Two years ago my wife was offered an amazing job opportunity. We weren’t ready to put our kids in daycare. So we decided that I would stay home with the kids. In a few months our youngest son will be starting Kindergarten and I will be going back to work. The closing of this “stay at home” chapter has given me a chance to reflect on the last two years. Here are five things I have learned from being a stay at home dad.
1. It is hard work
First of all, being a stay at home parent is hard work. I knew my wife was busy during the day, but I never really thought about it that much. For the first few months I was basking in the glow of not getting ready and going to “work.” After that wore off and the cold reality set in, I began to realize my expectations were silly. I thought I would be chillin’ out all day, listening to my favorite music and reading my favorite books. The focus was all on me. The thing is, kids think it’s all about them! They want me to do everything for them. Who do they think they are anyway? My days have been filled with getting kids dressed, doing laundry, making meals, doing dishes, cleaning the house, going grocery shopping, going to the library, chauffeuring kids around, art projects, legos, playing outside, and (no exaggeration) one million trips to the playground. How do my kids never get tired of the playground? Being a stay at home parent is hard work. I applaud all of you who have done it. I only did it for two years. My wife stayed home for five years. To those who stay at home, I salute you.
2. It can feel isolating
We live in Indiana in the great cold north. Or not so great, depending on your affinity for snow. Indiana winters mean lots of staying inside. Sure there is the occasional snow sledding day, but more often than not it is the doldrums. I can only watch my kid’s favorite episode of Thomas the Train so many times. Can I get a witness? I vaguely remember the term “seasonal depression” before I stayed home with my kids. Now I can fully relate. These last two years I’ve stared out of the window trying with all my power to will spring to begin. I just want to say I love spring. (Also, death to winter. I hate you.)
I’ve learned from other stay at home parents that this is a common feeling. Being surrounded by kids all day and being mostly stuck in your house is isolating. This plays out in many ways, but depression is one of them. I’ve never sunk down into a deep depression, but staying at home every long, cold day for months in a row got to me. It felt boring. It was monotonous. I started to wonder if I was doing the right thing and why I was doing this. I think all adults want a sense of purpose in life. Sometimes that can get lost when you are a stay at home parent.
3. Money is tight
I remember when my wife and I were dating. We had this great conversation about our philosophy of raising kids. One thing we strongly agreed on was having a parent stay at home until the kids were in school. We’ve stuck to that commitment. There is a side effect, however, that we didn’t anticipate. We’ve only had one income. God has provided everything we need but money has been tight. I don’t view this as a negative thing. I look at it like this; we’ve had the opportunity to learn how to live on one income.
I know all situations are different and for many families both parents have to work. For us though, one income was good because we’ve learned how to have a very simple lifestyle. We haven’t had cable in several years. We normally only go out to eat once a week and sometimes not even that. I think in the last five years we’ve gone to see a movie an average of 3 times a year. We buy most clothes second hand. We buy most of our food at Aldi. If you are a stay at home parent and money is tight, then I encourage you to look at this season as an opportunity to pare down your life to what really matters.
4. It is countercultural
What do I mean by countercultural? The best way to explain that is to summarize most conversations I’ve had telling people that I’m a stay at home dad.
Person: “What do you do?”
Me: “I’m a stay at home dad”
Person (with a strange look on their face) “……hm. uh. great?”
The truth is, being a stay at home dad is not normal. People don’t know what to do with it. Men are supposed to go out and win the bread right? Trust me, this has been my biggest struggle. I’ve had insecurity these last two years about the transition that my wife and I decided to try. Honestly, it’s felt like a culture experiment. It’s awkward to buy a gift for my wife. “Hey honey, is it okay if I use some of your money to buy you something for your birthday?” For all the weirdness, I wouldn’t change a thing. You want to know why? Because I can relate to what my wife went through (and she can relate to what I went through). I know when she gets home from work she needs some decompression time. She knows that on the weekends one of the best things she can do for me is let me have some time outside of the house to myself. Our marriage partnership is stronger than ever.
5. It is rewarding
After reading the first four things you’re probably not that excited about being a stay at home parent. Sorry, not trying to be a downer, just being honest. This last one will cheer you up, and if I do my job right, make you cry. Being a stay at home dad has been so rewarding. I wouldn’t trade these last two years for anything (except maybe two years in a place where there is no such thing as winter). I’ve had the opportunity to spend two years with my two sons. That is time that I can never get back.
Most of the things that are the worst about being a stay at home dad are also the best. Those one million trips to the playground were one million chances for me to bond with my sons. All those times driving them around I got to listen to my boys sing worship songs in the back seat. Those long days inside provided multitudes of teaching moments. My oldest is about to start first grade and my youngest is about to start kindergarten. Now they will be at school all day. The hard pill to swallow is that I won’t get to spend nearly as much time with my sons in the future. Hopefully these last two years I’ve been able to give them invaluable training. It was all worth it!