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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20 comments:

  1. The answer to what do you do all day is really simple. I stop my child from killing themselves/eating whole packets of marshmallows while watching them play. I am not allowed to touch the toys and if I move they will stop playing and instead try to injure themselves while 'helping' me. Apart from that, great post.

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  2. My husband is also a SAHD and he is amazing at it! He does work two nights a week as a bartender. He gets a chance to get out of the house with adults while bringing home extra money. The schedule is tough but we are making it work for us (which is what's important...right?). I would like to add MIL to the list of Domestic Enemies. I think she means well but it's hurtful. My husband is super intelligent so I think she feels like he isn't meeting his potential and also...when is he going to stop bar tending.? The thing is...he is doing the most important job there is and, for our family, it's the best case scenario. We are super fortunate to be able to make this work...and no...it isn't always easy but it's totally worth it. I do find people making judgy comments that if the roles were reversed and I was at home they wouldn't make them. Great post...Thank you!

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    1. Yes! My FIL considers me the b who killed his son's career rather than the person who liberated him from a job he hated. Ugh.

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  3. My hubby is also a SAHD. He's fantastic at it.
    Two more items that I'd add to my list:
    1) My own OCD. I have three kids. A teenage step son, a three year old girl, and an incredibly destructive two year old boy. Every day, I come home and see an incredible disaster area, and have to stop myself from being critical of my husband and/or cleaning frantically. I know my husband has them clean up periodically throughout the day. They just make more mess than can be cleaned.
    2) Other kids' moms, and their significant others. My husband would LOVE to take our kids to hang out with their friends. He would love for them to be able to play peaceably with other kids instead of trying to murder each other. But the fact remains that there are very few right minded husbands/SOs that would be cool with some other guy hanging out with their wife/girlfriend/baby momma all day. My wonderful spouse is respectful of that, but it definitely hinders his ability to have adult conversations/sanity/company for our kids. We've resorted to enrolling the kids in classes at places like MyGym (which has classes for kids 6 weeks to 11 years).
    Shannon - tell your hubby that our family thinks SAHDs are AWESOME.

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  4. Great post! I wish my husband could have been a SAHD, but he just doesn't have the motivation to get anything done when there are no outside constraints (or to turn the TV off). Financially, it would have been a great option for us and I would have loved for our child to be cared for a parent all day long. Props to the poster for having a husband who can step up and rock this role. What an amazing gift to your child!

    BTW - There's a dad on that show Parenthood who's a model SAHD.

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  5. 1000x yes. My husband is a SAHD to our 8 month old, right now struggling with the lack of interest people show in his occupation, which is Dad! I think it's something SAHMs also struggle with... but unlike a lot of SAHMs, my husband only has a few people who can really empathize with him. As in a few, I mean the one other SAHD in our group of friends. Regardless of the challenges, our kid couldn't get any luckier to have his dad by his side every day.

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  6. As a Working Wife of the Stay-at-Home Dad, I was so happy to read this article. FInally an article that not only speaks the truth about what we as working Mommies go through, but also an article that does not depict the Stay-at-Home Dad as some sort of inept man who doesn't know how to clean, cook, or take care of things at home. I am proud of my husband for being a SAHD. I am proud that he has excelled at cooking the meals, and taking care of the household duties. He has grown tremendously as a person and a man the past 3 years. So, for all the naysayers out there, I say pfft. The sacrifices we have made, have made us stonger!

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  7. My husband is a SAHD also, and now that the kids are older, he's trying to get back into the workforce. Ladies, you'll get to deal with a whole other load of crap when your hubby gets to that stage! "Why haven't you worked for x years?" translation: whats wrong with you. I'm surprised he hasn't had to field questions about who the "Real Man," is. The lack of daddy groups sucks, and if you are in a very rural area like us, they don't exist. And if I get one more lecture about how he should just take "any job," (yeah, Dad & stepmom, looking at you!) I am going to punch someone in the face. Ok, so he takes a crap job for $8 an hour, but daycare costs $15 an hour. So basically, we are spending $7 an hour for him to work. That means no second income. This advice comes from allegedly intelligent people. Hang in there SAHD and working moms. And don't apologize. Meet their BS pity and concern with "Oh, I'm glad your kid is in daycare so society can justify why they became serial killers!" (Friday can't get here soon enough!)

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  8. My husband was a stay at home dad for almost a year after our first son was born, and will be again when I go back to work after maternity leave. He started off nervous and frightened of our 2 month old son and grew to be an expert in all things baby. I trust him implicitly with the kids, he is great! I still wish it was me at home with the kids but I'm blessed to have a good job and make enough money to support us all while he can take care of our children. It does make for an awkward conversation with friends and family though. I hope that changes soon!

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  9. Oh, people ask SAH Moms when they're getting a "real job" or "going back to work" all the time. It just pisses other people off on their behalf more often than id does when they're rude and ask the dads that. It's equally unfair, just thought I'd point out that the moms totally get asked too.

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    1. Definitely! Much love and support to the author and her family. I just know that people asked/ask my mom (who was a SAHM starting in the 80s) all the time, both then and now: "when are you going back to work? "What do you do all day?" "It must be nice to have all that free time." "what happens if you get a divorce" (seriously?). Stay at Home parents across the board definitely get the short end of the stick on that one.

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  10. Thanks to everyone for the support! I'm glad to hear that I struck a chord for all of those fellow married to SAHDs. Mum mum, I actually do know what he does all day, it's just so tempting to say it when I know he never got out of the house or an important chore has remained undone. I try my hardest to bite my tongue though.

    - Shannon

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    1. Sorry I sounded snarky. But that question drives me nuts.

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  11. As the wife of the guy who wrote the Domestic Enemies of the Stay at Home Dad post a few years ago, it amazes me how we still have these double standards and messed up expectations about who is the better parent to stay home. In the end, it is no one's business why you decide what you do for your family. After 10 years of being a SAHD family, we have had so many wonderful conversations with our children, their friends and family members about gender roles and breaking down stereotypes. Fortunately my husband has the self confidence and wit to respond to those well meaning ladies at the play ground and grocery store who think he needs help. He started a dad's group in Baltimore, and most cities have them - look online. They actually have an annual convention!
    Hang in there and be proud that you're both knocking down some walls and setting a fabulous example of gender equality for your kids. I know I wouldn't be where I am in my career without my amazing husband at home, and our kids and our marriage are better off for our arrangement as well.

    The interesting part of our story is to come since after 10 years my hubby is reentering the paid workforce. Fortunately he has chosen a career path -teaching - that doesn't hold as firm a stigma against people taking time off to raise children. Those "traditionally female" professions are much more SADH friendly ironically!

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  12. If your husband is an introvert, he can stop worrying about the whole playgroup scenario. We live in the country and getting together for playgroups is pretty difficult as we live fairly far from other families. However, our kids went to preschool a couple of hours a week for the two years prior to kindergarten and we attend church, so they see other kids there. Otherwise, we weren't real big on pushing to get kids together. Now that our kids are in school, I've seen no signs that not being part of a playgroup has hurt them. They have plenty of friends. I think those are really more for the stay at home parent (which is fine) than the kids. I do feel for @Anonymous above whose husband would really like more of a daytime social life, though. I hope they find something that works.

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  13. Stop worrying about what other people say and think. It is none of their business.. Just do what is best for you and your family,

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  14. I could have written this, almost word for word! Every point is spot-on!

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  15. Check out the Aussie TV show House Husbands. Not a comedy about inept dads but drama/comedy about the lives of 4 stay at home dads

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  16. Shannon now there is also doc mcstuffins which has a stay at home dad who may have a background as a cook (he always seems to be cooking something) and a mom who works as a doctor.
    I was raised by a stay at home dad and he was wonderful. Our household dream is for my husband to be able to stay home with the kids at some point. We can't swing that financially right now, but it is our hope and I fully intend on responding to any questions or criticisms with 'taking care of our kids *is* his job' :)

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