I am replaceable: What’s it like to be a stay-at-home dad? Answer 6

by doodaddy on June 20, 2008

During the chatting part of our appointment, our coolest-obstetrician-in-the-whole-world (seriously) mentioned that her husband is also a stay-at-home dad. “It makes a lot of sense,” she said. “He just loves to play.”

I smiled, because she’d named what I consider the job’s main prerequisite. But she followed up with a near-retraction: “I mean, I love to play with the kids, too. But with me working…”

The implication was clear — “I’d be just as good at this as he is” — and I’ve heard it said in many forms by women married to SAHDs.

And, of course, it’s completely true in our case: Working Mom would wipe the floor with me in at-home-parent skills. (Reminds me — I need to mop.) There are days when Boobaby’s diet principally consists of Goldfish crackers and birdseed out of the bucket.

Supermom I am not.

True or not, though, it’s a weird thing to say. Turn it around — let’s say you just told me how your husband is an expert apiarist because he loves to nuzzle up with all those friendly Africanized bees. And I reply not with awe at his skill with the stingers but rather, “Of course, I could do that just as well!”  Or — can you imagine a working dad saying to his stay-at-home-mom wife, “Yeah, I could so totally do what you do! I just choose not to!” and not winding up in the doghouse?

Of course not.

At some point, working moms with stay-at-home spouses have to face the expectation — from within themselves, sometimes or often — that they should be rearing those kids themselves. And while I totally get that this sex-specific burden weighs much heavier on the working mom who might be battling her own lifelong expectations, or her mother’s, or society’s generally, even so, we poor neglected stay-at-home dads suffer from the fallout: ergo, the whole “feeling invisible” thing.

Although, on the plus side, I guess that being invisible is sort of the point. Being a stay-at-home parent is sometimes like being an air traffic controller: we fade into the background when everything’s good. But when we screw something up — well, our mistakes are glaringly, painfully obvious.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

cloudsters June 20, 2008 at 2:36 am

Enjoyed the post and the tone you struck! One thing about domestic air traffic controllers who are male: Isn’t there a better abbreviation available? When said in a conversational mouthful (‘I’m [a] SAHD’), it can’t possibly do anything for morale.

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doodaddy June 20, 2008 at 3:04 am

Not that I’ve ever found, so I usually just say it the long way. (A job title I’m not in love with, either, but at least it gets the point across.)

Then again, I could be a Chief Research Analyst/Programmer…

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Veronica June 20, 2008 at 3:59 am

We have talked about it and have decided that once we are done with children and they are all at school, I will head off to Uni and get a nursing degree. Then Nat is going to be home with the kids and I will work for a bit.

At the moment it isn’t feasible for us to do it (another baby on the way, I can’t pump and Nat can’t breastfeed etc etc) but it is there in our plans to switch for a bit.

To be honest, I think he would be better at the housework.

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doodaddy June 20, 2008 at 10:49 am

You’ll certainly find out! Although I have to imagine that housework is easier with older kids than with babies and toddlers around — sure, they make more mess, but you can also get something done while they entertain themselves for five minutes!

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Amber June 20, 2008 at 11:07 am

That is funny. My husband and I talked about a very similar topic last night. He said he loves staying home with our son because he loves to play. And he loves to watch our son play and discover things and refine his skills…

And my husband would be the first to say, “… And I know you’d be great staying home and playing with him too.” But, the truth is that I wouldn’t. My husband is really good at being present with our son. I’m always thinking of the dishwasher or the laundry and trying to multitask… things that in the big scheme of things really aren’t that important. Maybe it would be different if I were the one staying home… but I don’t know. I doubt that I could be as present as my husband is.

So, I think you are right that the biggest pre-requisite to being a good stay at home parent is the ability to be truly present and to love to play. 🙂

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Xbox4NappyRash June 20, 2008 at 12:44 pm

Excellent piece again. You sum up the issues surrounding SAHDs better than anyone.

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David June 21, 2008 at 9:08 am

I concur, doctor.

I remember once being in a playgroup (with all moms) and one saying, after I put a particularly cranky kid to sleep, “Wow, great job, Dad,” as if it was a freaking miracle that I could put my son to sleep and be a man at the same time.

I get so tired of compliments and complaints about SAHDs being based solely on anatomy.

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