Editor’s Note: This article by Chris Brandenburg of our Twin Cities Dads Group explains why and how he got one of the largest pediatric health systems in the country to change its system so stay-at-home parents are no longer classified as “unemployed” in its admission systems.
“She can hear, but it’s like hearing underwater,” the specialist said.
The ear infections had taken their toll on my daughter, on my family and on me. To see my bright little girl in pain, to know she was having trouble at school, to know the medicine wasn’t helping — it all led to the correct decision: tubes in her ears. We booked an appointment at the surgery center at Children’s Minnesota Hospital in Saint Paul and waited.
The day we checked my daughter in, my wife and I thought we were ready. Our nervous child, scheduled to have her tonsils and adenoids removed and the tubes placed, played with her doll and sang quietly nearby while the staff, kind and funny, asked us to go over the paperwork.
That’s when I saw it, and my heart sank.
I saw next to my name: “UNEMPLOYED.”
A few days earlier a nice woman from scheduling had asked what my profession was. “Stay-at-home dad,” I proudly replied.
“Oh, that’s nice,” she said. Then, unknown to me at the time, she checked the only box on her input screen that made sense to her. The “UNEMPLOYED” one.
Seeing this at admissions, I felt everything all at once: shocked, angry, confused, upset. But I kept it all in. “Now isn’t the time,” I told myself. Stay composed. I’m here today for my child. This will have to wait.
Slights to stay-at-home parents
As a stay-at-home dad, I have become used to such a slight. I’ve changed the diapers, mixed the formula, even taught my daughter, August, baby sign language. I’ve read the parenting books. I took the baby to visit family when my wife was tied down at work, all for my daughter. I generally relished being the “Dad at Home.” But in the seven years since my child’s birth, I’ve been called a babysitter. I’ve been asked where my wife was when I ran errands with my girl or took her to appointments where people expressed concern for my “sick” wife (“Uh, she’s at work,” I’d say). That all comes with the territory.
I was on edge that day at the hospital. My daughter had at least five ear infections, two hearing tests and two trips to the ear-nose-and-throat specialist. Pain medicines, emails from the school nurse, heating pads, antibiotics, failed tests at school from being unable to hear. It had all led us to the surgery at Children’s Minnesota. With my awesome wife, Alea, at my side, I had tackled them all. I had taken my kid to every doctor’s appointment she’s ever had. On that day, I wasn’t prepared for more. I wasn’t ready for “UNEMPLOYED.”
The good news for my child is the surgeries went well. Children’s Minnesota did an awesome job keeping her in good spirits and managing her pain. When she refused a wheelchair as we left and instead asked, “Will you carry me, Daddy?” I knew all would be well. My daughter was counting on me now, and I had a responsibility to her. My hurt feelings would have to wait until my child fully recovered.
When she was, I wrote the one person I hoped could tackle this without a controversy: Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota CEO Dr. Bob Bonar. I opened with the facts then reminded him, “Your hospital is committed to children. It is the number one value in your mission statement: Kids First. Further down the list is another value, Be Remarkable,” I wrote. To me, that describes stay-at-home parents perfectly. We are committed to kids first, and we try to do the “Be Remarkable” part every day with them. We sacrifice careers, salaries and sometimes even our sanity to raise our children in a way we think will benefit them. I asked him to help. To help challenge gender role stereotypes, to end the stigma of being a stay-at- home parent. I was asking his organization to Be Remarkable.
After a while, Dr. Bonar responded with what I had hoped he would say: “We have been working on correcting that problem.” He explained that their financial software had billing based on insurance and collection status with only one option for individuals who do not work outside of the home. That software didn’t give Children’s employees any option for recognizing a stay-at-home parent. That is, until my concern prompted him to contact the right people who finally added the option. Now, when a stay-at-home dad or mom calls the hospital to register their child, he or she enters the system with an appropriate title.
Is it a huge change? Does this additional option help doctors and nurses heal patients better? No. In the grand scheme of things, though, this small change can make a difference.
Most stay-at-home parents won’t realize they are now being classified correctly, but going forward they will simply know that Children’s Minnesota knows and cares about who they are. That Children’s Minnesota is open to making such small but meaningful changes tells me they really care about their goal of being remarkable. On behalf of stay-at-home parents, I want to thank Dr. Bob Bonar and Children’s Minnesota for listening and acting.
About the author
Chris Brandenburg, shown here with his daughter, August, is a husband, stay-at-home father and co-founder of Twin Cities Dads Group. He believes that to build strong communities, you need strong families and strong dads.