Every dad has his reasons for signing up for the noble duty of being the primary care giver for his children. Maybe you are thinking about becoming a stay at home dad. There are reasons from the negative side (dad got laid off), and from the positive side (dad raised his younger siblings growing up and he’s just good at being with the kids). If you are on the fence about becoming at stay at home dad, I hope the following rationale will provide clarity for your journey.
You love being with your children
I emphasize the “your” in the title above since you may not love being with children in general. If you do love being with children in general, it will be that much easier to be with your own. Before I had my own children, I never changed a diaper, I never held a baby, and I never babysat. I am the youngest of three children, so I had no sense of taking care of those who are younger than I. I couldn’t care less about toddlers, babies, or other people’s children. However, the moment we were expecting our oldest everything changed for me. I began to talk to him (even though we didn’t find out the sex of our baby until birth) and getting mentally ready for the big day. I did not change a diaper or hold any babies, but I knew I’d be ready to do whatever was necessary for our precious little one. I thought I was loving him pretty well in the womb, but I did not expect to burst into tears when our firstborn son emerged. It was a disruption, a good kind of disruption that changed the trajectory of my life. From that day onward I have loved being with him and my other two every day. I’m not biding my time until they are all in school, and eventually out of the house. I’m cherishing each moment, and discovering that the moments are elapsing at a rapid rate. I’m ever grateful to be with my children.
You have the disposition for it
One of my friends is a high school teacher. His wife works as a lawyer. He is a part time stay at home dad in summer and during Christmas and Spring vacations from school. While he appreciates the time he spends with his children during these breaks from work, he is always happy to be back at work, especially at the end of the summer. He has told me several times that he does not have the personality for being home full time with his kids. I totally understand that. I just tell him that he has a great gift knowing how much time he can handle with his kids.
A side note, there are plenty of stay at home dads who do not have the disposition for it, but are doing it anyway. In the long run, this may not be good for you or for your kids. If you are not up for the job, find a good day care nearby or a recommended, experienced full time nanny. I have met so many great nannies. The best ones were typically older with grown children of their own. I still remember one nanny from Guatemala who was a young grandmother and a full time nanny. She was tall and strong, and full of energy. She always had a smile on her face, and she was ready to laugh in an instant. She really played with them. I don’t even know if she owned a phone because I never her saw her touch one. She was honestly a better caregiver to those kids than their own parents. The parents were too tired and busy. But bless those parents, they found an excellent nanny to take care of their children. I learned a lot from her, and my spirits were always lifted when we ran into her on the playground.
How do you know if you have the disposition for it? I knew I had the disposition for it before our first was born. I’m flexible, I have a high tolerance for repetition, I love routine, I also love surprises and serendipity, I take pride in being the one who teaches our values to our children, and I possess a good amount of old fashioned willpower. The days (and the nights) can be long when the children are young, especially if you don’t have friends or family around. So, if you feel like you have the disposition for it, there is no more rewarding job that I can think of than being a stay at home dad.
Your job is flexible
If you’re in a field with flexible employment, and which doesn’t require copious amounts of certification, board testing, bar exams etc., then you may be in a good position to become a stay at home dad. I was a teacher in a city college system. I was well prepared for life as a stay at home dad while working there. I accepted whatever class that I was qualified to teach. I taught mornings, evenings, and Saturdays. Even though it took me around ten years to build up the amount of classes that I wanted to teach, I know I can do it again when the time is right. It was easy to be on leave, and it will be easy to get back into it. I left on good terms, and I still have good relationships with my old coworkers.
Nowadays, there are so many opportunities to make some side cash. Dad’s can even work the night shift for a few hours a night driving for Uber or Lyft. Depending on your background, there’s no limit to the amount of money you can make or the opportunities you have. I know plenty of stay at home dads in the tech world. I knew a guy who was living off the cash he made selling android apps. Another dad I know writes software that cars use. He doesn’t have to show up to work physically. He does it in the evenings. As long as he gets it done, he can do it whenever he wants. There is plenty of work like this out there for you. Even if you don’t have a tech background, you can take some online courses in the evenings and learn how. You can take online courses for anything you want to learn, many of them free on YouTube. Are you interested in anything? Look at some videos on YouTube and see if it’s something you can turn into some side hustle.
Your wife makes more money than you
This may be one of the more practical reasons to be home with your children. If you add living in one of the top ten or twelve most expensive cities to the equation, and you’ve decided that one of you will stay home, you may not have much choice in the matter. It’s no surprise that children require money to raise. Besides the basics of food and clothing, there are other expenses to think about as they get older. You may want to send them to private school. You may need to fly to visit family during the holidays. You may not be able to teach them how to swim and you have to pay for lessons. Maybe your health insurance is expensive. Some of the expenses that I listed are not meant to discourage anyone from having children or having more than one child, but these just a few things to consider when counting the cost of raising children. Income does make a difference in what opportunities you have as a family. Now, if your wife makes only a little more money than you then you may want to consider other factors that will influence your decision to become a stay at home dad.
Your wife prefers work
This is a consideration that isn’t unlike disposition. Your wife may prefer to work more than you do. She may be really good at what she does, and enjoys it. Perhaps it was a dream of hers. Perhaps her job is highly specialized and not many other people can do it. Maybe her job has a direct positive impact on people everyday that otherwise would not get such great help. Maybe your wife is like Jack Bauer and the security of our great nation depends on her. These are real factors to take into account in making your decision as a family.
You live in a city where being a stay at home dad is not a big deal
We lived in Seattle for a little over six years. Being a stay at home dad was not a big deal. A sample conversation may go something like this:
Older Gentleman: So, you’re at home with the kids?
OG: (in typical understated Pacific Northwest form) I was a stay at home dad in the 80s. There weren’t many of us then. It was fun, and I sure miss those days.
This was a conversation I had several times in Seattle. It wasn’t even a big deal to be at home with your kids in the 80s. Seattle is the kind of place where people can do their own thing. If you don’t live in a city where people are open to the idea of the stay at home dad, you may want to think about how much that will affect you and your children. There are plenty of stay at home dads where we live now, and at home dads are on the rise in general. But if you think you or your children will be unduly persecuted because you are at home, you may want to ponder your options. Is moving an option? Is homeschooling or unschooling or alternative schooling an option? If you are a rebel and live in a city where stay at home dads are not normal, you may welcome the challenge and revel in being different. You probably need a touch of rebellion to be a stay at home dad even if you’re living in Brooklyn. (For more on rebels, see Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies).
Your dad wasn’t involved much in your life when you were a child
Often times as parents we tend to make conscious choices to parent the opposite way that our parents raised us. I’ve run into plenty of parents who don’t say “no” to their children. It turns out, one or more of the parents in this situation were raised in ultra strict homes. They were determined not to raise their children in strict homes. My mother in law was raised in a strict home where she was expected to study day and night. She was determined not to put any pressure on her children to study. She told them the opposite: “don’t study so much! Go to bed and stop doing your homework!” I was not raised in a strict home. I was often left to myself. My parents loved me and were involved in my life, and I still had plenty of discipline, but relative to other friends I knew growing up, I did not have many expectations put on me. I try raise my children with more discipline and expectations than I had growing up. I check them constantly, and I don’t let them get away with much on my watch. This is a common pattern in parenting–parenting the opposite way that you were raised.
If your dad wasn’t involved in your life growing up, being a stay at home dad is a great way to redress that wrong. You know the longing that you felt growing up without dad around much. You know how you had to adjust without a father checking you and telling you what is right. Being a stay at home dad will give you a chance to be involved in your children’s lives in ways that you didn’t know as a child.
I hope this article offers some clarity for those who are thinking of being a stay at home dad in the near future, or for those who are new stay at home dads and wondering if you made the right decision. If you fell into being a stay at home dad and you don’t have a choice, hang in there and keep going. It gets easier once you have the muscles for it.