No, I’m Not Babysitting: I’m Their Dad

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m a stay at home father, have been for about two years, and really like it. But I’ve been feeling guilty. My wife works long hours and attends school while I do only about six hours of chores (throughout the day, not all at once). She says she’s perfectly fine with me being at home as long as I’m cooking and cleaning. Should I give in to social convention and get a job? Am I a failure as a husband? And, most importantly, why are stay-at-home dads frowned upon?

A: Wow, that’s a lot of questions. But let’s start with something you didn’t actually ask about: the phrase, “only about six hours of chores.” Dude, that is a lot of chores. Being an at-home dad is not supposed to be indentured servitude. Keeping the house clean and putting meals on the table (which, by the way, not all at-home moms do every day), is great. But your primary responsibility is to take care of your kids. No matter how good a day care or nanny is, having a parent with them is so much better (for them and for you).

You need to build plenty of time into your schedule to take the kids to the park or on field trips, play, hang with other kids, and turn all of that into teachable moments. If you’re spending your whole day doing chores, your kids aren’t getting the benefit of having you home and you aren’t getting the benefit of being with them—which is what it’s all about, right? If that’s true, you might as well go back to work and a maid.

Clearly, though, that’s not what you want to do. So on to your questions.

  • Should you give in to convention and get a job? In your worse, “I really like it.” There’s your answer. I was an at-home dad for several years and have interviewed dozens more, and I’ve never met one who didn’t think it was the greatest thing they’d ever done. So if your family can get by on one income, throw convention to the wind.
  • Are you a failure as a husband? That’s really a question for your wife and yourself. You’re both making sacrifices in your own way. If she’s happy doing what she’s doing and you’re happy with what you’re doing, you’re fine (although an occasional date night wouldn’t hurt).
  • Why are at-home dads frowned upon? With at least two million primary-caretaker dads in the U.S., I’m not sure at-home dads actually are frowned upon—at least not as much as they used to be. And the frowning may be more about ignorance than disapproval. I absolutely hated it when I’d be out with my kids in the middle of the day and people would say, “Hey, you babysitting?” or “I hope you’re able to find a job soon.” Almost every at-home dad I’ve spoken with has had the same experience—and wanted to give the same answers (and not always very politely): “No, I’m not babysitting—these are my kids. And I already have a job.” It also really irked me when people would give me nasty looks (or comments) if I took my 3-year old daughter into the men’s room at some store. Would anyone bat an eye if a mom took a 3-year old boy into the women’s room? Not a chance.

Speaking of ignorance, if you haven’t had a chance to sign the petition urging Procter & Gamble to include dads in their advertising, you can do it at tinyurl.com/P-GvsDads.