It can be a gut punch for some men to admit their full-time job is to stay at home with the kids.
Antiquated gender roles dictate that a man’s value is measured by a paycheck, not how well he can care for an infant throughout the day. But being a stay-at-home dad (SAHD) is becoming less of a punchline and more of a reality. Recent statistics show almost 1.4 million stay-at-home dads serve as the primary caregiver for their children.
It can be overwhelming and sometimes even a bit lonely. Wearing a baby backpack to the store in the middle of the day attracts stares and looks of confusion from many. But there’s nothing to be down in the dumps about. You are a rockstar dude who takes care of the kids!
Here’s what I’ve learned works in my time as an SAHD:
1. Define your role as SAHD
Your 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 a 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.
2. Figure out your ideal schedule
Humans are creatures of habit. To keep your sanity and the kids from dominating the day, find a routine. Keeping a fairly regular schedule create stability and normalcy for you. Plan some activities, build in some quiet time and keep the kids involved inside and outside (vitamin D — bonus) and tire themselves out.
3. Set aside some “me” time
Being an SAHD can seem like Groundhog Day. 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 young one fully functioning day in and day out. Take at least a few minutes every day 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 SAHD recharge.
4. Roll with the punches
While you have your own schedule strategized harder than any football coach before kickoff, the kids ain’t got no time for that. Temper tantrums, diaper blowouts and insert randomness will come at you hard and fast. 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 blips on the radar. You’ll be back to that game plan in no time.
5. Embrace the role of stay-at-home dad
Too many stay-at-home dads are embarrassed that their wife is the one bringing home the bacon. When ask what they do for a living, many an SAHD will quickly launch into some incoherent ramble or jump into a prepared talking point about working from home on [insert whatever side project]. Buck this fear of being emasculated. Staying at home to care for your children is a huge responsibility not for the faint of heart. Be comfortable knowing you’ve stepped up to the plate to take on the job of a lifetime.
6. Take care of yourself
Too much constant attention to the little ones can leave dads forgetting one of the most important thing – taking care of themselves. Day-to-day care of kids is physically and mentally draining. To bring your A-game every day: eat well, exercise regularly, get as much sleep as possible (easier said than done with babies around the house) and avoid the trap of the dreaded Dad Bod. 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 when it comes to gender roles, but progress still needs to be made in terms of co-mingling dads and moms at the play yard. Most stay-at-home dads find it hard to break into the mom groups for fear of coming off like a douche or just because they feel intimidated approaching a gaggle of stay-at-home moms. Understand that we all have more in common than we’d perhaps like to admit. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation. It’s important to have conversations with other adults in real life throughout the day. Listening to your favorite podcast does not count.
8. Get connected to other at-home fathers, parents
Don’t be that lonely dude in the park hoping someone will come over and talk to you. Find some male companionship – as corny as that may sound on the surface. 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 fatherhood and stay-at-home dads. They offer classes and boot camps on how to manage some of the daily rigors of childcare and provide opportunities for like-minded dads that just want to bond with other dads.
9. Ask for help
Super dads (and super moms, for that fact) 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 who 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 dad 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 every day, whether you are an SAHD or a working dad, 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.