Stay-at-home dads used to be about as common as glittery blue flamingos. That’s changing fast. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were about 98,000 stay-at-home dads in 2005; now, it’s closer to 2 million, and the numbers just keep going up. The reasons men choose to stay home with their kids vary widely, but they all have one thing in common: they’re living in a world geared toward women. Here are some tips on how to thrive as a stay-at-home dad.
Nail down responsibilities
This one is important to both personal sanity and marital bliss. To a stay-at-home dad, the job might mean taking care of the kids. If the working mom assumes it includes, well, everything – grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. – you’re setting yourselves up for disaster. Or at least resentment. Head off problems by making sure you’re both on the same page as to what the stay-at-home parent is responsible for.
Connect with other dads
With the number of stay-at-home fathers climbing steadily, it’s likely that there are other fathers in your community doing what you’re doing. Ask around. Pediatricians often hear a lot about local groups and are happy to pass the information on. Hospital maternity departments also often keep lists of local groups. If there aren’t any established groups, start one. Start a blog. Ask around on Twitter and Facebook. Or, just go where other guys hang out, like the gym or sporting good stores. In addition, in the U.S., there’s the National At-Home Dad Network, which just hosted its nineteenth annual convention.
Keep a toe in the water
As fulfilling as it can be to be a stay-at-home father, you can lose touch with your work “self.” And since most men identify with their work, that can cause a crisis of confidence. Again, social media can come to the rescue. Keep up with your colleagues on LinkedIn, and try to attend some evening meetings of professional organizations. Take the kids and meet up with some former co-workers for lunch (stay-at-home moms do that all the time).
Don’t try to be a stay-at-home mom
While it may be politically incorrect to point it out, studies show that, in general, dads really do interact with their children differently than moms do. Don’t feel like you have to do the stay-at-home parent thing the way your wife would do it…or the way the moms at the playground do it. If your paternal instinct tells you to give your toddler a minute to pick himself up after a fall rather than scooping him up, that’s OK. Don’t try to make yourself a mom – you’re not.
But don’t be too gender-constrained, either
It seems like moms sometimes have an easier time tossing a football around with their sons than dad’s do with painting their daughters’ nails or having a tea party. If you’re staying home with a daughter, don’t be afraid to do girly things if she wants you to. She’ll still know you’re “Dad”.
Make peace with the fact that there are no financial statements or annual reports
In general, men tend to be results-driven. That can be tough on a stay-at-home dad who is used to frequent feedback on how well he’s doing. Parenting is a long-term endeavor. While there are some milestones along the way, you won’t really know how well you’ve done for years. You’ll enjoy those years a lot more if you can make peace with the ambiguity that is parenting.
Being a stay-at-home parent is both rewarding and frustrating, no matter what your gender is. But being a stay-at-home dad is uniquely challenging because the “mommy” community just wasn’t built with you in mind. That’s changing, though. And, in the meantime, use these tips to find your own way and enjoy these years. You can always go back to work again, but you can’t rewind the clock and get these “little” years back.