Greg and I both grew up with our moms at home. In talking about how we would like to raise our family, we felt it was important for one of us to be home. Given our professions, Greg is a doctor and I work in IT, it made more sense for me to be the primary caretaker. I had always hoped to have this opportunity, and was excited to accept the job!
While very exciting, coming to the decision is still one that requires soul searching and open, honest discussions with your partner. Having worked since I was fifteen, I would really be facing two enormous life changes simultaneously – being a parent and no longer working full time. There would be no more commuting, deadlines, meetings, conference calls or business travel. No Blackberry buzzing at 9 pm with a crisis that needed immediate attention. There would also be no gym on the way to work, no lunch with colleagues, and no paycheck.
There are three areas that I found took time some adjusting – a very different schedule, finding other “like” parents and how I defined myself.
Meet the new boss – she pees and poops her drawers, is a messy eater, can sometimes have difficulty communicating, naps periodically throughout the day, requires constant attention and can move through a room like a tornado, leaving a similar wake. Conversely, she’s a heap of fun, is immensely curious, looks to me for every cue and belly laughs with a beautifully pure innocence that keeps me young.
My new “boss” lives with me 24/7 including weekends and holidays. There are no defined “off” times. When I am able to tune out for a bit depends on baby and who else is around to hold down the fort. I’m very blessed to be on this journey with a husband, so I do get a break. There are days that I breathe a sigh of relief knowing that backup is on the way. I have a newfound respect for single parents who don’t have that luxury.
At work, you automatically have encounters with a number of people, some more welcomed than others. As an at-home parent, your daily interactions solely depend on what you make of them. As an adult, one longs for a multi-syllabic conversation even if it is about how much your child is or isn’t sleeping. For baby, it is the building blocks of socialization.
Making new friends takes time and effort for any parent. It gets even more complicated when the world out there is geared towards moms. Not only is it trying to fit into a mom-centric world as a dad, but as a gay dad. We live in Cambridge, quite possibly one of the most liberal enclaves on the planet. Even so, I was the first dad to join my mom’s group. I was welcomed with open arms and since I started to go, other dads, gay and straight, started to attend as well. I would imagine even in parts of suburban Massachusetts that this scenario could play out much differently. We have made some incredible friends over these past sixteen months who are an important part of our activity routine – play groups, story times and sing-a-longs at the library, romping in parks, lunches, and lots of coffee.
Finally, defining oneself as an at-home dad can be awkward at first. In our society, we are so conditioned to define ourselves by a title or by what tax bracket one falls in. Particularly when one is in a social situation where everyone seems to be a high powered professional, it can feel trite to say “I’m a homemaker” or my job is ” full time parent.”
I think this is somewhat related to the rosy albeit unrealistic image that some people have of an at-home parent’s life. It can be viewed as easier and more leisurely than going to a “real job” – week after week of entire days spent lazing on the couch, watching The Golden Girls and eating bon-bons, Let me assure you, those things are certainly not the norm. Well, except for maybe the occasional Golden Girls episode while folding a hundred doll-sized articles of clothing.
Initially, I found myself saying “I’m just a stay-at-home dad.” After hearing myself a few times, I quickly dropped the “just.” Nothing about parenting merits “just.” Whether full-time or part-time, it’s real work. I’m very proud of my new profession. It is the hardest but most rewarding role that I have ever held. Whether I am successful in it won’t come out in an annual performance review but instead over a much longer timeframe. I may not be paid monetarily but when my daughter runs across the room to give me a kiss, it’s like I just deposited an enormous check.