Editor’s Note: NYC Dads Group member Pete Cataldo explains how he’s learned to stay sane and thrive as a SAHD — a stay-at-home dad..
It can be a gut punch to the system for men to admit that their full-time job is to stay at home with the kids.
Antiquated gender roles dictate that a man’s value is not measured in how well he can care for an infant throughout the day, it’s measured in how much money he can bring into the house to support his family. But the truth is that being a stay-at-home dad (SAHD) is becoming less of a punchline and more of a reality. Recent statistics show there are almost 1.4 million stay-at-home dads changing the diapers and feeding the babies in the middle of the day as the primary daytime caregiver for their children.
It can be overwhelming and sometimes even a bit lonely without opportunities for conversations other than “toss daddy the ball.” Wearing a baby backpack to the store in the middle of the day attracts stares and looks of confusion from the people not used to seeing a male stepping into the role as the primary caregiver for a baby. But there’s nothing to be down in the dumps about over being a rockstar dude that takes care of the kids. Here’s what I’ve learned works in my time as a SAHD:
10 SAHD Tips for Success
1. Figure out your ideal schedule
Humans are creatures of habit, no matter how big or small, young or old we are. To keep your sanity, and keep the kids from dominating the day, find some normalcy by getting a routine and keeping to a fairly regular schedule. Plan some activities for the day, build in some quiet time and work out a few ways to get the kids involved and outside so they can get some vitamin D and (bonus) even tire themselves out from all the outdoor activities.
2. Roll with the punches
While you have your own schedule all mapped and strategized harder than a football coach before kickoff, the kids ain’t got no time for that. Temper tantrums, diaper blowouts and insert randomness come at you harder than a fastball from an ace closer (yes, I just mixed up my sports metaphors, deal with it). It’s your job to find creative ways to get around these situations, keep the kids in line and keep your sanity in check. Be ready for the obstacles and understand that they are all just short-lived blips in the radar, you’ll be back to that game plan in no time.
3. Define the role of SAHD
Once you’ve taken the plunge, the first step isn’t rolling up the sleeves and diving into the diapers, it’s to negotiate. Chat with your partner about the expectations regarding the role of being the stay at home parent. Will you be responsible for dinner every night? Who’s doing the laundry? What about the regular housecleaning? If you don’t figure out the right balance and division of labor from the outset, it can lead to a bigger battle down the road.
4. Embrace the role of SAHD
Too many stay-at-home dads are embarrassed that their wife is the one bringing home the bacon. When prompted to detail their jobs or careers, many SAHDs will quickly launch into some incoherent ramble, or jump into a prepared talking point about working from home on [insert whatever side project]. It’s time to buck this fear of being emasculated. Staying at home to care for your children is a huge responsibility and it is not for the faint of heart. Be comfortable knowing that you’ve stepped up to the plate to take on the job of a lifetime.
5. Set aside some “me” time
It can seem like an endless game of Groundhog Day during the daytime hours with only a small person to keep you company. It can be lonely – even though you have another human being around to talk to. But without another adult to have real life conversations with, you can find yourself going a little nuts with all the work it takes to keep a youngling fully functioning day in and day out. Take at least a few minutes every day to try and get some “me” time. Go for a walk, meditate, workout, play a video game. Do something, anything to get away from the diaper drama and recharge.
6. Take care of yourself
Too much constant attention to the little ones of the group can leave dads forgetting one of the most important things – taking care of themselves. Taking on the task of the day to day care of kids is physically and mentally draining. Find the time ensure you are able to bring your A-game to the playing field. Eat well, exercise get as much sleep as possible (easier said than done with babies around the house) and avoid the trap of the dreaded DadBod. It’ll go a long way towards keeping you fresh for the challenge.
7. Don’t be afraid of the Mean Girls
We’ve come a long way from the days when men considered the stay at home duties to be solely for the females of the group. But, we still have some progress to make in terms of co-mingling in the department of dads and moms all hanging out at the play yard. Most stay at home dads find it hard sometimes to break into the mom groups, because of the fear of coming off like a douche, or just because they feel intimidated by the idea of approaching a gaggle of stay-at-home moms. Understand that we all have a lot more in common than we’d perhaps even like to admit. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation. It’s important to have conversations with other real life adults throughout the day. Listening to your favorite podcast does not count.
8. Get connected
You don’t have to be that lonely dude in the park hoping that someone will come over and talk to you. Find some male companionship – as corny as that may sound on the surface. But, dad groups like City Dads Group and the National At Home Dad Network and dad blogs like DaddyMindTricks.com (shameless plug) are terrific resources. They can help you find common ground with other dudes who’ve made the transition to dads and stay-at-home dads. They offer classes and bootcamps on how to manage some of the day to day rigors of childcare, like diaper changes, and provide opportunities for like-minded dads that just want to bond with other dads.
9. Ask for help
Super dads are not a thing. Too often, the stay-at-home parent of the duo gets this burst of ego that says they are the only ones that can perform the task. We don’t realize that it truly take a team to tackle this task head on. Just because you’ve got some super awesome system for managing 15 things at once and handing it off to your partner may mean sacrificing the specific order of events that you envisioned, don’t let your ego block the way. Ask for help if you need and prevent potential burn out.
10. Don’t settle for the lowered bar of expectations
According to sitcoms and advertisements, all dads have to do to win the fatherhood game is show up, try not to fart too much and make sure the onesie is buttoned somewhat properly. That’s absurd. Understand that everyday isn’t going to be awesome. Some days will downright suck. But as long as you are striving to be a pretty decent dad, strong role model for your kids and proud teammate and support system to your partner, you’ll end up having more of those awesome days than the poopy ones.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Pete Cataldo is a SAHD, a professional voiceover actor and certified trainer. A reformed sports junky media junky, he previously worked as a television sports anchor and in public relations. He lives with his wife and daughter in Manhattan. He writes for the website Daddy Mind Tricks, where a version of this article first appeared.