Is Being A Stay At Home Parent Healthy?

  • Monday, 07 November 2011
  • Posted in Reservoir Dad
  • 12 Comments
  • Is Being A Stay At Home Parent Healthy?

    When Finch Publishing tweeted an article with the question  – ‘Are househusbands happy and healthy?’ I was pretty sure I was about to read another cliché-ridden rant about ‘emasculated’ resentful men. I was pretty sure it would be implying there was only one gender suited to the stay at home role.

    I was wrong. The article is balanced and fair and it lead me to revisit a few questions about the stay at home role itself; what makes it difficult and how a newbie can get comfortable and find the role rewarding. I’ve thought about these questions a lot over the past several years and so I decided to have a crack at answering them here*. Feel free to hang around, have a read and add you thoughts below. If you’re not at all interested you can check out this great Rick Astley video clip.

    (*The responses to these questions are coming from a very personal space and experience. They may not represent any other person on the planet.)

    Is Being A Stay At Home Parent Personally Satisfying?

    At times it is incredibly satisfying. But there are also many moments that are less than satisfying. To give you an idea, here’s just one example out of a million –

    Getting your two year old to finally close the sliding door gently is a remarkable feat and a joy that few can understand. But before you reach that post-orgasmic high you have to hear the door slam and repeat yourself 10,000 times.

    What makes the role difficult?

    There is no question it’s undervalued. But more debilitating is the isolation. Humans are social creatures. Raising children, cleaning the house, running errands etc does not often provide the human-to-human interaction that is necessary to maintain a healthy adult. There is a sneaky societal hum that tells us money is all-important and because stay-at-homers generally don’t earn any (even when it is acknowledged they are part of a two people team covering many crucial tasks), they are not often taken seriously enough, and don't often get the opportunity to talk about the difficulties of their chosen profession. 

    ArchiehairThose who risk ‘debriefing’ with regular nine-to-fivers are often labeled as ‘whingers’, or ‘naggers’ rather than people who are simply looking for some understanding and acknowledgement of their efforts. Most employees understand that this sort of basic feedback is necessary to maintain employer self-esteem, morale and work ethic. For some reason society doesn’t extend this privilege to stay-at-home mums and dads. (Last paragraph borrowed from my article at Planning With Kids.)

    Are some people better suited to it than others?

    Yes. I have met three people (all women) who stated that they have always wanted to be a stay at home parent, and nothing else, and are completely satisfied and contented in their chosen role. I have no reason to doubt them. But I do think they are rare. Most will need some ‘time under tension’ to work out how the unique stressors of the role will affect them. From here comes wild variations and each individual will then need some understanding and on-going negotiation with their partner to balance the tough 24 hour a day slog of parenting.

    Is Personal Time Really Important? (and what is it?)

    Personal time is an interest, hobby, past time, sporting pursuit, even career goal etc, that occurs outside the role. I can’t stress outside enough. It has to be something very personal that may have been a passion way before kids were even on the scene.

    LewyhatFor me that has been writing and powerlifting, both of which I’ve been doing since my early teens. It’s easy to let personal interests and goals go and shrug your shoulders but people can disappear in the stay at home role. It is all-consuming. You are a parent but you are not just that. If you don’t strive to acknowledge and honour yourself regularly you’ll find yourself asking ‘Is this all there is?’ in the dead of night, just as the above article stated.

    I’ve had to modify the way I approach my passions. I’ve also had to allocate them less time, and sacrifice sleep to fit them in. But as I write this I am fulfilling a passion and ensuring that I am an individual who has an existence outside his children*. I also know that tonight, once the kids are in bed, I will be heading over to the gym to try for a personal best Squat. I am more excited about life, fresher mentally and a better asset to my family because I’m making time for RD.

    (A supportive partner and constant negotiation is important.)

    Is Being A Stay At Home Dad Easier If It’s A Choice

    I’m not trying to lecture anyone here. This is for me –

    I keep wanting to answer ‘yes’ to this question but there’s a niggle that stops me.

    I think of the many thousands of men around the world who are being laid-off and are finding themselves ‘forced’ into the stay at home role. I know most of these men have to battle gender-role stereotypes and social norms and adapt to a new life from one day to the next. It’s very difficult.

    boysStaying at home for me was a choice but I still battled the same doubts and prejudice that these men did. It makes sense. We are social animals; we need at least some validation from others to feel accepted, valued and understood. That constant societal whispering mentioned above is very effective at making a stay at home Dad feel that that what he is doing is not just unusual but wrong. I’m confident that’s changing but it took me a lot of hard work and determination in the early days to get past some mental demons on this front. And even though I’m there now, I still suffer the occasional hiccup. (I carry a Spiderco Warrior Combat Knife for those who call me Mr Mum.)

    Sometimes there is no real choice in what life dishes up but there’s always choice in your approach (I think I read that on a fortune cookie). Men who are finding their way into the stay at home role, for whatever reason have to start to make it work. Find the right mental space for yourself first – confront your demons and your own prejudice, do what you have to make the role yours, practice valuing it every day.

    Once you find that space live it loudly. Let others see it. You’re a pioneer! And your celebration of the role may become a real benefit to others. You’re a living example to families that there are ways around gender-role prejudice and the massive unnecessary stresses that come with it.

    You’re part of a growing movement of Dads – a revolution of Dads – who are making the world a better place, a fairer place, by tearing away at the established order, one old-fashioned opinion at a time.

    Comments (12)

    • 3AM Dad

      3AM Dad

      08 November 2011 at 03:10 |
      I agree with most of what you have stated above... I find it very satisfying and very trying too... the wins far out way the hard times. Sure there are times when I feel very overwhelmed, but if it wasn't for my wife, I'm sure I would have let the hard times beat me down.

      I am really struggling with the personal time (like my wife did when she was primary carer). I know I need it, but I don't really want it. I'd rather have all 6 of my family doing something together. Sure I'd love a round of golf once a month (or week ;)), but I'd rather spend more time with the all of us. I don't believe we do this enough.

      And you can call me Mr Mum... I just prefer "Trophy Husband".
    • RD

      RD

      08 November 2011 at 03:24 |
      Nicely said. And an example of the wold variations I was talking about. Takes a while to find the right fit I think.

      My knife also covers 'Trophy Mum'.
    • Krys - Baby Massage

      Krys - Baby Massage

      08 November 2011 at 12:36 |
      Wow he went totally Rage Against The Machine at the end. Or was that you with a toupée and Maki undergoing testing for epilepsy?
    • H. Homan

      H. Homan

      08 November 2011 at 17:18 |
      I would have to agree and disagree. I agree with celebrating the at home dad, as I am one. But I disagree that the opposition is a result of gender prejudice. Not true. Today the opposition to women staying at home is nearly the same as the opposition to men. For many years now, women have been told that it is essential to have a career outside the home in order to be independent and self sufficient and not be dependent on your spouse. Women who stay at home have been depicted as lonely, depressed, unfulfilled, unliberated, frustrated, lacking adult contact, wasting their education, unequal, dependent, economically vulnerable, unable to leave abusive marriages, poor role models for their daughters, etc, etc.

      So the negative response to stay at home parenting is not the result of gender. It is a gender neutral belief today that only by having a career can you be a fulfilled person and have an egalitarian relationship. No one is telling stay at home moms that they are making the world a better place. Quite the contrary. Stay at home moms are ridiculed for an outdated, "1950s" lifestyle that is incompatible with the current, egalitarian preferences.

      If you think negative reactions to men staying home is purely the result of gender prejudice, try telling women that it would be a good thing for them to stay at home rather than have careers. See what the reaction is.
    • Reservoir Dad

      Reservoir Dad

      08 November 2011 at 20:36 |
      I agree. The stay at home role is not well respected - especially when compared to paid work - and I hoped I'd mentioned that several times during the post. Women are getting questions like 'so, when are you returning to work' much earlier after a baby is born. That pressure to work for money to be of value is being pushed on to both genders and I think it sucks.

      But I’m certain gender does make a difference, especially when families are first negotiating 'who does what'. For men I think it is still, generally, more difficult.

      We're fighting a long history that says there's no variation on the fact that men are providers and women are nurturers (which is crazy. Mum's and Dad's are both, regardless of what they're doing). Women can at move into the stay at home roles in the knowledge that their place is accepted (for a time at least). Men are coming up against a hundreds of years of training that says there is only one path to manhood. If he becomes the full time carer he has to stand up against the repeated accusation (internally and externally) that he is not a man, that he is somehow not fulfilling his role.

      You only have to walk down the baby products aisle of a supermarket and see that 99% of the products you work with everyday are marketed to women. TV ads and programs portray the dumb incapable Dad who needs Mum to rush in to rescue him from every domestic mishap. It's a daily battle.

      I know men who won't take on the role because of the social stigma even though it would be the best option for their family. When I told a work colleague once that I was becoming a stay at home Dad so that my wife could continue with her successful career I was told, 'Well at least you know your place.' I was also made to feel like I was 'forcing' my wife to work rather than making space to help her to achieve her career goals, at the same time that we were giving our family the best chance at happiness.

      People still ask my wife – ‘What does he do all day?’ insinuating that I watch the kids and leave the housework, cooking etc to her when she gets home.

      I could go on. In the end I’m with you for the most of it. But, unfortunately, gender does still make a difference.
      • H. Homan

        H. Homan

        10 November 2011 at 20:59 |
        Yes, well in my recruiting for the "movement" I find it's harder to convince men to consider staying home when they've heard largely negative things about women who do it.

        At any rate, I appreciate all that you are doing especially your recognition that in addition to what he does with his own family, every man who stays home is also part of a global movement that has grown immensely, along with the growth of women working outside the home. The two combined changing the world. For the better.
        • Reservoir Dad

          Reservoir Dad

          12 November 2011 at 23:53 |
          Thanks H. Appreciate your reading and comment. What's your background?
    • H. Homan

      H. Homan

      15 November 2011 at 03:21 |
      My background? Just another man at home. I enjoy watching how this history is unfolding like votes for women, a movement that went from universal opposition to universal approval.
    • PlanningQueen

      PlanningQueen

      16 November 2011 at 11:17 |
      I think the role of the stay at home parent isn't appropriately valued in our society. I reckon it would be even more difficult for a stay at home dad.

      Personally I have found it interesting to watch how people have responded to me as my roles have changed - working four days at a corp gig with kids, staying at home with the kids and now working from home. I definitely get more respect with this last role than I did when I was not working from home and that saddens me.
    • Jo @Countrylifeexperiment

      Jo @Countrylifeexperiment

      16 November 2011 at 11:35 |
      My Husband stays at home whilst I work. He is fantastic at it - he has boundless patience, and is lots of fun. He does most of the domestic stuff, takes kids to school, goes to play group etc.
      We do this because it works best for our family and we are all happy with the arrangement. When we started 6 years ago, his father was very concerned because "it's a mans job to provide" and even asked my husband if I was pushing him into it!
      In my daughters class, there are several families whose father is the at home parent. My husband does find it a little isolating at times - he is the only male at playgroup, swimming lessons etc.
      I have stayed home for 6 months after each of our 3 children. I firmly believe that I have the easier of the 2 jobs in paid employment. My husband is tops!
    • Vinz

      Vinz

      16 November 2011 at 11:42 |
      Thanks for sharing what you did. I'm a stay at home mom... it still spoke to me :)
    • Jackie

      Jackie

      16 November 2011 at 20:38 |
      What a great article and content for people to think about.
      I have been at home for almost three years now. I also chose this role and do love it, but the cracks have certainly been starting to show in the last few months. I didn't anticipate the difficulties of the role.
      I am extremely lonely/isolated, and strangely entering the cyber-community has made me feel more so (that obviously wasn't the intention). I also feel that the mothers I befriended who have returned to work have completely shut me out. They all still keep in contact but I'm no longer invited along to mothers' group get-togethers.
      On top of that I've experienced a personal tragedy which I think I may have coped better with if I had some friends/colleagues to support me.
      On the up side, it's made me realise that I NEED that personal time that you talk about. Booked in to a few activities starting Monday. I hope it contributes to a more a more mentally-healthy me!
      I can't even imagine how hard it must be for fathers.

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