My other full time job: Stay at home dad

A few years ago, I came to a point in my life that was going to mean a major career change for me.

My beautiful wife of now 26 years asked me what I really wanted to do with my life, and I answered become a full time writer. That decision has turned into the website that you are now reading, plus a very successful internet radio show.

Along with my new career path, came the opportunity to work from home and spend more time raising our 5 children. This was with my wife’s full blessing, as she sought her new career path after graduating with her Master’s Degree.

Along with my new career, I also gained a second job as a full time stay at home dad, because it was the best decision for my marriage, children and myself.

My wife is now an accountant. Due to the demands of her career, my wife has a longer commute and work day than I do. Therefore, I do most of the domestic chores around the house, and almost all of the transportation for our children. There is nothing easy about it, but I find it incredibly gratifying.

When one thinks of stay-at-home parents, it’s almost always the mom that comes to mind. The number of stay-at-home dads is on the rise; they now make up just under 20% of parents who don’t work outside the home. It’s not an occupation that you go to college for, nor one you can bone up on with online classes. Nor is it something that many young men dream of, necessarily, but rather often arises from life circumstances. It requires almost 100% on-the-job training, and can be just as stressful and fulfilling (if not more so!) as any 9-5.

This growing demographic of full-time fathers is finding that they can do just as good (and in some cases better) of a job than stay-at-home moms, and are enjoying the gig to boot.

I became a stay-at-home dad because my wife and I decided that it would be the best situation for our children’s development and for our family’s financial well-being. I was always comfortable with the idea of raising kids.

Many people often ask me what kinds of qualities and skills are essential for stay-at-home dads.

Kindness, curiosity, improvisation and patience are the attitudes I find most helpful in my day-to-day operations. I need to demonstrate kindness to my children, as that is the only way I know of that kindness can be taught. If we aren’t kind to one another then everyone is miserable. Approaching everyone with an attitude of kindness is an immense challenge, but one worth taking on.

It is really important for me to try to see things from my kids’ perspective, so I need to be curious about how they see the world. Also, by engaging my own curiosity I can bring things to their attention that really engage them.

Improvising a “lesson” out of anything, or a game from whatever is at hand, is really helpful. It is also helpful to be able to improvise a logical consequence for misbehavior or a distraction to prevent a tantrum.

While I may make a plan for the day, I don’t think any day of my life has ever gone exactly as planned.

Patience is of course the most valuable quality for dealing with kids (and humans in general), but it is also the most challenging to cultivate and maintain. Not only do dads need to be patient with the kids but we need to be patient with ourselves.

Being a stay at home parent is not straightforward and changes over time, sometimes quickly. We’re going to have good days and bad days.

The best part of being a stay-at-home dad is that I’m able to spend so much time with my kids. The next best part is seeing how amazing children are and how fast they adapt to their world.

Truth is stranger than fiction, and every day I am surprised by something my kids think, say, or do (usually all three).

The worst part about being a stay-at-home dad is the occasional crisis of confidence. In the long-term I have to wonder if I am making the right choices for my kids. In the short-term it’s kind of staggering to think that for better or worse, I’m responsible for everything that goes on during the day.

If we have a bad day it’s because I didn’t manage the situation well.

The biggest misconception people have about being a stay-at-home dad is that men need to emulate the way women do things in order to be effective at raising kids. Stay-at-home moms may do things differently than me and they are just as effective. Likewise, I do things differently than they do and I am just as effective.

Child-raising is not an innately feminine thing.

When most folks find out that I am a stay at home dad, they respond with either “I wish I could do that” or “I don’t think I could do that.” I think most people can do this work if they want to or have to. And most people can do this work well if they try.

My wife is proud of the way we do things. I haven’t dealt with any feelings of emasculation as a result of this role. My wife might attribute that to my overwhelming self confidence.

We are committed to life as we currently live it. In a few years, all of our children will be gone to college or starting careers and families of their own. All of this will feel like the blink of an eye.

My life got easier when I quit thinking about traditional gender roles, and just started contributing to the things that needed done around the house. My wife and I make a good team, and we are mindful of maintaining our relationship, so we have something to enjoy once our little birds fly the coop.

In my case, I suppose that I’m just a strange cat since I’ve always traveled my own path and followed what my intuition tells me to. Popular fashion, conventional wisdom, social pressures, etc. – they’re all fairly meaningless to me.

For the past 8 years, along with my new career, I have been "Mr. Mom" to my 5 children and can easily state for myself that it has been the most mental and physical challenge of my life. There are no timeouts, no referee timeouts, no TV timeouts and no stoppage of play when I am with my children – even earnest attempts to rest while they nap are always limited by the vague fear that they will awake while I am deep in exhaustive slumber.

Between the cooking, cleaning, shopping, driving kids to all of the schools and activities, maintaining the interior and exterior of our home, I’ve never exhausted myself as much nor enjoyed life watching the development of our children. It’s truly hard work and, oh so time consuming!

I’ve been joked about by other people, but I feel so fortunate and enjoy waking me up every morning knowing that I’m partial responsible, along with my wife, for the success of our children.

Homeschooling, cleaning up food from tables and floors, pleading with children to stop opening drawers, taking them out to play whether tired or not, not having time to read the daily news or follow the market, rocking a child sometimes for over an hour to get him her/her to nap, etc., is not quite the life that I envisioned a few years ago.

Having said that, I also believe that these days are genuinely the greatest days of my life. I also can truly say that spending more time with my children has probably saved my life in both a physical and spiritual way.

The spiritual stuff about all this is easy to comprehend although unique to each one of us as human beings. I presume that for most of us that a child being entered into our lives is obviously linked to “meaning of life” issues. For me, it has brought a tangible meaning to my life. I can’t imagine not ever caring for my children and certainly could not imagine choosing another road.

The idea that parenting roles are static is preposterous. “Leave It To Beaver” wasn’t the real world in the 1960’s, and it certainly isn’t now. Parenting roles change as situations change — economic, emotional, and other. As the world gets more dynamic, so does the need to shift roles.

My wife and I keep our rules of child-rearing are pretty simply. So far so good; we’ll let you know in 15 or 20 years how it turns out. Always remember these things when it comes to raising a family:

1) Children learn from their parents’ behavior, not their words. And they are fully aware of everything that you do.

2) There is nothing more important for your children than your time. The notion of “quality time” is downright stupid. All time should be quality time, there should be as much of it as possible, and the time you don’t spend with your children is lost time. Children also need space and independence; this is not about smothering them, it’s about always being there for them.

3) Parents have to be prepared to play any role at any time.

4) You can’t have nor be everything, so prioritizing is critical.

5) If you let the easy stuff be stressful, you’ll never do the hard stuff (changing diapers, carting the children to soccer or gymnastics, making sure they do their homework, grocery shopping, making dinner, etc is all the easy stuff). The hard part is setting the right example and not letting the easy stuff become difficult.

6) Life is a balance. Children need to play and have fun, but as they move out of early childhood they need to learn responsibility and selfless behavior. If this is encouraged early enough, they will not remember a day when they did not have chores to do, to help with the dishes, the laundry, cleaning the bathroom, etc.

Our roles change constantly, but our priorities don’t.

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