7 Tips for Potential Stay at Home Dads

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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..
  7. 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?

21 responses to “7 Tips for Potential Stay at Home Dads

  1. you’ve hit the major ones. The biggest one for me was number one. I realized very quickly that when my daughter was awake I could not and should not try to accomplish anything apart from housework. The routine thing, and the get out of the house every day one was also key.

    And really the most important one is #7: much as it’s hard to do it, enjoy! Because they grow up so quickly! My babies are already 14 and 11, and it seems like just yesterday I was changing their diapers.

  2. Man…. where was this list 5 years ago.
    I couldn’t agree with you more.
    I wish someone could have told me earlier on that my expectations didn’t have to be so high. I remember the first year trying to get everything done and accomplishing very little. It was quite depressing. Finally, one day The Wife tells me she doesn’t expect everything done, that my main focus should be taking care of baby and the rest will happen when it does. Geez, wish she would have said something sooner.
    Number 5 is a tough one. Fortunately, we’ve got a pretty good little dads group here and a few of us help keep each other sane.
    It took me a while to figure out number 6 for myself, but now that I have, its smooth(er) sailing.

  3. W. Mark Andrew

    just a thought to add to #6. What I learned (the hard way) was that as long as she was getting enough sleep and fed on a “Hobbit” schedule she was like a different child. At least 12 hours a night, couple naps during the day, lots of calm in the evenings to get her in bed on-time. Frequent small meals with a minimum of sugar and caffine. Now if I can just get my wife (schoolteacher) to follow this regime for herself all would be good!

    my two cents.


  4. Set aside a little time for yourself. Whether it’s when Mom is home, or when the kid’s sleeping, be totally selfish and do something that is 100% you. That would be the only thing I’d add.

  5. Excellent point, Daddy L. It’s easy to suddenly realize a month has gone by and everything you have done has centered around your primary role as Dad. Balance is so important, regardless of whether you are a stay at home Dad or not.

  6. Excellent article/list. I couldn’t agree more with all of the above. Past that, I think it is difficult to meld myself to expectations whilest watching my two sons. 2 and >1. And it is good to know that there are others out there.

  7. Great suggestions. I have twins and I’m doing the SAHD thing temporarily (five weeks) and #3 really saves me.

    Keep up the great work!

  8. Great advice! Thanks for sharing. The slowing down thing and enjoying the here and now is the toughest one for me, and I think one of the most important. I have attention deficit disorder, which I think exacerbates this challenge. The lack of intellectual stimulation is painful and I often find myself ignoring the kids needs to pursue interests of my own–not for long, but a few extra minutes spent online when the kids really need some attention (kids are 5 and 3). I am so aware that in a few short years I will look back on this time and relish those moments when I was able to connect with the kids and just be here. I suppose it’s a balancing act, as one can’t ignore ones own needs entirely. Thanks again, Nick

  9. Very well said and thought-out. The only thing I might have added is that it’s OK to feel weird/nostalgic/guilty about your former non-SAHD life. Even though what we do is the right thing for our families (and a privilege at that), there will still be awkward moments when you’re trying to explain to the cable guy that staying home with your daughter is in fact what “you do.” And the fact that you feel awkward doesn’t mean you don’t secretly wish you went back to your 9-5 job. Just get used to the fact that what you’re doing is different, and probably will be until your kids are out of the house for good. And who knows, maybe you’re opening up the cable guy’s world-view a little too.

    I think I’m going to blog about this tomorrow.

  10. I hear you moderndaydad. Someday society will realize that being a good parent is a far more important contribution to society than adding to the Gross National Product.

  11. I feel like I must be doing something right since so much of this list sounds familiar to me after eight months at home with our ten-month-old daughter. In particular, I agree about structure, although sometimes I feel (1) like it is more for me than for her, and (2) like I should shake things up with the unexpected… you know, just so she doesn’t get too comfortable and unable to adjust to new things. But then I think, no, strcuture is good. Then I think, geez, I wish I could ask another stay-at-home dad what he does…..

  12. Secretly a SAHD

    Well, as a stay at home dad, I find that I am hit and miss on cleaning. I typically do make dinner, though. About an eighth of the time, I actually work on that novel that was my self-justification for staying home, while the wife worked. But after ten years as the primary bread winner… this shit is hard to cope with. As you can tell from my anonymous posting, I am still a bit ashamed to admit its not all about “being a working professional while at home”.

    I have two young kids and daycare took my entire salary. On the upside, they used be sick ALL the time in daycare and in the six months I’ve been home… its been a perfectly healthy environment.

    The list makes sense, but I still want to believe that I can be contibuting by more than being a babysitter. As Spring is coming, I plan on putting in a big garden and such. Something for me and the kids to do together and feel like I am financially contributing by attacking our grocery bills.

  13. this list is wonderful….. i can really realte and am encouraged at many levels…
    i too stay at home and am vastyly becoming like what seems to be a recluse… the ideas to get out to stimulate the child is great and i too get lonely at times being a stay at home dad….

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  16. An awesome resource indeed! I agree with moderndaydad when he mentioned it being okay to feel guilty about your former life as a beer chugging, pimp in training… lol, as far as I'm concerned it all comes back to experience, and being able to say to your kids "I've been there, done it, so you need to listen to me when I tell you NO!"

  17. Elijah, it's interesting you mention experience. We are just going thru a bit of an experiential moment with our extended family that is turning into a great example for my kids of what NOT to do with their health. It's an unfortunate illustration of what happens when you do not take care of yourself, but it has evolved into a powerful “teachable” moment for my kids.

  18. I just stumbled on this list… i've been staying at home with my 2.5 year old since my last IT consulting gig ended (1.5 weeks ago)… ive been suffering from insomnia the whole time and i think it's due to some lame secret shame i have for staying at home and realizing that this is WAY harder than anything i've ever done… the reclusive/loneliness thing is probably also affecting my sleep. #5 is spot on for me and the previous poster being anonymous shows a little how i feel… my household has no financial issues, and i thought i would enjoy taking this time off with my son, but i've been strugglin with my self identity ever since… it's male post-partum…

  19. Hang in there! It does get better. When I first started, I wentthrough the same thing. I had worked pretty well steady since I was 14years old and the thought of doing "nothing" made me feel veryuncomfortable. But then you get into it and that feeling does wane asyou find your groove.Good luck!

  20. WOW, this is a great article. I am just starting(within the last 4 months) being a stay-at-home dad myself. I have some of the things on your list down, but not all of them, and it was good to see them in writing. It really got me thinking about stuff that goes on here in our house. Thanks again. Come visit my blog if you have a chance. http://sydanddensdad.blogspot.com/

  21. Wow… so glad I found this article. I am just starting, probably my second week or so, and boy is it true what you said!