feel like a hypocrite because my true feelings go against everything I’ve said since Will was born. For years I’ve been telling people I’d love to try my hand at being a full-time stay-at-home dad. I’d talk about how freeing and wonderful it would be to slip my corporate shackles and shed my primary breadwinner responsibilities in favor of play dates. As a proponent of involved fatherhood, I’ve spoken at length about how — if circumstances were different — I’d happily be home taking care of the kids and bucking societal gender norms.

But I overlooked one pretty important factor: I wouldn’t be very good at it.

Don’t confuse that with me not being able to do the job. I could keep the house reasonably clean, get my oldest to school with a packed lunch, and keep the youngest one alive. I could be a full-time, stay-at-home dad. But being able to do something and being good at something are two very different things.

And watching how phenomenal my wife is as a stay-at-home mom, I simply realized this is an area in which I wouldn’t excel.

For starters, I love to work and I need to work. Working fulfills me, and if I didn’t have that I wouldn’t be very happy. Of course my kids fulfill me too (albeit in a completely different way), but for years I felt guilty about saying I liked to work. That I needed to work. It felt like ignoring my kids or prioritizing myself above them.

I also don’t have the right temperament for the job. I don’t do well with imaginative or creative play, mainly because (and this sounds even more horrible) I’m not a huge fan of babies and little kids. I’m much better starting around age 3. Add to that, even as a kid I always hated arts and crafts. And the chances of me becoming a “Pinterest Parent” are slim to none.

MJ does all those things and she does them well. I marvel at her ability to seamlessly get through the day while weathering Hurricane Sam and even managing to make things educational for him in the process. Where I break down and tear my hair out, she finds a way to redirect him and engage him in something I never would have thought of in a million years.

As Will has gotten older I’ve been able to relate to him a lot more, but when they’re little I’m just frustrated and confused. I’m still occasionally silly and I get down on the floor to play, but I know my strength will be relating to my boys as they get older — a time my wife admits she is dreading.

You stay-at-home parents do an amazing job. A tough job. And, as I’m finally ready to admit, you do a job I just don’t want to do. After nearly seven years and a hefty heaping of guilt, I’m finally OK with that. I’ve talked to a lot of at-home parents who admit they couldn’t handle going to work full time, and that’s OK too.

The trick is finding someone who complements you by being strong where you’re weak, and vice versa. MJ can’t work right now and I’d go crazy at home full time. It works for us. It works for now.

So I have this to say to working parents who love to work: stop beating yourself up for not wanting to be home full time. It’s not a character flaw and it doesn’t mean you don’t love your kids. You can be a good parent and still love to work, as long as you find the right blend of home and career. And there’s certainly something to be said for modeling hard work and professional success to your kids.

Stepping back and taking an honest look at the situation has given me clarity, relieved me of some guilt and doubt, and made me ever more appreciative of the job my wife does at home. If you’re in the same boat I was, I wish the same for you.

And for the single parents laughing to yourselves and calling me a wimp because you’re out there working and parenting full-time every day without any help, you’re right. You folks really are superheroes!

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Working Parents Have It Tough

wheresdadWill, who will be six years old in April, was asked by his kindergarten teacher to draw a picture of his family. The picture to the left is the result.

When I saw it, I mistakenly thought he forgot about Sam, our newest addition. “Hey buddy, there I am with mom and we’re holding your hand, but I think you forgot about Sam, silly,” I said with a grin. His face immediately turned pale and his eyes darted furiously from me to his mother to the picture. His face contorted into a panicked look, leaving little doubt tears would be following closely behind.

“Sorry dad, I forgot to draw you in our family…because you’re always working.”

He would go on to tell me that while he loves me, he just loves his mom more. Ouch. Cue Cat’s in the Cradle with a side of massive working parent guilt.

Continue reading Working Parents Have It Tough

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Many Women Don’t Support Stay-at-Home Dads

moms_dadsHow many times have we heard that men need to do more at home?

I know I’ve heard it. A lot. Online parenting sites and message boards are filled with frustrated moms lamenting the fact that their husbands spend too much time at the office and not enough on household and childcare chores. If only they’d focus more on family, change some diapers, clean the house, and cook a few meals. Hell, if only they’d pick up their socks off the living room floor, right? Whatever the case, these guys need to do SOMETHING to take the burden off poor mom who is stuck at home with the kids all day, because Lord knows she needs the support.

Well, it turns out a new survey just released by Salary.com shows a potentially ugly flip side to that argument.

Salary.com (where I work as the content manager, for full disclosure) surveyed more than 2,100 people about work and shifting gender roles in April, and a couple of the questions were about stay-at-home parenting. The results of two questions in particular raised some eyebrows, dispelling some myths regarding the attitudes of men and women toward full-time parenting and gender roles in general.

The survey asked people “If it were financially feasible, would you give up your own career to be a stay-at-home parent?” The long-held belief is that women are natural born caregivers who are automatic nurturers, while men are predisposed providers who bring home the bacon and leave the child-rearing to the lady folk.

Yet when asked if they’d give up their careers to be a stay-at-home parent, just as many men as women answered in the affirmative.

Yup, that’s right. The survey showed 57% of both men AND women expressed a desire to give up their careers to stay at home full time. Some might argue that number is high because more men are out of work these days after the recent recession, but I disagree. A study called The New Dad from the Boston College Center for Work and Family showed men are placing an increased importance on work/life balance, and making a concerted effort to be more involved at home than their fathers were. That shift in attitude is probably why the number of stay-at-home dads has doubled in the past decade, according to U.S. Census statistics, and now sits at close to 200,000.

But as staggering as that number is, this next stat startled me even more.

When asked if they’d financially and emotionally support a spouse who expressed a desire to stay home and take care of the kids and house full time, 91% of men answered yes. That shouldn’t surprise too many people as the arrangement of a working dad and a stay-at-home mom has been the status quo forever and a day. But what about women? What about the moms who have been calling for men to pick up the slack on the home front? Surely they must be thrilled to hear that 91% of men seek to support a woman’s choice to stay at home AND  just as many of them want to stay home with the kids as women. It’s a no-brainer they’d be just as supportive, right?

Not exactly.

More than one-quarter of women surveyed (26%) said they fundamentally refuse to support a spouse’s decision to be a stay-at-home parent. So even though the men in this survey are just as open to sacrificing their careers as women, women are more than three times as likely not to support the same decision for men.

Why is this the case? I’m not sure, and the survey didn’t ask. But here’s what I do know:

Men are facing a similar battle attempting to make home life a priority as women did when leaving the home and entering the workforce. There’s no doubt women faced (and still face) obstacles and obstructions from a good old boys network who didn’t want to see things change in the workplace, and they made progress by being relentless and eventually gaining support from men and women already in positions of power who became allies to working women.

And just like that old boys network, I absolutely believe there are women who look at parenting and the home front as “their turf,” and don’t want to give up control. Any dad who has gone to the playground with his kid sans wife, or tried to join a real-life or online parenting community can attest to the sideways glances and disapproving stares from many of the mothers present. Sometimes it’s the very same women complaining about a lack of help who end up being opposed to the idea of stay-at-home dads. And that has to change if progress is to be made.

This survey tells me men have realized they need to make family a priority. But it also seems some women have a scorching case of “be careful what you wish for.”

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The Most Important Thing?

work_life“Is this the most important and impactful thing I can be doing right now?”

That’s the fundamental question we all ask ourselves at my day job to figure out which projects should be prioritized. There are lots of things that need doing, but working on a little bit here and a little bit there leaves us scattered and unfocused. So whenever we get spread too thin we stop, ask that question, and then get back to work on the most important thing.

Unfortunately it’s not so clear-cut when you’re a parent — especially a working parent.

An average day for me consists of leaving the house at 7 a.m. just after my son wakes up, and getting back around 6:30-7 p.m. which is an hour before he goes to bed at 8. That’s thanks to long hours and a really shitty commute that averages roughly 80-90 minutes — each way. And I really love my job. I do. And not just because the salary I derive from it keeps our family afloat. I love the people I work with, I get to write and edit every day, I’ve learned countless new skills switching from print to digital and I’ve grown personally and professionally because of it. I hope to stay and thrive there for many years and I enjoy immense satisfaction from almost every part of it.

And yet as much as I love work, there’s a little voice chirping in the back of my head: “Is this the most important thing I can be doing?”

I come home and I see arts and crafts projects MJ and Will have done together during the day. I see Facebook pictures throughout the day of places they go and things they do. And when I get home I listen to them talk, close as can be with inside jokes and things that can only be had from spending all that time together. MJ knows the intricate details of what’s happening on a daily basis at preschool, which friends Will is having a problem with at the moment, whether Batman, Power Rangers or Transformers is currently his Favorite. Thing. Ever.

These things might seem insignificant, but they’re not. In fact, I think these little nuggets are the things that really make parenting worth it. They are quite literally the most important thing a parent can be doing.

Working parents know this. We do. We know we’re missing out on so much good stuff, and yet there’s almost nothing we can do about it. Because the simple fact of the matter is our salaries from our jobs keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. Sure we can try to work from home or cut back our hours, but that comes with risks too. Fair or not, the truth is people (men especially) are punished for missing work, and often thought of as lazy for asking for leave or time off related to family.

Being a working dad is a constant battle for me. I’m trying to advance my career so I can better provide for my family, while also remaining present enough as a husband so my wife doesn’t feel like a single parent, and as a good enough dad so my kid still remembers who I am and doesn’t see me as a novelty.

It’s an absolutely exhausting tightrope walk in hurricane force winds, and all too often you end up feeling like you have one foot in each world and you’re not performing well in either role.

While I’m not sure if I could hack being a stay-at-home parent, I do envy them in one big way. I really do believe that while their job is immeasurably difficult, they can comfort themselves with the knowledge that they are absolutely doing the most important thing they can be doing by raising a quality human being every single day. It doesn’t make the work itself any easier, but the peace of mind that comes with it has to be a relief.

Meanwhile working parents are left with a paycheck that never seems to cover all the self-doubt when trying to figure out if we’re doing the most important thing.

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