Dads are supposed to have the answers to everything, right? Why is the sky blue? Do I have more money than you, since you have 1 quarter, and I have 10 pennies? Where does the rabbit go after it goes through the hole and around the tree while tying my shoes? Does ham have roots, and do beans have hair? Answers, we as parents are supposed to have them all. But it seems like when it comes to tips to succeed as a stay-at-home dad, few of us were given the roadmap. Few of us want to admit that when we started out, we had no idea what we were doing.
In 2016 there were an estimated 11,000,000 households with at least one full-time stay at home parent. However, just 7% of that group were stay-at-home dads. That small percentage represents an increase from the 1980’s. I joined the small, but growing group of men that fall into the 7% category a couple years ago. Was it entirely my choice? Full disclosure, no. Did I know exactly what to expect when becoming a stay-at-home parent? Also, no. I learned very early on, that there are some major misconceptions about fulltime parenting, and most of us who make this transition can tend to feel like we are the baby bird seconds into our first flying lesson.
Here are some realizations tips for stay at home dads. After leaving the coporate world, I spent a lot less time talking, and much more time listening and observing. How was I perceived by my peers as a fulltime parent? What are some of the less common upsides to being a stay-at-home dad? And, what is so great about athleisure?
RELATED: 4 Mindfulness Practices for Parents
1. You have to celebrate the small accomplishments.
Being a stay at home dad can be tough. There are no promotions, raises, or quarterly awards ceremonies that you are eligible for. You can spend the late afternoon cooking a gourmet meal, and the only way to know it was a success is if the kid’s plate is clean, and they are full. Take the win, pat yourself on the back, and move on to the next task.
I have found that having your kids help you with the meal prep gets them a lot more excited about branching out and trying new flavors. If your children are little, select an easy task for them to manage while you are doing the Iron Chef routine next to them. I started by giving my kids a butter knife and a tomato and letting them “chop veggies”. They can help with stirring, or they can choose a couple ingredients to make as a side dish. Once they are invested in the process, then their interest in expanding their palette is soon to follow.
2. Have a weekly schedule, and stick to it.
The majority, if not all, of the household chores, are going to fall under your jurisdiction. That’s pretty much the stay at home dad job description. Most people don’t enjoy doing laundry weekly. But I will tell you what, it’s a lot better doing laundry in set intervals than when your kids are forced to wear snow pants in the summer because everything else is filthy. And, here’s a pro tip for you: those little sets of socks with all the cute patterns…they are not as great when you can only find one from each pair. I like to keep it simple. One color, one brand, means less time hunting for missing socks.
I have my own chore chart, and it has certain cleaning tasks for specific rooms, as well as laundry and other household to-dos. I would rather spend 15 minutes cleaning and straightening up the bathroom on a Tuesday, and bedrooms on Wednesdays, instead of feeling overwhelmed trying to clean the entire place like a tornado once a month.
House Hunk tip: Especially with kids in the house, I try to make it a practice to bring something with me as I leave the room. It may be a glass that made it’s way to a dresser, or a random shoe on the kitchen floor. Items that don’t belong somewhere always seem to attract more items that don’t belong there too.
3. Don't expect your friends to understand the work that goes into being an effective stay-at-home parent.
Becoming a stay at home dad, whether it was by choice or not can be an experience that makes you feel rather lonely at times.
Not kidding, I had a friend say “yeah, but, I work for my family”. Granted, it was during a back-and-forth of smack-talking. But it was very eye-opening. I am not sure if he thought that I have been poolside eating Bonbons for the last couple of years or what, but his attitude exuded that impression. Repeat after me, and repeat this often: “Just because I am not earning a salary, does not mean that I don’t provide immense value to my family“. Look, haters gonna hate. Don’t let them get you down.
4. You will quickly become aware of the sacrifices you were making to earn a salary.
When I was working before I became a stay-at-home dad, my commute was an hour each way. While zoning out listening to the radio, it didn’t seem absolutely terrible. I usually took 2 weeks of vacation in a given year. Now, let’s look at it this way: 1 hour, twice a day, 5 times a week, for 50 weeks a year. My not-absolutely-terrible drive equated to a minimum of 500 hours per year in my car. That didn’t include the hours that I was actually at work, that was just the time I was driving. You most likely are making some major sacrifices as a single income household, and some stressors go along with that. But once in a while, take a moment to think of what you were trading to get that extra salary. Recognizing those sacrifices will also help you look before you leap, and make informed decisions if you choose to re-enter the labor force.
5. You will go through some Stay-At-Home Daddy Blues.
Your social network probably has dwindled. Your professional network is a thing of the past. What you thought where a bunch of friends may quickly become reclassified as “former coworkers”. It will seem that most of your day is spent wiping down the kitchen counter, either out of necessity, boredom, or inspiration. You will most likely feel guilty about experiencing these sad emotions. But I’ve got news for you, those emotions are real, and shouldn’t be bottled up and ignored. Transitioning from a career path to the school dropoff line can be stressful and emotional. Your spouse, or partner, or children may not always understand these feelings either. Perhaps hop on Facebook and find a local parenting group that is focused on Stay-At-Home Dads. Preferably one that offers a supportive culture. The last thing you need when you are feeling down is for a bunch of trolls to tell you that you deserve to feel that way. If your kids are in elementary school, sign up for field trips as a chaperon. It is a great way to break up your day. There are other parents there, and obviously, they have free time during the day, or at least that day. And, your kid is at the age where they want you there. As they get older, they might not be so cool about you walking in line with them at the planetarium.
Guys, sometimes we can be stubborn, and would just rather wallow in our puddle of self-pity, but I assure you there are likeminded parents out there that are eager to welcome you into the mix. Any outlet that allows you to share battle stories and dad jokes is great, and one that helps you grow as a parent is even better.
6. "Me Time" is important.
If you have a baby it can be during the many naps they take during the day. If your kids are in school, it can be when they are gone. Or, maybe after they go to bed. But carve out some time for you to do something good for you. It can be going out for some fresh air or exercise. Reading. Working on a Daddy Blog. Doing yourself a solid and taking an online mindfulness course. Perfecting your Pork Carnitas recipe. Whatever. But, as most stay-at-home parents will tell you, most of your time is dedicated to the smooth operation of the household for both your kids and your spouse or partner. Once my twin boys go to bed, I like to throw on some headphones, and head out for a 4-mile sunset stampede and listen to podcasts…or power ballads from my youth, don’t hate.
Whatever it is, make sure it is something that you look forward to doing, or else it can start to feel like just another chore.
7. Being a stay-at-home dad is hard work, and whoever is telling you it's not, most likely wasn't doing the hard work.
Cook, cleaner, chauffeur, hostage negotiator, nurse, storyteller, bathtime and bedtime enforcer, laundry attendant, camp counselor, snack provider, garbage man, handyman, morning wake-up caller, dishwasher, lunch preparer, toy repairman, etc. These are all hats that you will wear. And you might wear every single one of these hats in a single day. In my “previous life” in the corporate world, if I showed up for a work a couple of days in a row and didn’t bring my A-game, things could go on as usual. As a stay-at-home dad, if you aren’t doing the bare minimum every day, it doesn’t take long for the train to jump the tracks. That doesn’t mean that you have to totally be consumed with weekly oven scrubbings and walking around like a Windex sniper. The beauty about all this hard work that you put in, is that you get to take part in the wonderful results of watching your kids grow and experience all of life’s little moments together.
8. As a stay-at-home dad I proudly traded in suits and ties for pants that tie.
As I mentioned earlier, I worked for a large casino resort operating company. During the week, it was slacks, dress shirts, and sport coats/blazers. On Saturdays, when most of the guests were on property, it was suits and ties. House Hunk Confession: I can count on less than two hands the amount of times I wore a shirt with buttons in the last 2 years, since joining the ranks of stay-at-home dads. Twice for funerals, and the rest were flannel. You know why athleisure is so popular? It’s not because stay-at-home parents are on their way to yoga every time you see them. It’s because it is comfortable, we can roll around on the floor in it. No belt buckles poke you when you crouch down to tie your child’s shoes. Think of it as our uniform for our job. We are dressed like that because we can chase after our kids and be active with them, and because wearing pajamas everywhere should probably stop in college at the latest.
If you no longer have a use for your old work clothes, then perhaps think about selling them at a consignment shop, or donating them. I felt almost burdened by having a closet full of suits that I no longer needed. Clearing out the clutter in your closet is a great way of freeing up some space on the hard drive in your skull. I found an organization in town that provides interview clothing for military vets and homeless people. Knowing that they are going towards such a worthy cause made it easy to decide what to keep and what to pay forward.