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.
Those 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.
For 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.
Staying 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.