"I just knew I would end up being a stay-at-home father. It was just a matter of time - a dream fulfilled!"
The truth is that the decision to be an at-home parent, especially a dad, is usually a major decision. Most guys don't grow up dreaming of changing diapers and making baby food. The decision demands consideration of a number of factors, economics, stress, abilities, and support just to name a few.
The adjustment faced by dads who decide to stay home is huge. I know for me, I had to slow down my mind in order to focus because I didn't have a million things going on around me like I did in the workplace. I used to thrive off of that chaos, and I would pat myself on the back for the way that I could multi-task and make sure that my customers, employees, and vendors were all happy. At home, I only have two people to keep happy, my child and my wife. And, yes, there is chaos, but not to the extent that I used to face at work. During the first few months, I would find myself looking for distractions to keep my mind busy. But I had to shift my priorities and focus on the reason I was home in the first place. It wasn't for me, it was for my daughter. So, I try to limit my chaos by taking good care of my daughter, and I try to thrive in my passions - writing and music - when the opportunities are available. I feel like it has taken close to six months to get into a "groove" with my routine.
Dr. Rochlen suggests that finding support and communicating about this transition are the keys to surviving it, and I couldn't agree more. I have used this blog to vent about things and tell you about all of the funny stuff that happens in my life, and I have found a good network of support online that has inspired me to seek out more personal support from other dads in my situation in my home town.
"I became a stay-at-home father to figure myself out. I just didn't know who I was, and I really needed some time to work on that."
Unlike the above quote, most guys who were working and decided to stay at home to take care of their kids knew exactly who they were. At least, they thought they did. Chances are that if you were a man with a career (or even just a job) you probably defined yourself by that job. Think of the dinner party conversation, "Oh, John, nice to meet you, so WHAT DO YOU DO?" That question determines the way in which everyone who meets you begins to define you, and you naturally accept that as part of who you are. It takes a very self-aware, well-adjusted person to reject that definition of himself, and define himself outside of his career.
When the decision is made to be an at-home parent, there is a major shift in identity. No longer are you a doctor, lawyer, plumber, teacher or manager. You are just a dad, and being just a dad isn't very "sexy" for dinner conversations. There are a lot of negative stereotypes about at-home dads - they're lazy, they're unemployed, they're perverts (at the playground) - not to mention all of the negative ways that the media portray dads (think Al Bundy, Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin, etc.). That is a lot to work through, and the awareness that your definition of "self" is changing is paramount to your success as an at-home parent.
"I became a stay-at-home father to make a social statement. I wanted to show that men can parent just as well as women."
Most of us didn't think this deeply about our decision before making it. But, like it or not, dad, you ARE making a statement. You are going against the social norm. You are saying that you can parent as well as a woman. And you, most likely, will face negativity regarding that decision. But you also have an opportunity to help other dads, even working ones, redefine their idea of fathering and masculine identity. You can help change the notion that fulfilling the "provider role" means making all of the money. How about the fact that you are providing a nurturing environment for your child to grow up in instead of a crowded, understaffed daycare? You are providing them with unlimited access to their father. You are giving them confidence and teaching them how to navigate their way in the world. You are providing in uniquely different ways, and that's okay. You can influence men and women to re-understand what it means to be a father. And, just maybe, we can help restore what it means to be a family in the United States - a cohesive unit consisting of parents/guardians that love their children unconditionally and make sacrifices, including time and self, to raise them well.
"I really want to help other guys be more comfortable expressing how they feel about work-family conflict."
Unless you are an acting coach or a psychiatrist, there are very few men that are interested in helping other guys express how they feel. And I would imagine that there are even fewer guys interested in receiving that help. But the bottom line is that it is okay to talk about these things. You should talk about how you want to see your family more than your co-workers. Maybe you and your partner can come up with more ways to address that desire. Maybe you can become a stay-at-home father! Just know that it's okay to talk about how you are feeling about missing your family. Family is the most important thing in this life, and there should be no shame in talking about it.
I'd like to thank Dr. Rochlen for his work. I hope that you have all learned a little more about the thought process of becoming a stay-at-home parent and the importance of finding support to guide you through that process. If you are looking for resources, DaddysHome.org and AtHomeDad.org are good places to start. They are run by dads, for dads, and they guys on those sites are very welcoming.
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