I have been a stay-at-home dad for two years and the most surprising thing to me are the similarities between the male and female experiences. I will admit it, before I started staying at home, I did not think much of people who did it.
I did not look down on them for what they were doing, I was simply not impressed. Their tales of frustration and loneliness fell on my deaf ears. It reminded me of stories regarding pregnancy. It was an issue, I as a man, would never have to deal with. After being home full time, I looked to “Dad” groups for support and saw them dealing with issues I thought to be purely feminine. These men’s wives were asking why the house was not clean, berating them for spending money they had not earned, and wondering where their dinner was. It was amazing to me that these traditionally chauvinist thoughts were coming from the female breadwinners. It became clear that these feelings were attached to being the at-home caretaker and not limited to gender. Many people still think like I once did and marriages have suffered for it. The only way to love someone is to understand what they are going through, so here are five ways to understand your stay-at-home spouse.
1. Be ready to help when you come home
It was not that long ago I was working for pay. When the workday was over I went home and wanted to relax because I had been working all day. Staying at home does not change that. If it seems ridiculous that you should have to feed, bathe, and discipline children by yourself after working all day then you already understand the point. There are always exceptions, but no one gets to kick up their feet until the family is taken care of.
2. Take the kids by yourself for a day
Many working parents are involved, but are reluctant to fly solo because they do not do it on a regular basis. People gain confidence in their skills by learning from their successes and failures on the job. Go-to-work parents do not have that same level of exposure and can be intimidated by the “ease” in which their spouse handles the activities of childhood. In reality, there is no “ease.” We have merely had the opportunity to screw up more often and gain confidence as a result. Stay-at-home parents want their spouses to learn these hard parenting lessons without a safety net, so they see that trial-by-fire confidence in their partner. Take the kids out one day a month or encourage your stay-at-home spouse to go out and keep them at home by yourself. It may go well or you might end up maple syrup in your hair, but either way you learn that you can do it.
3. Tell them about your work
Go-to-work parents, when work sucks you complain to your co-workers. You get to celebrate successes with people who know what you are talking about. Stay-at-home parents want that exact same thing, but we have to go in search of those co-workers. We turn to social networks to find a sympathetic ear and find interaction through empowering memes. We get caught up in the battle for recognition and forget how much of a beat down a day at the office can be. Leaving your family to dive into the world of office politics and promotions is hard and we can lose sight of that. There is a misconception that we think our job is harder, that it is our work vs. your work. It is not harder, it’s just different. Work is work and it is as easy or hard as the amount of effort you put into it. If we all understand that, then we can talk about our days without playing the comparison game. Tell us about your day and after that, we will trade and you listen.
4. Turn off the TV
This applies to all distractions, but television is a great example. People will tell you how binge-watching television is terrible for you, but the real issue is what it keeps you from doing. If you are not careful it becomes rinse and repeat cycle of entertainment without interaction. The things on this list cannot be accomplished without devoting time to them and there is only so much time in a day. Do not get rid of television, just do not let it become too important. Turn it off. Turn on some music. Make a little love. Get down tonight.
5. Champion their contributions
For better or worse, our confidence is intertwined with the recognition we receive. Those of us who stay-at-home love the opportunity to be there every day, raising our children, but we are susceptible to doubt like anyone else. Stay-at-home parents are the minority of two parent homes in the United States and most people think they need two incomes to achieve the American dream. There is a defensiveness that comes with being in the minority, a feeling of something to prove. SAHP can preach to the choir all day long about their contributions to their children and families, but confidence is built on the backs of those who believe in us. People are at their most certain when those who love them defend their weaknesses, no matter what the popular opinion is. Tell your spouse how much you respect what they are doing and when you get the chance, tell everyone else.
With the rise of stay-at-home dads, the conversation is moving away from “Should women work or stay home?” and is becoming “How can we be great parents?” In order for any of these to work, we have to invest the time as partners to do whatever work is necessary to benefit our families. Nobody changes, they only compromise. Some of those compromises are easier to make than others, but the only way to truly love a person is to understand them and that can only be accomplished by trying.