Being a Stay-At-Home Dad Is a Manly Job

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I decided that we want one parent at home with our child full time—at least until he starts preschool. Since she earns more than I do, it looks like I’ll be a stay-at-home dad. What am I in for?

A: Deciding to be a stay-at-home dad is a big decision, one that will affect everyone in your family. There are wonderful benefits to you and your child. But before you pull the trigger, you and your wife need to consider the following questions:

  • Can you take the career hit? This is big, since earning power and masculinity are inextricably linked in so many people’s minds. (If I’m not making money, I’m not a good man/father, the thinking goes.) You may be able to keep a finger in the work world by consulting or starting a home-based business. But if you return to the workforce later, the gap on your résumé could cause problems with potential employers.
  • Can you handle the pressure? Some people will come right out and tell you that you really should be out there bringing in some money. After all, that’s what guys are supposed to do, right? But even if you don’t hear the actual words, you may feel the need to demonstrate that even though you’ve chosen not to earn money, you could if you really wanted to. Some of that pressure is external, some comes from within. Traditional sex roles do a real number on us, don’t they?
  • Do you have a job description? What are your responsibilities? Will you be doing all the laundry, shopping, and cooking? Some of it?
  • Can you handle the isolation and the workload? Staying home with a child can be a tough, lonely job. It can also be a little mind-numbing (I say this from experience). Sometimes, no matter how much fun you’ve had with the kids, you’ll crave some adult conversation at the end of the day.
  • Are you selfless enough? Say goodbye to personal time, and get used to putting your children’s needs above yours. Always.
  • Is your skin thick enough? Women—whether they’re moms, nannies, baby-sitters—tend not to welcome men into their groups wherever it is that people take their kids during the day. You’ll have to get used to the funny looks and stupid comments from people when you’re out with your. (“Hey, are you baby-sitting today?” is one that always bugs me. “No, bozo, I’m not baby-sitting, I’m a dad and I’m taking care of my children.”) And you’ll have to deal with people’s criticisms and critiques of your parenting—the kinds of “advice” and comments no one would ever make to a woman.
  • How thick is your wife’s skin? When you’re the primary parent, your child will run to you when he wants a hug or has a skinned knee. If mom tries to provide that hug or apply a BandAid, he may push her away. I’ve been on both sides of this, and can tell you that it hurts. A lot.
  • Do you have a reentry plan? It’s good to have a plan for how long your at-home stint will last, and what you’ll do afterwards.

In reality, you won’t be as alone out there as it might seem. At least two million stay-at-home dads are doing it every day, and the number is rising all the time. You may have to dig, but there are a lot of great resources out there, including athomedad.net and slowlane.com.