Guest post from my husband, Brian, The Superdad.
If you are not familiar with our family, my wife Cynthia and I have four children: a four-year-old daughter Alaina, 20-month-old identical twins sons Aaron and Brady (baby A and baby B, anyone with multiples would get the ultra-sound humor in that decision) and a 6-month-old son Brett. Before Brett was born, we had the three older children in day care full-time. It was a financial stretch. Actually, financial “disaster” would be a better choice of words. Once the baby was born we had no option but to have one of us stop working. Now, Cynthia works full time and I am a stay at home dad. How did we come to that decision? For us it wasn’t that hard.
I own a small Real Estate company. By small I mean just me, (hey the boss is a great guy). As a Realtor most of my hours are nights and weekends anyhow so the decision to be the stay at home parent was easy. We have learned not to depend on my income like we did in the past. The adjustment required giving up many of the luxuries we honestly didn’t need anyway. The life changes we made were tough but in hind site they were the best decision we’ve ever made. Cynthia works for a great company and there is a tremendous opportunity for her professional growth within her company. Besides, her company was our source of health insurance so that had to weigh into our decision.
To be honest with you, I was a little nervous at first. Could I really do it? My wife is an amazing mother and as the father (and as most fathers do) I tended to follow her lead when it came to child rearing. Like a lot of dads, I was the king of short, extreme play sessions with my kids. I would get down and dirty with them. Rolling around on the ground, rough-housing and tossing them up in the air. It was that little thing that they got only from their daddy and both the kids and I loved it. Sometimes it would last 5 minutes, other times maybe 30 minutes, but it was never for hours on end. The general care of the kids always fell on my wife’s shoulders. I didn’t realize how much she did until it was my responsibility all day, everyday. I have a tremendous appreciation of my wife and everything that she does for this family.
I distinctly remember my first taste of being an at-home dad. When they were about 3-months old, the twins were both out of daycare sick. Cynthia had just returned to work from maternity leave and could not take the day off. I was panic-stricken. I was a very hands-on dad but this was a different ballgame altogether. Only a few hours into the day of non-stop crying, I remember calling my wife at work freaking out that she had to come home. “I can’t do this!” I hollered. I was so used to passing off my own children when things went wrong that I didn’t know what to do when I was completely on my own. Needless to say I survived the day. The boys seemed fine too. But I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home dad after that experience.
So how did I manage it later on? Did the children change? Not one bit. I did. I took on a bigger every day role on the weekends. I stopped relying on my wife to do all the “dirty work” and I am not just talking about changing diapers. This prepared me for the big day when we would take them out of daycare and I was on my own. I am not going to tell you it was easy, or that everything came natural but it was manageable. After a week or two I was an old pro.
The key was routine. Guys, your wife probably preaches this to you every day. I was just like you. The weekend came around and I would take the kids out to do something fun, not caring if it was a little past their nap-time. “They’ll be fine,” I always said. Great call genius! Kids are all about routine. Break that routine and they may be fine for a few hours, but it will bite you in the end. It may not be until the next day but you will regret it. You learn fast on this job.
The second key change for me was patience. You learn quickly that you can’t satisfy all of your kids needs (especially when you have three under two years of age) at once. You have to prioritize. You have to learn to let the screaming bounce off of you. Focus on what you can do to make one of them happy. Move quickly without taking short cuts and move on to the next issue. After awhile you get to know each child’s tendencies and you can get them what they need before they need it. Once you’ve reached this point being an at-home parent is great.
Now don’t misread that. I didn’t say “easy”, I said “great”. It is the most rewarding job (and don’t kid yourself, it is a real job) albeit the toughest one I’ve ever had. Work stress and child caring stress are completely different. I also don’t want to belittle the working parent’s role. It’s a team effort. You should both try to appreciate what the other does.
I could tell you a million stories, but I have a short attention span and this post is already longer than I would voluntarily read. I do have a few parting bits of advice. I sensed a collective cringe when I wrote that. Fear not. I am not going to tell you how to raise your kids. To be honest I wouldn’t have the first clue how to raise someone’s kids. I can, however, give you a few tidbits that have made all the difference our arrangement:
1 – Get out of the house, for your own sanity if nothing else. I take the boys to a local children’s museum a couple times a week. We also go to story hour at the library and a playgroup at an area YMCA. Dig around a little, you can always ask other parents you meet what they do. Getting three little ones out of the house is a daunting task but there is a wonderful reward. Giving them a change of scenery is not only fun, but it always leads to a nice long nap for my kids. Hello “me” time.
2 – Appreciate your spouse. We are a well-oiled machine at this point. We both know what needs to be done each evening so we just do it. Don’t wait for your spouse to ask you to do what you know needs to be done. Just do it and next thing you know the kids will be asleep and you can finally relax. As a side note, everyone has a bad day. My wife and I give the other heads up on those especially tough days. Something as simple as, “just to warn you, it’s been a long day and I’m unusually cranky”. It’s simple yet effective.
3 – Try to create “me” time for each other. Take care of the kids solo so your wife can go out with her friends to lunch, shopping, or a movie. Whatever makes her happy. My wife plans to take half days on Wednesdays this summer so I can play golf. Don’t underestimate the meaning of little gestures.
4 – Get the kids on a schedule and stick to it. They may not like it at first but trust me long term you will all be better for it.
5 –Don’t let the little hiccups get you down. Look, things never go as planned. If you can appreciate them for their future humor, you will be better for it. Just this morning I woke up sick as a dog to find Brady buck naked in his crib with you guessed it all over the mattress and crib. Was I in the mood to deal with “that” today? No chance. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t hilarious. Why not laugh about it then?
6 – Enjoy your kids. Everyone you meet tells you to enjoy your children because they grow up quickly, but it’s true. The next thing you know they are going to be teenagers and want next to nothing to do with their parents. Keeping this in the back of your mind will help with those especially frustrating days. Always remember that they won’t be little forever so enjoy them.
For those out there contemplating being a stay-at-home parent. Do it. Don’t hesitate. In fact, you should jump at the opportunity. The first few weeks might be tough but you’ll find a way. I love that I get to see my kids everyday. My wife would love to be in my shoes (most of the time). Granted I am so tired by the end of the day that I have zero social life, but eventually they’ll grow up and I’ll have plenty of time to do that stuff again. You only get one chance to raise your kids.
I am a better person for it. You can ask any of our friends or family if I have changed and they would say with absolute certainty, yes! They don’t see me as much but when they do they notice that I am more relaxed. The little things that stressed me out before bounce right off me now. Just this past Sunday as we were stuck in traffic with the four kids in the car, instead of freaking out about the guy trying to cut me off, I turned to my wife and said, “I’m really happy. We have a great family, our relationship has never been better… things are great”. Pre-stay-at-home dad would never have said that. I am grateful for my amazing wife and beautiful children and I love them more than you can possibly imagine. Pre-stay-at-home dad would never had written that in a public blog either.
Now if you will excuse me. The boys are all asleep and the Yankees have a day game. Off to the couch I go with a cold beer in one hand and the other hand down my pants. I may have gotten a little softer, but hey, I’m still a dude!
(Mom’s edit: no beers were consumed during the writing of this post. I hope. You can read more about our family on our personal blog.)