Photo by Casey Wiegand
More dads than ever before (an estimated 2 million!) are electing to stay at home with their kids—doing all the things that mothers have always done. But no Mr. Mom cracks, thankyouverymuch. Today’s SAHDs aren’t bumbling around, trying to figure out which end the baby’s diaper goes on. Instead they’re taking on the role of primary parent with an approach that’s more modern than macho. But in this female-dominated world, many fathers are asking themselves how to be a stay at home dad.
Each family’s reasons for having dad stay at home are different. In some cases their spouses or partners were earning more money at the time the baby arrived; in others, the dad just happened to have skills better suited to the multi-tasking required to run a household and family. But one element is constant: at-home dads today don’t see themselves as men doing women’s work. They consider themselves parents who are parenting. “Daddying should be a verb,” says Will Culp, the Media Relations Manager for the National At Home Dad Network, a non-profit organization that advocates for and connects full-time fathers. “We actively dad, meaning we coach, mentor, guide, assist and take care of our children.”
Jay Radford, a SAHD in Chapel Hill, NC and part of the team responsible for Mom in Chapel Hill, agrees. “Cooking, cleaning and doing pick-up or drop-off are chores or tasks to be completed no matter who’s doing them, husband or wife.”
But let’s be honest, our culture doesn’t exactly do a great job of teaching fathers how to take over child rearing and family life. So here are SmartMom’s tips for helping men successfully transition to life in the dad lane.
Be at peace with your decision
Veteran SAHDs advise that if you’re going to stay home, embrace it and love it, though you might have to make a mental adjustment and possibly even swallow some pride. “It’s a job,” says Radford. “It’s my job. My wife has a career and it’s my job to take care of the house, the cooking, cleaning, laundry and nighttime feedings when the kids were little. We made a deal and I don’t resent her for not doing those things…because they are part of my job. Her job is the paycheck.”
Be an extrovert
It can take some time to break into the Mommy Mafia in your area, especially if you’re the first SAHD on the block. Chances are, local moms might not be sure that you want to join them for play dates or to share pick up/drop off duties. So make the first move at the playground and school functions. And double your efforts if you encounter another SAHD. “The isolation can be the most frightening part,” explains Lance Somerfeld, co-founder of the NYC Dads Group, which now has more than a thousand members. “A network of dads to lean on, talk to and vent to is essential.”
Get into a routine
Having some sort of plan helps structure the day and can make daunting tasks seem easier. “I take the boys to the grocery store every day to pick out our food for dinner,” says Radford. “At first, it was just an excuse to get out of the house, but it’s turned into a great activity that we do together.”
Mothers talk about Mom Time, well, pretty much non-stop. Because we know how important it is to have a chance to speak without being interrupted and to do things that don’t involve a little person’s bodily fluids. Stay at Home Dads need the same opportunity to recharge. “The first year I was with my son, I had trouble even making it to my own doctor’s appointments,” says Somerfeld. Not good. No one is at their best—or able to parent the way they want to—when they have no time for themselves, so let’s just agree right here and now that SAHDs need downtime as much as everyone else.
The At-Home Dad movement is growing—and that’s a great thing. Because not too long ago, many fathers wouldn’t have dreamed of engaging in the intense, demanding work of caring for a family on a daily basis. “There’s really nothing more manly than stepping up and caring for your own children and family in this way,” says Brian H., a former Marine and an at-home dad to two kids in the Washington, DC, area.
So to all the SAHDs out there: welcome to the (arts & crafts) table!