When I sat down to write this blog, I had a mental list of ten things that stay-at-home dads could/should consider doing to make the most of their lives.  Once I started actually writing, however, ten things became a little daunting (especially considering all the laundry that I need to do), and I decided to cut the number to seven (seven will obviously never be as good as ten, but I have always found it to be considerably better than five).  So, here are seven ideas that stay-at-home dads might want to consider (not necessarily in any particular order).

1.  Become an advocate for stay-at-home dads:  I’m well aware that some of my friends and family members don’t understand what I’m doing.  When I tell someone I quit my job and have become a stay-at-home dad, they often smile nervously and avert their eyes, as if I have some unsightly skin condition.  I swear I can hear the voice inside their head saying, “Oh boy, this just got awkward,” or “this poor guy…”  My wife has been asked if I’m depressed.  People will sometimes inquire, “So, how’s the job search going,” as if I must surely be looking for something else to do.  Occasionally someone will channel Dr. Phil, look me in the eyes, and sincerely ask, “Are you doin’ okay?”  I have discovered that, although still greatly outnumbered by moms, the number of dads at home is on the rise.  There are many of us out there who are doing this by choice, and love what we are doing.  This isn’t just fill-in work until we get a “real” job.  It is a real job – a very important and very challenging one.  Let’s help make people aware that there is “everything right” (much better than “nothing wrong”) with it.

2.  Grow a beard:  Beards are in style.  More importantly, they can make a statement about you, which will possibly help clue some people in.  (“Oh no, he’s never going to find a job with that thing on his face.  Maybe he really isn’t looking for one?  Maybe he isn’t lying when he says he’s happy?”)  Once again, I’m not currently looking for work, and I am very happy.  My life is very full.  My beard, however, could be fuller.

3.  Take up a hobby:  Finding a hobby that you and your child both enjoy is a great way to learn something new and bond at the same time.  Plus, kids are hopefully going to be more encouraged if they see their dad struggling with the same things they are.  My daughter and I are taking piano lessons and playing tennis.  She enjoys laughing at my inadequacies in both.

4.  Promote a healthy lifestyle:  Being a stay-at-home dad, two of your job duties can be providing healthy food and exercising with your kids.  Eating healthy is not always convenient.  Sometimes hitting the drive-through seems like the way to go, but planning your meals for the week ahead of time (for example, on Sundays write down what you will have for dinner each day that week) is a great way to save money, be better organized, and eat smarter.  When shopping for the week, buy fruits and vegetables instead of junk to snack on.  Your kids will complain, but if healthy options are their only choice, they will eventually accept them.  Exercising with your kids is not only important for their health, but is obviously good for you, too.  Not to mention any time spent exercising (which can be simply actively “playing”) is time your kids are not spending in front of a television.  It is proven that healthy, active kids are more likely to excel in school, and also grow up to be healthier adults.  (FYI – I’m not nearly as “with it” as this paragraph might make me seem.  My kids are eating Oreos as I write this.  But I’m trying…)

5.  Thank your wife:  If you are a stay-at-home dad, there’s a good chance that your wife is the primary breadwinner in the family.  This is nothing to be ashamed of, guys.  On the contrary, I think it’s something to be proud of.  Your wife’s career is allowing you to stay home with the kids, which is great.  Thank her for all she does to make this possible.  Also, consider that, like you, she has been working all day, so when she comes home it isn’t necessarily her turn to take care of the kids.  Welcome her with a nice craft beer or glass of wine.  Let her relax for a bit.  Ask her about her day.  Then hope like hell that she offers to entertain the kids for a while.

6.  Be a good parent first:  Over the last month, my kid and I have become great buddies.  I’m very happy about this, but I have to remember that I am a parent first and a friend second.  Proper discipline is part of being a good parent.  We are responsible for instilling our values and expectations in our children.  Remember that when your young kids say they hate you, you are probably doing something right.

7.  Love your children and cherish this time with them:  Everyone says that your kids will be grown and gone before you know it.  Maybe you have older kids, and have already experienced how quickly the years go by?  If you are a stay-at-home dad, be thankful for the opportunity and make the most of the time you have been given.  If you are a working dad, take advantage of any extra time you have.  Barbara Johnson wrote, “To be in your children’s memories tomorrow, you have to be in their lives today.”  And that, dads, is nothing to joke about.

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Dear Parents,

Our young kids have a favor to ask us.  They want us to read books to them.  They may not have actually asked you, but they want you to do it, whether they realize it or not.  Those of you who already do this on a regular basis may quit reading now.  The rest of you, please take a moment and continue.

I’m not writing this to rant or preach.  I understand how hard it can be to read to your child(ren).  When my eleven year old son (and only child at the time) was young, I was great about reading him stories every single night.  He loved it, although I may have actually enjoyed it more than he did.  I was proud of myself.  “I’m pretty damn good at this,” I recall thinking.  Sucker.  Yep, with only one young child, life is pretty easy.  Finding the time to read to them is no problem.

However, when you have multiple kids, and the older ones start school and begin to have after school or evening activities, the game totally changes.  Many nights you will find that you had to go straight from work to the little league game, and you didn’t eat dinner (which was fast food, by the way, and now you feel like crap) until after 8:00, and you have more than one bath to give, and the clothes in the washer didn’t get put in the dryer, and lunches still need to be made for school tomorrow, and you need to pay some bills, and you have an early meeting the next morning, and your oldest kid just remembered he needs help with homework (this probably includes needing to go buy materials for some science project due the next day), and dammit you are tired and just want to chill out for a minute…!  I know, it’s so much easier to just put the kids to bed (oh, and let them watch something on their iPad as they fall asleep), but it’s not the best thing to do.  I also know we can’t always be our best, but we can always aim to be better, right?  Can we be better for ten more minutes each day?

My daughter just started kindergarten, yet has already been cheated out of literally hundreds of bedtime stories because my wife and I are busier (and admittedly lazier) than we were when her brother was her age.  As a result, whenever I have tried to read to her over the past year or so, my daughter’s typical response is, “Hmm, let’s just watch a show on TV.”  I hate this!  My son couldn’t wait for me to read him stories, but my daughter would much rather watch a Wizards of Waverly Place rerun (actually, she would prefer to watch Parks and Rec or The Office — a result of more poor parenting…).  Unfortunately, I usually give in to her request for television, despite knowing that it is a disservice to both of us.

There are numerous studies that show the many benefits associated with reading to your kids. Here are just a few:

  • Language development, including pronunciation, speech patterns and intonation
  • Increased visual and auditory sensation
  • Better memorization skills
  • Letter and word recognition
  • Increased future desire and capacity for learning
  • Better grades and higher rates of college graduation
  • Development of a lifelong love of reading

These benefits speak for themselves, but they are not my purpose for writing.  When you read to your child, you are giving your full attention to them.  Ask yourself how often you honestly do that?  This is real bonding.  You can cuddle up, laugh and be silly, and even cry.  A good book can take you and your kid on adventures that aren’t possible through television.

Since having become a stay-at-home dad, one of my priorities has been to read to my daughter daily.  It is something I insist on doing, and I’m so glad I am.  She no longer asks to watch TV instead of reading — she is now more likely to ask for two books instead of one.  Sometimes the books are great, sometimes they frankly aren’t very good.  Regardless, the time spent together is enjoyable to both of us.  This is quality time that won’t be available for long, so I’m going to take advantage of it while I can.

If you are not reading to your child, I challenge you to give up ten minutes a day, six days a week.  I’m not suggesting you tackle a novel every night, just read for ten minutes, and take a day off each week (if you think you need it).  Give it a shot.  I think you’ll be glad you did.  I know your child will thank you — if not now, someday.

Sincerely,

A Parent Like You

I recently saw an alarming article, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with the headline: “Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Epidemic.”  Below this headline there were a ton of words, many numbers, and also some graphs.  It looked far too mind-numbing to actually read (plus I was very tired), but I got the gist from the straight-forward headline – we need to sleep more.  I’m going to assume that the CDC went on to demand that everyone start taking naps (after washing your hands, of course), and that failing to do so is basically akin to treason.  So, I resolve to start doing my part for my country.  I will take more naps, with no remorse or guilt.

In a past blog, I wrote about how I am learning to relax – something that is a work in progress.  I have never been good at napping.  The voice in my head has always insisted on reminding me about all the other things I should be doing rather than resting, convincing me that I was being lazy and wasting time.  Since changing jobs and becoming a stay at home dad (yes it’s a job, and I’m proud to have the good fortune to do it), one of my duties is to try to get my daughter to take a short nap each afternoon.  She’s four, and can go without, but I find that evenings are a little easier if naps occur.  It also allows me time to do some housework (usually the never-ending task of laundry) without interruption.  My daughter and I typically snuggle up and read some books first, then I will lie with her until she falls asleep.

To my amazement, I’ve found that I am starting to doze off, myself.  It’s spring in the Midwest, and some days are almost hot, but there is usually a strong, refreshing breeze that comes in the open window next to the bed.  The blinds gently rattle.  Outside the window you can hear dogs barking, birds chirping, a distant lawn mower, an airplane passing overhead – a suburban symphony.  The blinds rattle again…and I’m out.

My naps are usually very short, but they are very refreshing.  I genuinely believe that being able to sleep like this is a sign of my mind slowing down, and me being more content with life.  I’m not lazy, I’m working my butt off.  But I’m also learning to relax – and loving it.  I highly recommend that you do the same.  Peanuts creator, Charles M. Schulz, wrote that we should “learn from yesterday, live for today, look to tomorrow, (and) rest this afternoon.”  What are you waiting for, take a nap today!  Remember the plea from the CDC, and take pride in the fact that with each nap, you’re fighting a national epidemic.  

Your country needs you.  Sweet dreams.

“I hope the fathers and mothers of little girls will look at them and say, ‘Yes, women can.'” – Dilma Rousseff

Hillary Clinton is running for president, and I couldn’t be happier.  Wait, don’t stop reading!  This isn’t a political endorsement, per se.  I’m glad she’s running because I have a wife, sister, mother, step-mother, mother and sister-in-laws, aunts, female cousins, nieces, and many female friends; all of whom I respect and want the best for.  More importantly, I have a five year old daughter, and I believe a female presidential candidate can help her, and all women, have a better future.  I’m hopeful that the more our society is exposed to women doing things traditionally seen as “men’s work,” the more likely we are to embrace gender equality.

Although it is still not frequent enough, I am noticing more and more discussion about gender inequality in the workplace.  This is much-needed conversation.  Depending on the source, women earn about $0.77 for every $1.00 earned by men.  Last year, the United States (a country that we Americans like to think of as the best at everything) was ranked 20th in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report.  If you’re wondering, no, this ranking is not good.  We are lagging behind some real powerhouse countries, including Rwanda, Nicaragua, Latvia, and yes, even Canada…  This is a national disgrace, and I personally don’t understand why it continues.  Is it male insecurity, ignorance, fear?  I’m not trying to belittle men at all (I’m usually on your side), I just sincerely want to know what a man can do better than a woman, other than fertilizing eggs and peeing standing up (not necessarily in that order)?  Sure, some guys will make an argument about men being physically stronger, but this is rarely relevant, and not even always true.  I’m not ashamed to admit that my wife can occasionally open jars that I can’t (although I do suffer from some minor arthritis…).

Pardon me, this really isn’t something to joke about.  I spent 19 years working with men and women in the construction industry — both in the field and in management positions — and see no reason why a capable man should make more money or have more opportunities than a capable woman working in the same role.  Heck, maybe women should earn more?  I’ve experienced firsthand some of the positive traits that women bring to the workplace, which men typically don’t — or won’t.  For example, a can-do attitude, a more competitive drive (perhaps both of these can be attributed to a chip being on many women’s shoulders, and who can blame them?), and, thankfully, more compassion — something many guys seem to have been taught to hide for some reason (but all secretly want).  Plus, it is proven that women have a higher pain threshold than men, which could result in fewer sick days.  What is a debilitating hemorrhoid to us fellas, may just be little more than an annoying pain in the ass to our female counterparts. 

We have many societal problems in the U.S. that need to be addressed.  However, I am a stay at home dad with a young daughter, so gender equality is very high on my list.  My wife’s earning potential is very important to our family now, and my daughter’s right to unlimited future potential — both monetarily and opportunity-wise — will never cease to be important to me.  I look at this girl and see all the promise in the world; just as much as I see in her older brother.  I want them both to be equally successful (however “success” ends ups up being defined by them), and expect that any other dad with both a son and daughter would agree.

Win or lose, I hope that Clinton’s presidential bid is at least a catalyst for narrowing the gender gap.  Unfortunately, we may be years away from ending inequality, but putting women in powerful positions under the media spotlight could go a long way towards helping make equality the norm.  In the meantime, I implore all parents, but particularly fathers, to let your daughters know they can do anything they set their minds to; certainly anything their male counterparts are capable of.  Let’s empower our young girls as early as possible so they learn to believe in themselves.  Let’s help give them the confidence to stand up to inequality — for their sake, and for the sake of our nation.

Say it with me men:  “Yes, women can.”

My daughter can do anything she sets her mind to.

  
It was about 8:30 last night when I realized I hadn’t yet showered.  I don’t know why it continues to surprise me, as this has happened many times since I became a staddy (stay at home daddy, for the lay person) a couple months ago.  I have high standards regarding personal hygiene, and I don’t consider myself lazy, so why would I forget to shower?  Oh, maybe because I’m working about 12+ hours a day, and it isn’t usually a priority.  Let’s get something straight – I’m not complaining at all.  This has has been a very positive and rewarding experience, and I knew going in that it would be challenging.  I just want to make sure people in the working world understand that taking care of children and managing the household is actual work.

I have known a number of guys (I’m sure women do this too, but depending on the source, moms makeup over 90% of the stay at home parent population) over the years who complain about their stommy (you see what I did there, right?) wives.  “How the hell isn’t the house clean?  Why isn’t my dinner ready when I get home from work – where I make all the money, by the way?  She has it so easy!”  Every man over the age of 30 is aware of the stereotype about women watching soap operas and eating bonbons while their kids play and nap all day.  I admit there were times when my wife was off work on maternity leave that I would come home from work and wonder, “Is this it?”  That was when she was home with a helpless, hungry, pooping, crying baby – what an idiot I was!  I totally get it now.  Being a stay at home parent ain’t easy.

Each day is a little different, but a typical day goes something like this (not necessarily in this order):

6:45 – 9:00:  Make coffee, go for a run, make a simple breakfast for the family, make a sack lunch for my son, get my son up and ready for school, clean up the kitchen, take my son to school

9:00 – 9:20:  Relax (coffee me)

9:20 – 11:00:  Start a load of laundry and fold the load that I left sitting in the dryer (LISTEN UP MEN – laundry sucks and never ends, you can only try to keep up.  Two loads a day keep the piles away, but don’t expect to see the bottom of the hamper very often, if ever.  And don’t get me started on the tedious, annoying task of folding/hanging clothes!), art or a game with my daughter, bathe and dress my daughter, shower (sometimes) and dress myself

11:00 – 1:00:  Quality time of some sort outside of the house with my daughter, lunch

1:00 – 2:00:  Grocery shopping, errands, etc.

2:00 – 3:00:  Read books to my daughter and get her to sleep (I will take a short nap myself sometimes – you got something to say about it?)

3:00 – 4:15:  Some kind of household chore (cleaning, vacuuming, etc.), MORE LAUNDRY

4:15 – 4:30:  Pick my son up from school

4:30 – 5:00:  Dinner prep

5:00 – 5:20:  Relax (beer me)

5:20 – 6:15:  Practice sports or some kind of quality time with my son

6:15 – 7:30:  Make dinner, eat, clean up the kitchen (I’ve been slacking on the night-time kitchen cleaning and doing some the next morning, but dishes need to be rinsed, food is put away, counters are wiped down, and so on)

Throw in yard work, home maintenance, unexpected errands, paying bills, kids’ school/sporting events, etc., and it’s a damn full day.  Not to mention that I’m keeping my daughter entertained the entire time. 

I don’t want to imply that my wife doesn’t help, because she does plenty when she gets home and on weekends.  The truth is, though, that I don’t want her to have to do much in the evening after she has been at work all day (she is more than welcome to help on weekends).  This is my job that I want to do right now, and I feel responsible to make sure the things on my list are completed each day – just like I did when I worked a “real” job.  I’m not comparing what I do to the working world, however, because at the end of the day my “clients” are going to love me no matter what.  That takes some pressure off, and also makes it that much more rewarding.

You can go online and find a number of studies that show what a starent (you should get this now) would earn if they were getting paid for the work they do.  I’ve read anywhere from $15,000 (absurdly low) to $150,000 (too high).  Sure, you can estimate and add up what a childcare provider, cook, maid, handyman, etc. would earn, but can you really place a value on what it means to your children to be home with a parent?

Again, I’m not complaining, I’m also not saying what I’m doing is more difficult than working a traditional job or being in a situation where both parents work.  I’m just giving my perspective as a former working dad.  It’s not just fun and games all day.  So to all the breadwinners out there, I commend and thank you.  But guys (and gals), the next time you come home and your starent spouse didn’t get your dry cleaning picked up, please remember that there’s probably a very valid excuse.

As I begin my second week at home with my daughter, Ainsley, I feel more certain than ever that I have made the right decision by becoming a full-time stay at home dad.  Spending the entire day, each day, with your four year old child takes quality time to a whole different level.  There are so many little things to be grateful for – like my daughter reaching up and holding my hand while we walk.  Since this arrangement is so new, Ainsley is still very excited to be home with me.  Because of this, I can’t help but wonder if the first few weeks will be the best.  At some point I expect her to get bored, as kids do.  Until then (and after) I will make the most of our time, and do everything I can to make each day significant in some small way.

Our first week was great.  We went hiking, visited four different parks (one of which is a landmark park that I loved as a child, but unfortunately now appears to be a destination for smokers who are looking for a place to let their kids play while they enjoy cigarettes and talk on their phones), had two picnics, met Ainsley’s grandparents for lunch, went to an outdoor “living history” museum, read books and did chores (I’m trying to make sure we do both of these daily), and more.

The best part for me has been simply hanging out and talking.  This kid of mine has a lot to say – sometimes funny, sometimes sweet, sometimes just plain weird (like her dad).  Here are some highlights for me.

  • While walking through grass in a park:  “Dad, you have to be careful when you’re walking in grass because sometimes there is dog poop, which you can step in and not even know it.  Poop is really gross, unless it’s when you are just pooping in the toilet.”
  • When we drove passed a group of cyclists, one of whom was lagging far behind:  “Wow, I guess that guy in the back must be the slowest (long pause), but that wouldn’t be very nice to say to him.”
  • While driving and “All About That Bass” came on the radio:  “Do not change the station, this is literally the best song, except they twerk in the video.”
  • After I told Ainsley that it was too cold for a tank-top, and that she needed a jacket:  “Dad, it’s fine.  I can live a hardcore lifestyle.”
  • When I was folding laundry, specifically my wife’s underwear:  “Gross – mom’s butt touches that!”
  • While driving home after a picnic (leaning back in her booster seat with hands clasped behind her head):  “This is the life, man.”
  • One morning while eating breakfast:  “Dad, you know I will always be there for you, right?”

I love this kid, and I’m loving this opportunity.  Despite the financial sacrifices my family is making, I feel quite rich.  I’m trying to remember to be in the moment and to appreciate everything.  Even the seemingly “little things,” like holding my daughter’s hand.  I know some day it will be for the last time.