While the benefits and rewards of staying home with the girl vastly outweigh the downside, there are a few things I wish I would have know about being a stay at home Dad before I walked down this path. In the interest of helping other men decide whether this lifestyle is for them, I offer these 7 tips for men who might be contemplating staying at home.
- Lower Expectations. When my wife and I first started discussing reducing my work hours to spend a few days a week at home with the girl, I naively envisioned scenes of the girl colouring away contentedly at her play table while I whiled away the day completing a thousand different projects for a hundred different clients. HA! In retrospect, I can see now why some people had funny little grins on their faces when I told them my plan. They were the parents. They knew better.
- Let Dirty Dishes Lie. Just because you are at home with the kids doesn’t mean you have to be a “homemaker”. To me, this is like a complete flipping of traditional family roles – roles that women successfully banished to the dustbins of history long ago. I never expected my wife to have the house spotless and dinner made when I was working fulltime and she was home with the girl, and fortunately she doesn’t expect the same. However, when my adventure began, I was surprised to find myself feeling guilty for not having a meal ready when Mom got home, and it took awhile to lose the guilt associated with having a fireplace mantel coated with dust. That’s not to say I don’t do any housework or cook a meal – far from it. But realize that just because you are at home doesn’t mean you need to revert to the traditional role of a “homemaker”. Being a stay at home Dad, like being a stay at home Mom, is not synonymous with being the primary homemaker. It’s still the responsibility of the entire family to make sure a household runs smoothly.
- Routine, Routine, Routine. Oh my goodness, how much simpler life is when you have a daily routine. Everyone knows what is expected, first and foremost the girl. She craves structure, and the days where we deviate from the routine tend to be difficult days. To combat this, we have settled into a rhythm that seems to work for us. We are not ruled by the clock, but we certainly go out of our way to keep the structure of the day similar from day to day.
- Plan Events for Outside the House.Much like breaking our routine, the days when the girl and I stay at home all day tend to be hard days. I think this is because the girl needs stimulation. A toddler’s need for stimulation is second only to their need to breath. So I try to plan an outside the house activity every day. Fortunately the girl is at the age where everyday things still feel like an adventure, so sometimes a simple ride on a transit bus downtown and back suffices for her daily adventure. I’ve also found that doing our outside the house activity in the morning makes for an easier transition to nap time in the early afternoon, so most of our activities are morning activities.
- Build a Support System.I’ve found that being a stay at home parent can be a lonely, isolating experience, and I think this goes double for men simply because the infrastructure and support is not there for us (yet). Among my friends, there are not many Dads doing the stay at home thing, so I can’t exactly pick up the phone and chat with them when I need a pick me up. I sometimes get lonely. I’ve tried playgroups and find that, while the girl has a great time, they are overwhelmingly dominated by Moms and I am often seen as a bit of an outsider. So, on the days I feel lonely the girl and I will meet Mom at work for lunch, or I sometimes do call up one of the other Moms in our circle of friends for a walk or coffee. But to be honest, this is one I am still working on.
- Feed Me! As obvious as this sounds, I can’t believe how long it took me to make the connection between the girls mood swings and her blood sugar level. Toddlers need to eat and eat often. While I am good with 3 squares and the occasional piece of fruit throughout the day, the girl needs a more even flow of food. She is an eating machine and since I’ve figured out that the vast majority of her mood swings are tied to her hunger level, her attitude and moods have really evened out. So the girl eats like a Hobbit – breakfast, tenzies, elevenzies, lunch, onezies, etc..
- Slow Down and Live in the Moment. One of the amazing things about the girl is that she forces me to slow down and re-examine the everyday world because the everyday world is so new and exciting for her. We can spend an hour walking around the block, which may sound about as exciting as watching paint dry, but trust me, through a toddlers eyes the world is a pretty interesting place. So I make a point of moving at the girl’s pace. And since I have long ago lowered my expectations (#1) and exorcised my inner homemaker demon (#2), I can free my mind to help the girl separate the red leaves from the yellow leaves on the front lawn.
There you go. 7 lessons learned from the front lines of stay at home daddydom. So, what about you? If one of your buddies came up to you and said “I’m thinking of taking some time off work to stay at home with my kid,” what piece of advice would you give them?