Thursday, September 25, 2014

Domestic Enemies of the Working Wife of the Stay-at-Home Dad

Today's addition to the Domestic Enemies archives is from Shannon Brescher Shea. Shannon is mommy to an adventurous one-year-old boy who loves dirt, clapping, and hugs. She writes about her experiences at We'll Eat You Up, We Love You So (http://welleatyouupweloveyouso.com).

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I'm proud to be married to a stay-at-home dad. But it definitely comes with its pitfalls. While I'm so glad that I get to go to my job every day while my husband enjoys taking care of the baby and cooking, we've faced our share of Domestic Enemies.


1) Society's judgment: Society just doesn't support the idea of stay-at-home dads the way they do stay-at-home moms. While 51% of people think kids are better off with their mother at home, only 8% think kids are better off with their father at home. Similarly, more than a third of women say they wouldn't support their partner becoming a stay-at-home parent. Movies and TV shows don't exactly help this situation, often depicting stay-at-home dads as inept. Of course, in the one single show where the stay-at-home dad was competent, he turned out to be a child murderer. (The link spoils the show.)

2) My need to overexplain: Because of the prevailing viewpoint, telling people about my husband's position seems shameful, as if I told them that he quit his job to knit cozies for video game consoles instead of take care of our son. I feel compelled to explain why I couldn't possibly stay at home myself and daycare couldn't work for us. It's as if my husband staying home is the third best option rather than the very best one for us.

3) People who are overly concerned about my husband's career plans: One of the main reasons my husband is our baby's primary caretaker is that he was a restaurant cook who worked nights and weekends. So if our son was in a regular daycare now or in the future, my husband would literally see him a few hours a week. So I always wince at the question that inevitably follows my explanation of why he's a stay-at-home dad: "When is he going back to work?" Because you would never ask that of a stay-at-home mom. Because what he does now is work, even if it's unpaid. Because he likes doing this a hell of a lot more than his old job, with its hideous hours that people romanticize anyway. Because if you mean paid work - which of course they do - the answer is "I don't know.” But I don't say any of those things. Instead, I mumble through an description of my husband's fuzzy career plans, saying words like "when we're ready," and "maybe part time" or "something from home."

4) Well-meaning friends trying to show support: A couple of our friends have said, “We thought about that option, but...” and then provided some reason why they didn't. Folks, I definitely appreciate the support. However, explaining how your situation is different just makes us feel even more weird than if you just said, “Oh, that's cool.”

5) My own neurosis and worry: When I first went back to work, I wanted to virtually lean over my husband's shoulder every moment. I kept correcting him and over-explaining how I did things. For the sake of our marriage and our sanity, I got over this one pretty quickly. I now trust my husband (almost) without reservation as a parent. After all, I'm not my husband's boss. Even if I still sometimes give unsolicited advice.

6) Moms' groups: One of my biggest worries, especially as my kid gets older, is that he's not socializing enough with other children. I also worry that for the sake of his mental health, my husband doesn't spend enough time around adults. Unfortunately, almost all of the playgroups are specifically for moms! While there are a few “parenting” groups, the vast majority explicitly say they are for moms. I totally understand why some women may want a gender-specific group, but it's still frustrating.  In theory, my husband could start his own group, but as he's an introvert, that would be like someone afraid of public speaking volunteering to go on national television in their tighty-whities.

7) My own pride: While I wanted to be the expert in All Things Parenting as the Mommy, my husband simply gets more practice and has stronger skills than I do. As is appropriate for a cook, my husband is better at getting our son to eat solid foods. When he was in his “raspberry blowing” phase, I couldn't hide my frustration while my husband maintained his zen demeanor. I've also come to accept that my husband is simply a better stay-at-home parent than I would be. I get antsy when I'm in the house for too long, annoyed when I can't check things off my to-do list, and crave a variety of tasks. My husband's cooking experience prepared him surprisingly well for taking care of a child - stretches of calm punctuated by unpredictable bursts of rapid, urgent activity, with lots of repetition and a boss that yells at you (although the baby doesn't swear in French!). Also, while I like seeing permanent results, there's nothing more temporary than a meal, whether at a fine dining restaurant or a high chair.

8) My judgement of my husband: Having stayed home for three months myself, I should understand the challenges of my husband's role. But even though I'm familiar with how difficult it is to get out of the house, how emotionally demanding it is, and how constricting the baby's nap schedule is, I still have the temptation to ask, "What on earth were you doing all day?" Thankfully, I resist it – at least most of the time.

While we don't have all of the answers to our own or anyone else's questions, we do know that we're going to do our best to raise our son to be a loving, kind, thoughtful, and curious person. And I can't imagine a better person to teach him those values every day than my husband. 

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Parenting is all about the storytelling - Join Shannon on the adventure at We'll Eat You Up, We Love You So: http://welleatyouupweloveyouso.wordpress.com


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