Choosing to be the stay-at-home parent happens to be an option for a fortunate few of us. The number of dads opting to be the one to stay at home is growing, but it’s still perceived as unconventional. Recent statistics have shown that only 4% of dads in two-parent families opt to take care of the household duties and kids full time.
We have two daughters: a six- and a two-year-old. Our eldest attends a local public school, while the youngest spends a few hours each day with my mother-in-law. Before our second was born, our work situation was a lot different, and we only had Sophia to take care of. She went to a nearby daycare centre, and depending on where I was freelancing, Anh and I shared the drop-off and pick-up responsibilities. But two children make a huge difference, and the impact on family routines is compounded.
My decision to be a stay-at-home dad was based on a number of factors. Firstly, we needed to know we could cover all our expenses with only one salary. My partner works in public relations, while I was in design. After our second daughter was born, and our eldest had just started school, Anh landed a private sector job which could cover our mortgage repayments, bills, school fees, and most dad-to-day expenses. While my income would have made paying off the mortgage a lot easier, I thought seriously about what impact this would have on our kids.
The school schedule was the biggest factor here. I could have put Sophia in out-of-school care for both morning and evening, but that would have meant very early starts for everyone, and late pick-ups allowing for a quick dinner, some homework time, and maybe a story before lights out. On top of that, we would be relying on in-laws to take care of Lucia, or get her into daycare much earlier for very long hours.
In short, we would be seeing our kids at their grumpiest, and they’d be experiencing us at our most worn out. I realise for many, this is just a reality, and many families make do in a number of ways.
So we tightened our belts a little, and I opted to take care of the girls in the mornings, pick them up in the afternoons, prepare dinner, and let them enjoy some play time together (and with me) before the night time routines of teeth brushing, pyjamas, and bed.
It hasn’t been easy, tho. Just the morning rounds take about 2 hours out of my day. Bed times are not easy, often ending in each of us waiting out one kid… and falling asleep in the process. An awful side effect is not speaking to each other sometimes for days.
It only took a few months for the inevitable loss of self and purpose to set in. Everything boiled down to being life support for three other people. I would get up an hour earlier than everybody else to get myself showered and changed, pack everybody’s bags, and maybe have a coffee, before rousing the rest of the family out of bed so they could be rushed out the door. I would spend the intervening hours between drops-offs and pick-ups doing various household chores – laundry, dishes, gardening, vacuuming, shopping – with a quick break for lunch before rushing out to do the afternoon rounds. In short, there was no longer any time to claim for my own. I lost contact with many friends; I stopped going out at all; I lost interest in things that once had motivated and excited me.
So after some time, we discussed strategies to claw some of that lost time back. We spoke about getting a cleaner to come in every few weeks and do some of the household tasks: cleaning the bathroom, mopping, a thorough vacuum, etc. I would still take care of laundry, dishes, shopping, but freeing up a little time each day would allow me to have a little time each day to spend on me.
I began work on a comic called Homebased, all about being a stay-at-home dad. I set up the website, researched the best outlets to release it, and scheduled posts. It felt like regaining a lost piece of my soul: I was drawing again… even if it was for a few hours a week. It’s gained an enthusiastic audience – and not all of them parents. I’m currently working towards 100 strips in the hope of collecting them in a future book.
I also joined the local gym, and work out three mornings a week. This has given me an energy boost which has made such a difference in dealing with the kid’s needs.
We’ve found that the key to making our partnership work has been to list all our combined responsibilities – earning money; kids needs; chores, etc – and then discuss who can take care of what. Regardless of which partner stays at home, it’s generally a good idea to set a budget for expenses. Hiring help is nothing to be ashamed of, either. There are many affordable services available, and it’s surprising what a difference just a little help makes to the overall running of things.
None of this has lessened the demands of taking care of a household, and it took a lot of time to reach an equilibrium that is working for us. Parenting is a hard slog, and it’s relentless, with no breaks, no sick leave, and you hope against hope that one day it will pay off for everyone, but after 6 and a half years of parenting, we’ve found that in general we’re happier than when we started.
Paul’s comic Homebased can be found at http://www.homebasedcomic.com it can also be found on the Tapas and Webtoons apps available for iPhones and Android.