Stay-at-home dad-that’s kind of a weird title, isn’t it? By its very hyphenated nature, it implies something out of the ordinary. You’re not just a dad, you’re a stay-at-home dad.
In my experience, people hardly ever use the term “stay-at-home mom” to describe themselves. Most would just say “mom.” Sure, some use it more than others, but usually, saying “mom” is enough to lead people to assumptions about her work status. However, saying “dad” never makes people assume that this person would be hitting the brakes on work to stay home and raise their child.
Plus, if a mom is the family breadwinner, people might call her a “working mom.” Society is sexist. That’s my main point. I should know-I am a stay-at-home dad. And I know how that makes most of you feel.
I’ll get into my own story as we go along, but let me break down a few of the misconceptions about stay-at-home dads so that you’ll perhaps understand how these are hurtful and why we deserve to be revered, not ridiculed.
Numbers don’t lie: How many stay-at-home dads are there?
Using US Census data, the National At-Home Dad Network estimates that “7 million fathers are a regular source of care for children under the age of 15.” That’s right-we are 7 million strong!
And it’s not all millennial stay-at-home dads either. Sure, millennials have about 4% more stay-at-home dads than my Gen X, but they only make up 21% of the total number out there.
The figures do suggest this is a growing trend, for better or worse. I, for one, am a stay-at-home dad who wants to buck all the stereotypes, but it’s not easy. Sharing these numbers is just a way of drumming up some support for stay-at-home dads by saying, “See? Other people are doing it, too.”
Misconceptions about stay-at-home dads: “He must be lazy.”
First of all, I’ll use this platform to clear this up: I’m not lazy. I’m not unemployable or looking for a free ride. I’m not into sleeping late or lounging around in my pajamas all day. I’m not slyly angling to watch all the binge-worthy TV by offering to stay home and take care of an infant that sleeps most of the day. These are all misconceptions that have been floated in my general direction via jokes, snipes, quips, and even an occasional jealous rant.
I’m not saying that I am representative of every stay-at-home dad, but I do think I’m the rule rather than the exception. Most of us stay-at-home dads are far from lazy. Any dad who may have thought it would be a breeze to quit their job so they could live the “dress code: pajamas” dream would be in for a major wake-up call on the very first day of their new housebound job. Being a dad is tiresome; being a stay-at-home dad is nonstop exhaustion.
Why is it more tiring, you may ask? First off, a stay-at-home dad isn’t responsible just for tending to their child’s every need but also to the needs of the house. This includes the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry, and the daily maintenance of anything around your place. Sure, you could slack off one day and play a few video games, but trust me, the rest of your week will be a bona fide s#!t show.
Stay-at-home dad challenges: “Does he even know how to change a diaper?”
This is a legitimate question. Right before I became a dad, the thing I was dreading the most was changing diapers. I had lived a privileged life where I hadn’t had to deal with feces on a regular basis, and I’d been looking to continue in the same vein.
It’s the reason I never had a dog while living in the city. A baby raised the prospect of an even more intimate daily relationship with bodily waste, and I wasn’t looking forward to it.
Lest you think I’m a coward, let me brag a bit by telling you that it was me who changed our son’s first diaper. I jumped in and did what had to be done without hesitation, and I never looked back.
Still, this was a challenge for me. I grew up an only child, so I had no younger siblings to take care of in any way. Not counting a 2-week stint with a tiny musk turtle when I was 3 years old, the only creature I’d ever needed to look after in my life was a cat. I knew nothing of babies, and they knew nothing of me. I had no instincts whatsoever when it came to feeding, cleaning, or calming a tiny human.
At the risk of being viewed as a sexist myself, I do feel like a mother has instincts about these things right off the bat. Men can’t always distinguish between the crying cues for “I’m hungry” and “I’m wet.” It takes us time to learn.
The real struggle for the stay-at-home dad is to learn what the hell their baby needs and when. They can’t half-ass it, and that’s not an easy thing to accomplish.
Stay-at-home dad depression: “He’s a failure, so he probably had no choice.”
I assure you, my decision to stay at home wasn’t an easy one. Have I gotten to binge-watch some great Netflix shows here and there? Sure. But to even suggest that this would be the main reason to become a stay-at-home parent isn’t just wrong-it’s downright offensive.
I was terrified to be home alone with my brand-new human baby. I wanted desperately to change the situation, but life had a way of naturally selecting me for the position. In other words, I didn’t choose to be a stay-at-home dad. The choice was made for me.
I’m an actor and a writer by trade. These are two extremely difficult jobs to “break into.” At a young age, I was determined to make it at any cost. My mantra has always been “Samuel Jackson didn’t get his big break until he was 43.” Maybe this is more of an excuse than a traditional mantra, and I’m not even sure how accurate it actually is, but it has helped me through some dark times.
I’ve had modest success, but I have yet to book enough commercials in a calendar year or land that recurring role on a network TV show so that I can make enough money to keep my family financially above water. My wife and I met at a young age, and she has always known my never-say-die attitude to my career. When the time came to have a kid, as much as I wanted the roles to be reversed, for her sake as much as mine, it didn’t quite pan out. It was a no-brainer: she would work and I would stay at home.
I can’t say it didn’t kill me. I was able to go to auditions and write when I wasn’t exhausted, and I even booked a few jobs, which was great. But on a day-to-day basis, all I felt was guilty and depressed when my wife would come home from work exhausted, her only desire being to see our baby for a few moments before they’d both pass out. Her wish to stay home and my inability to make that happen for us was never a topic of discussion, but it was always there for me, hovering like a dark cloud of failure.
As the years passed, I felt guiltier and guiltier. The thought that “Maybe next year I’ll book enough jobs so you can stay home” was slowly but steadily giving way to “I am a stay-at-home dad now. That’s my definition.”
What being a stay-at-home dad does to your marriage: “He’s so emasculated.”
I get it. When you hear that the man stays home and the woman works, you might wonder how she can still be attracted to him when he’s just changing diapers and folding laundry all day. How can this role reversal not affect negatively their sex life? Does this stay-at-home dad scenario lead to marriage problems? The answer is complicated.
It can, no doubt. I consider myself as “woke” as the best of us, but as much as we want to embrace the fact that a woman can do a man’s job and a man can do a woman’s job (absolutely true, by the way), sometimes a role reversal changes the dynamic in a relationship. Most couples can easily survive it, but some can’t.
In 2017, prominent divorce lawyer Vanessa Lloyd Platt said that splits in a couple where the man was the full-time caregiver accounted for 10% of all marital dissolution cases at that time. She also noted that 25% to 30% of couples with a stay-at-home dad went through an acrimonious breakup. That seems like a lot.
The family dynamics vary in these cases. When it comes to our family, though, I will say that my being a stay-at-home dad has changed the dynamic for the better. My feeling of impotence was all money-based-I couldn’t provide.
When my wife went back to work, and I was left stuck at home with an infant, I had two choices: I could give in to depression and do the bare minimum to keep our kid alive, or I could take a deep breath, man up, and dive into my newfound stay-at-homeness with gusto and aplomb. I chose the latter.
What I lacked in money-making ability, I decided to make up for in effort. I took firmly the reins of our household and ran it like it was a Fortune 500 company with myself as the CEO. Sure, I went to bed exhausted every night, but I woke up revitalized despite probably averaging only 4 hours of sleep a night. It was the most satisfaction I had ever gotten from any job up to that point in my young life. I now look back very fondly on those early days even though I was terrified at the prospect then.
“Should I become a stay-at-home dad?”
NO! Run! Have you learned nothing? I’m kidding, of course. You need to have a sense of humor as a stay-at-home father, or else you will just turn into a bottle-feeding zombie with no friends and no one to talk to except that stuffed lobster your kid got from your relatives in New England.
I feel this sounds like a cop-out and it probably is, but here it goes: you do you. That’s it. That’s my advice. Does it make sense for you to stay home? Great, do it then. If you need help but are afraid to ask your wife, there are plenty of stay-at-home dad books out there. Better yet, check out the more aptly named stay-at-home dad’s survival guides.
How about joining a stay-at-home dad Facebook group? Find out when other tired dads are going out to the park in your neighborhood with their newborns, throw yours in a stroller, and go find them and talk about cars or hunting for an hour. You know, manly things. You’ll feel better.
Do you think you can avoid being a stay-at-homer by really applying yourself to get that dream job you’ve always wanted? Will it fulfill you as a human being? Great, do that. However, ask yourself this, too: Are you trying to land that job so you can feel like a real “man” able to provide for his family? Just make sure you’re staying at home or away from home for the right reasons.
And if you’re one of those people trying to label us as freeloading, lazy individuals whose careers stalled after a stint at the Gap in their early 20s and are now forced to raise a child, just cut us some slack, will you? Maybe if we stopped judging other people, we’d all be a little happier with ourselves. Which implies that maybe I just judged you, too. See? Vicious cycle.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a giant pile of laundry to fold and a pillow fort to build. That’s right, I can do both. Because I’m a stay-at-home dad and proud of it!