Working, making money, and being a productive part of the economy and the world. I believe most men have this drive.
But what does this man do if his wife makes more money? What happens if he becomes a stay-at-home-dad? Would his ego be helped with a part-time job? What if that part-time job became bigger and bigger? How would his priorities and identity as an at-home dad change if he were to have the opportunity to enjoy business and economic success that can be parlayed into a fulfilling career?
I’ve had to answer all these questions the past few years. That last question, though, I’m still working through because, until a few weeks ago, I thought I had worked out all my ego issues.
Since September 30, 2016, my primary “job” and purpose has been to be a stay-at-home dad for our one son, Franklin. My wife and I agreed on my doing this until he started school full-time because neither of us were overly excited to pay exorbitant child care costs or waking up at 5:30 a.m. to get the child there. We also have the luxury of being older parents (37 and 40) and were able to prioritize time with the child over money.
Being a stay-at-home parent is a huge responsibility. It doesn’t have a daily quitting time. You’re the parent, you’re the teacher, the coach, the mentor — all in one, all the time. Added to this, my underlying insecurities of being “just” the primary caregiver had already made steady footholds into my subconscious. They helped me justify my working part-time even while raising him. It’s “good for him,” I told myself, to see me holding down this second job. It gives him the opportunity to learn business, responsibility, professionalism and finance at a young age. He sees his dad as both the primary caregiver AND a hard worker who shuns fun and games to get ahead.
But these initial justifications have been growing into something more. I’ve let myself start thinking that “if it wasn’t for my child” I’d be able to do so much more. More clients, more money, more focus on business. Recently I told my wife about my plans for the year ahead – task lists, business expansion, hiring more employees, adding more clients. If only I keep working toward it, it’ll be mine! I’ll be a success! I’ll even be able to “brag” about how I can do all these things while I raise a child.
Then my wife stopped me cold. “What are you doing with Franklin?” she asked.
I’d been excited about the all the possibilities for me, but not for him.
My wife’s question made me think of all the times I turned down business or opportunities. All the times I said “I can’t” because he and I had things to do. Do I feel bitter about that? Short answer, yes. But is that justifiable? Normal? Did I let my ego take over my responsibilities as primary caretaker? Did my self-centeredness bleed over and impact his connection to me? Did I just teach my child to be self-centered?
That’s what my internal conflict is truly about and, honestly, I’m still processing it. How can I balance my desires, my success, my ego, my need for societal and self-acceptance, against what my wife, son and I think should be my main purpose – being a full-time parent for these early years?
This may seem like a ranting of privilege, of someone well-off enough to have the option to stay home full-time while the other spouse works. It’s not. It’s really about losing focus on primary goals in favor of self-indulgence.
With the very, very limited time I have left with my son at home, I have to remember to choose him first. In just 18 months, Franklin will be in school full time and I’ll have weekdays to myself to work for the next 40 years. But struggling to get out of my own way for the betterment of a greater whole — family harmony, my son’s development and well-being — is constant for me. However, with my wife’s one simple question, I’m able to begin to re-focus on the my primary purpose of my life and the greater whole of “we” over “I.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Jenks, a married stay-at-home father of one boy, is the organizer of our Anchorage Dads Group in Alaska.