The stay-at-home dad trend continues to grow, and some people tout this as a kind of sea change, but I don’t care if it’s “the new normal” or a changing paradigm or some X-Men-style evolution. I spent the better part of a year as a stay-at-home dad (SAHD), and I didn’t like it.
After being laid off one June, I spent the bulk of the summer at home, working alongside my wife to care for our son. When my wife landed a job, I suddenly found myself cast away on an island with an almost-2-year-old.
No nanny, no daycare, no grandparents, no Wilson; just me, a collection of toys, and the daily oasis that is my kid’s mid-day nap. What was a summer at home extended into the fall and then the winter.
Being a stay-at-home dad was exhausting and rewarding and challenging and fun. And often overwhelming. I’m not going to lie: I prefer being back at work.
I once joked that hanging out with my son was boring, and some people took offense to the idea that I don’t cherish every minute with my kid. Please. Of course I do. But if you’re always fully engaged when participating in the kinds of activities your 2-year-old enjoys, then have I have concerns about you.
Most of the time when you hear a stay-at-home parent talking about his or her role, it’s in glowing terms, either because they really feel that way or they don’t want to be criticized for not feeling that way. Unfortunately, the subtext often is that those parents who don’t want to stay at home with their kids are lesser parents or somehow don’t love their kids as much. And that’s just not true.
Forced into being stay-at-home dad
No group of parents should be elevated at the expense of the others; as far as I know, there are no stats to back up any version of parenting as the “right” or “best” one, and no parent is better or worse than another simply because of the ways they’ve divvied up their responsibilities. It’s a personal decision that’s none of anyone else’s business.
There are reasons some dads choose to stay home with their kids, especially in a weak economy. For some families, it just makes more sense for a parent to stay home — I know that in New York, the cost of daycare alone could eat an entire salary — and maybe for some of those families mom just makes more dough.
I was forced into being a stay-at-home dad by circumstance rather than having arrived at it by choice, and I know that reality colors my experience. There’s an undercurrent of anxiety and stress that might otherwise not exist if the financial stakes weren’t so high. And I’m sure a lot of other dads have had similar experiences.
For those dads who chose the stay-at-home dad role because it suits them and they love it: good for them. I love my son; I love spending time with him and feeding him and dressing him and playing with him. (Maybe not so much feeding him). And preferring to be at work rather than to at home with my kid does not mean I love him any less than SAHDs love theirs.
Ironically, while I’ve long known that parenting is a tough job, it took this stint as a stay-at-home dad for it to really start feeling like a job. And that feeling is something that I, perhaps selfishly, wanted gone.
I don’t want to become beaten down by the long days at home with my son. I don’t want our trips to the playground to feel like a chore, or our dancing jags to become a headache. I want to hang on to the fun parts, and while most of my days at home are still full of them, I can sometimes feel the tide turning.
If being a stay-at-home dad results in me being an unhappy, aggravated father, that’s no good for me or my son. So more power to all those fathers out there, holding it down, doing man’s work at home.
I think I prefer to be a Working Girl.
A version of this first appeared on Dad and Buried.