In our society, everyone has a presumptive role based on one thing or another. It could be class, race, sex, gender, religion, age, or anything else that can be used to elevate or reduce us in the eyes of others. Over the last few years, sex and gender roles have entered the public consciousness more than at any other point in my life and, from what I hear, the most since the 1960’s. I’m not writing this to figure out why or how this came to be, but only to give my own perspective as to what I’ve seen with my own two eyes in a role which many of my sex don’t often play – the role of a Stay-at-Home-Dad.
Being a Stay-at-Home-Dad – or SAHD (sounds like “sad”) – is something I’ve done now for well over a year. I could easily write another 10 paragraphs about how I became a SAHD, but it’d probably bore you to death and I can’t have that on my conscience right now. I will let you in on one reason though, and that’s the cost of childcare. According to Eric Morath of the Wall Street Journal, childcare costs have risen twice as fast as inflation since 2009. At my old job, I was making only a little bit more than what it cost for us to put or infant son in daycare (after taxes) while my wife & I both worked. Did it really make sense to have someone else take care of our child while I worked at a job I didn’t particularly love and could barely cover the expense of daycare?
After quite a bit of thought – and lots of weighing the pros & cons – we decided that it didn’t make much sense and that I would stay home with our son while my wife provided the sole income for our household. This wasn’t a decision we took lightly, but that we believed was best for our family. Not only were my wife & I having discussions with each other about this proposal, but I was also having a discussion with myself. Am I capable of taking care of our son all on my own? Will I be the laughing stock of all my friends and society in general?
It’s only natural to ponder these types of questions when, for so long, our society has reinforced that men should be the breadwinners and that women should take care of the home. Of course, these notions are fairly outdated and have been for some time now. For instance, only 11% of households featured a woman as the highest earner in 1960, but that number had ballooned to 40% of households by 2013. My wife is brilliant and has a higher paying occupation than most, so there’s a good chance that I’ll always make less money than her. I’ve always known this and I’ve never felt “less of a man” because of it. And look, I used to have a ponytail halfway down my back, so it takes quite a bit to make me question my manhood…trust me
There are also more Stay-at-Home-Dads in our country than ever before, with over half a million fathers playing that role, according the Pew Research Center’s latest numbers, or roughly 3.5% of all married couples with children. So, yes, I am absolutely part of an infinitesimal minority, but it’s not completely unheard of! Sure, there are still some societal pressures for a man to be the breadwinner, or that it’s acceptable for only a mother to take care of her children, but ask your parents and I’m sure they’ll tell you that these pressures aren’t nearly as pronounced as they were decades ago. Back in their day, someone in my shoes may have felt ashamed, embarrassed, or even emasculated, but there’s no real reason to feel that way today, as I soon found out.
I had anticipated a little bit of ribbing from my friends when I broke the news to them that I’d be a SAHD, but there wasn’t much at all. My friends who had kids of their own completely understood why I would do such a thing, especially when it came to the financial considerations. But even those friends of mine who don’t have kids thought it wasn’t a big deal at all. I’m sure this isn’t the case for everyone in my shoes, but I’d assume that the reactions I received are the norm and not the exception. Heck, even complete strangers think it’s awesome that I’m a SAHD.
In fact, whenever I go to the library for various story-times and other such events, every mom and grandma comments how lucky I am to spend so much time with my son. And guess what: they’re positively correct! Most parents are outright envious of the fact that I get to hang out all day with my little man. And other fathers’ sentiments are exactly the same as my library clique’s, though in more manly voices. It took a while for me to realize how lucky I was – and the first few months were quite an adjustment – but I can clearly see it now.
And, boy, what an adjustment it was. My body had become used to sitting at a desk for eight hours a day and not doing much else. I exercised when I could, but it wasn’t like I was training for a marathon or anything (otherwise, I would have mentioned that I ran marathons in the first sentence). Tending to an infant, and then a toddler, keeps you on your feet more than you can imagine. You also contort your body into positions which your muscles had forgotten how to support. Aches and pains are as common as dirty diapers and dropped bottles. Everyone tells you about the lack of sleep that comes with being a new parent, but not many tell you about the lack of mobility your body has developed since your college days.
No, it’s not all fun and games, and it absolutely takes as much work as any full-time job I’ve ever had (if not more), but I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world. I’m sharing moments with my son which others could only dream about. Every day, he does something new that either blows my mind or makes me proud. Heck, even my wife is jealous of us! In college, my friends and I used to have “Guys Night Out”, but every Monday through Friday, my son and I have “Guys Day Out” (except for naps). Is this where I’d thought I’d be at 33? Totally not, but I’m making the best of it – at least until I can actually use my education & experience to do something else.
Our gender norms would have us think that there are specific roles for men and specific roles for women. In some cases, they may be right, but I only have a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies, so I’ll leave that up to people much smarter than I. Men and women certainly are different, but we have quite a bit in common as well. Because of our given anatomies, it may be easier for men to do some things and women to do others. It can cause frustration – or even sadness – whenever someone tries something new that’s dominated by the opposite sex. But in this particular instance of being a Stay-at-Home-Parent, I’m anything but sad.