Before I became a stay-at-home spouse nearly three years ago, I did not think much of the men or women who chose that path. I didn’t look down on them; I was simply not impressed. Their tales of frustration and loneliness fell on my deaf ears. It reminded me of stories regarding pregnancy. It was an issue, as a man, I would never have to deal with.
Now, I do. The most surprising thing to me is how similar the experience is for at-home parents, regardless of gender.
The working spouse comes home, asking why the house was not clean, berating the at-home parent for spending money he or she had not earned, and wondering where dinner was. Such traditionally chauvinistic thoughts from female breadwinners? Definitely, said my new friends in the “dads” community groups I joined.
The only way to love someone is to understand what they are going through. To help the working parent in a family, I’ve come up with five ways to better understand your stay-at-home spouse. For any of these to work, each partner has to invest time and, rather than change, only compromise. Some of those compromises are easier to make than others, but the only way to truly love a person is to understand him or her and that can only be accomplished by trying.
1. Be ready to help when you come home
When I was working for pay, I went home when my day was over and wanted to do nothing but relax. If your full-time work is being a stay-at-home parent, you still get that feeling. If it seems ridiculous that you should have to feed, bathe, and discipline children by yourself after working all day then you already understand the point. There are always exceptions, but no one gets to kick up his or her feet until the family is taken care of.
2. Take the kids by yourself for a day
Many working parents are reluctant to fly solo because they do not do it on a regular basis. People gain confidence in their skills by learning from their successes and failures on the job. Go-to-work parents do not have that same level of exposure and can be intimidated by the “ease” in which their spouse handles the activities of childhood. In reality, there is no “ease.” We have merely had the opportunity to screw up more often and gain confidence as a result. Stay-at-home dads and moms want their spouses to learn these hard parenting lessons without a safety net, so they see that trial-by-fire confidence in their partner. Take the kids out one day a month or encourage your stay-at-home parenting partner to go out and you keep the children at home by yourself. It may go well or you might end up with maple syrup in your hair, but either way you learn that you can do it.
3. Talk about your work with your spouse
Working parent: When your job sucks, you can complain to your co-workers. You also get to celebrate successes with those people who know what you are talking about. At-home spouses with kids want that exact same thing, but we have to go in search of those co-workers. We turn to social networks to find a sympathetic ear. We sometimes get caught up in this battle for acknowledgment and forget how much of a beatdown a day at the office can be. Leaving your family to dive into the world of office politics and promotions is hard and we can lose sight of that. There is a misconception that we think our job is harder, that it is “our work versus your work.” It is not harder, it’s just different. Work is work and it is as easy or hard as the amount of effort you put into it. If we all understand that, then we can talk about our days without playing the comparison game. Tell us about your day and after that, we will trade and you listen.
4. Turn off the TV at home
This applies to all distractions, but television is a great example. People will tell you how binge-watching television is terrible for you, but the real issue is what it keeps you from doing. If you are not careful it becomes rinse and repeat cycle of entertainment without interaction. The things on this list cannot be accomplished without devoting time to them and there is only so much time in a day. Do not get rid of television, just do not let it become too important. Turn it off. Turn on some music. Make a little love. Get down tonight.
5. Champion your spouse’s contributions
For better or worse, our confidence is intertwined with the recognition we receive. Those of us who stay-at-home love the opportunity to be there every day, raising our children, but we are susceptible to doubt like anyone else. Stay-at-home parents are the minority of two-parent homes in the United States and most people think they need two incomes to achieve the American dream. There is a defensiveness that comes with being in the minority, a feeling of something to prove. SAHMs and SAHDs can preach to the choir all day long about their contributions to their children and families, but confidence is built on the backs of those who believe in us. People are at their most certain when those who love them defend their weaknesses, no matter what the popular opinion is. Tell your spouse how much you respect what they are doing and when you get the chance, tell everyone else.
A version this first appeared on JustaDad 247. At-home spouse photo: PublicDomainPictures.net