Rumor has it that there are between 180,000 and 2 million stay-at-home dads in the US (apparently it depends on who you ask and how you ask the question). I am married to one of them. You might think this means awesome potatoes for me. In a way, I guess you’re right. I can go to work and know that the kids are in good hands, that they are not being over-exposed to those awesome kiddie communicable diseases like hand-foot-mouth and pink eye, and that there won’t be a mountain of housework to greet me after a day at work. But, some things stink about being the mom in a stay-at-home-dad family. Here are just a few of the minor annoyances:
1. The Gulliver Syndrome. Even though I work and Ren stays home, I’m still the mom. No matter how cool dad is or how much they enjoy being with him, I’m. still. the. mom. When they wake up in the middle of the night, they always come to my side of the bed. (This is proportionally truer if I have an early morning meeting), and when they are sick at school, they have the school nurse call me (something that also seems to be directly related to my degree of busy-ness at work).
When I am home, any and all questions, problems, stories, songs, and debates are directed at me, and me alone. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my kids, but just occasionally, I want to be able to have one or two clear thoughts or a brief uninterrupted exchange with Ren before they tie me up and carry me away like Gulliver. The instant I step in the door, I’m on duty. I don’t even get time off to go to the bathroom or change my clothes. I’m pretty sure that if Ren was the one coming in after a long day of work, the kids would nonchalantly say, “Hi, Daddy,” and then go back to what they were doing (Unless of course, something electronic was broken or in need of a battery. Then they’d be on him like glue.)
2. Stereotypes that Die Hard. Our relationship is forced to withstand a lot of pressure from all sorts of people who question our perfectly rational choices to be in the roles we’ve chosen for ourselves. This might be 2011, but gender-role stereotypes are alive and well. A lot of folks out there just can’t seem to get their heads around the idea that I work and my husband doesn’t. When we meet new people, they always ask him what he does (but they rarely ask me). Then, some of these people become unable to carry on the conversation when we (gently) explain that I work and he doesn’t. When a mom works, she is a negligent mom. And when a dad stays home, he’s an unemployed man being supported by his wife. It’s hard not to take these stereotypes personally. It’s equally hard not to tell people stuck in the 1950s to get their heads out of their you-know-whats and embrace the modern age.
3. Stereotypes that Die Harder. The media is not helping our cause. Let’s face it, until recently according to the media, the choice is Mr. Mom or Mrs. Doubtfire. So, either you’re forced into it when you lose your job and you totally suck at it because how could a man possibly know how to use a vacuum cleaner? Or, you are a childish artistic-type who can’t hold down a job, so the only way you can spend time with your kids is if you dress up like a loveable old Scottish lady who makes a killer cup of tea. “C’mon, dearie, this will cheer you up!”
Is it so hard to imagine a father who is willing to stay home and who is also competent around the house? I spent the first year or so of our marriage trying to get him to vacuum less. (Please don’t hate me for this. You’d be surprised how disruptive vacuuming can be). And Ren taught me pretty much every trick I know for getting stains out. In fact, my parents call him before they even think about calling a professional to get spots out of their white carpet (God only knows why they went with white when they have so many grandkids, and no, I didn’t just send Pink P over there so she would vomit on their carpet and instead of ours…). To be fair, some recent television shows (like Parenthood and Up All Night) have regular stay-at-home dad characters, but the world of media and popular entertainment has a long, long way to go.
4. Play groups and toddler time. Before they start preschool, my kids need a little social interaction. They get some at church and with the occasional play date, but I really want them to participate in community play groups and toddler time. This means Ren has to take them. Sure play groups and toddler time are open to dads, but they don’t tend to be the most welcoming environments for them. First, most of the other moms seem a bit afraid of Ren when he goes. Second, very little of what they discuss interests him. Third, and this is the deal breaker, when the kids misbehave with him, he’s immediately accosted by a roomful starting women suggesting, intentionally or not, that he is an incompetent parent. Not once has another mom offered words of solidarity or encouragement—a simple, “I know what you’re going through,” or “Would you like a swig of whiskey from my flask?” would go a long way.
5. School Field Trips. We've never seen another father on a school field trip. This makes Ren uncomfortable. This makes Sky and Pink P uncomfortable. No matter how open-minded and cosmopolitan we try to make our kids, being different from their peers always sucks. Since they are already bicultural, biracial, and relatively new in town, and since one of them is also on the autism spectrum, we try to downplay difference where we can. So when I can go on the field trip, I go. But sometimes, I can’t. And sometimes, our kids get a teacher who doesn’t embrace stay-at-home dadness. Once Sky brought home a permission slip that had the following written on it: “Dear [Sky’s Mom], We would like you to come on the field trip if you want him to participate.” (Pause for dramatic effect and a brief WTF?!?!). The school (which my son no longer attends) knew I was the working parent, and on that particular day, I couldn’t take time off, so Sky couldn’t join his classmates on the outing. Can you imagine a school telling a working father he had to chaperone? So, yeah, school field trips are hard.
6. The Mom Communication Network. I am convinced that most schools/communities have very strong mom communication networks. Let’s face it. Most of us like to chat (much in the same way that we like to blog). We’ll chat about just about anything to just about anyone, and it’s through this chatting that we convey some pretty important information. We learn things like which form is due when (very helpful to those of us with kids who have language-processing issues). We learn which teachers to avoid. We learn what products are safe/awesome/on sale. We learn which kids our kids like/fear/hug too often. On afternoons when I can go pick up Sky from school, I can easily access this network of information. Ren, not so much. Like most men I know, he’s not terribly chatty. When he goes, other moms look at him, and some of them even say hello, but the conversations stop there. His passcode for the Mom Communication Network is effectively defunct, and we miss out on a lot due to his inability to access it.
I know I’m lucky that Ren does what he does, so I can do what I do. It’s a fad waiting for its day in the sun. I just can’t wait for it to catch on. And when it does, I suppose we’ll have to think of a new acronym. SAHD is a tad depressing.