Stay-at-home dads are on the rise. In 2010, 1.9 million American men were primary caregivers to their children, and by 2014 that number grew to 2.2 million, according to the Pew Research Center. That means about 1 in 5 parents are stay-at-home dads.
If you’re considering becoming a stay-at-home dad, or perhaps because of circumstances beyond your control, you have become the primary caregiver, read our article first. We have come up with helpful information for you on what it means to be a stay-at-home dad, the everyday challenges you will most likely face, the pros and cons of being one, and advice from other successful stay-at-home dads who have been there before you.
The bottom line?
The sooner you get over yourself and embrace being a stay-at-home dad, you can get to the important job of raising your son or daughter to be the best person they can be.
What Does It Mean to Be a Stay-at-Home Dad?
Being a stay-at-home dad is a big job that requires a wide range of skills. It’s not just about caring for your kids, cleaning the house, and reading bedtime stories. You need to do those things like any other parent.
It’s about accountability for every aspect of your child’s life, including their health and education. It’s also about patience when things aren’t going right, accountability when there’s no one around to tell you what to do, and the perspective of recognizing that parenthood is a marathon, not a sprint.
Without question, a stay-at-home dad isn’t a walk in the park. You may see other stay-at-home parents who may make it look like it’s all butterflies and rainbows but trust us, it’s not. You don’t get to see the times it’s not.
Becoming the primary caretaker will test your limits and character more than any “normal” job you have ever had or will have to do.
You are your child’s first and most important teacher, so your words and actions shape their future. When you’re a stay-at-home dad, you need to be flexible because you have to account for your kids’ school hours, extracurricular activities, and other essential things they need to do.
You will also need to be patient, empathetic, and kind, and can manage your time well. You need to be a good listener and communicator who is open to feedback and advice from others. You need to be creative and resourceful, able to think outside the box and come up with solutions to problems on your own. Finally, you must handle pressure and deal with criticism from your partner, mother-in-law, or even your child.
Being a stay-at-home dad is no vacation. On the contrary, it will be your life’s most demanding and important job.
Common Challenges Stay at Home Dads Face
Struggling to find your identity and self-worth is a common challenge faced by stay-at-home dads. At some point, you must address your feelings and thoughts about your role.
Remember that you’re just as valuable as anyone else, even if you don’t have a paycheck to show for it. You have to fight to keep your self-worth intact because the world expects men to be providers, strong, ambitious, and successful. It expects us to be the ones who go out and make the money while the women do the rest of the stuff.
But success isn’t, and shouldn’t, be defined only by how much money you make.
Success should be determined by what kind of impact you make on your child’s life.
You will impact your child’s life whether you like it or not. It’s for you to determine what kind of impact that will be. When you approach being a stay-at-home dad with this mindset, you will see it as a “job” you embrace instead of a “job” you are given by default and circumstance.
When you’re a stay-at-home dad, you may also face isolation, loneliness, and depression. You may feel like no one understands you or what you’re going through and that no one has the same struggles as you. You may feel like you’re constantly failing because the tasks you have to do are so big. You may feel like you have the only kid with tantrums and meltdowns.
It can be hard to ask for help when you need it because you’re the one who’s supposed to take care of everything.
You’re the one who’s supposed to know everything.
But here’s a secret.
When you go to the playground and see all those parents with their kids, guess what. Most parents are feeling the same way you are. They are questioning their parenting style. They wonder if their kids are the only ones having tantrums and meltdowns over the stupidest things. Many of them will feel they are failing.
The point is that these feelings are normal when trying to be the best parent you can be.
You can recognize a parent a mile away when they have empathy and patience because they’ve experienced it and seen it when kids do the stupidest of things. There’s no real judgment there. They’ve experienced it. Soon, you will too.
The other thing to remember is that there are more stay-at-home dads now than when you were a kid. It’s nothing to feel ashamed about. Take your ego and throw it away.
At the end of the day, it’s not about you. Remember that. It’s not about you.
Screw what society or social norms say about a dad caring for their children. Society isn’t raising your kid.
Pros of Being a Stay-at-Home Dad
There are many benefits of being a stay-at-home dad. Most importantly, you get to be part of every important milestone in your child’s life. In addition, you get to be there for your child whenever they need you the most.
You may think that’s all a bunch of fluff. But as you get older, you will realize the memories that stay in your mind aren’t the times you spent in the office.
Instead, those moments with your family and your children will be everlasting.
And the maxim you’ve always heard is in fact true. Your kids will grow older faster than you think. They’ll be a point when they stop holding your hand. They will be out of the house and to college or wherever they’re going before you know it.
As a stay-at-home dad, you have the opportunity to become the most impactful and positive influence in your child’s life. It’s a huge privilege and even greater responsibility.
Cons of Being a Stay-at-Home Dad
As we mentioned earlier, being a stay-at-home dad has many challenges. For one, it can be a thankless job. If you thrive on external affirmations about your job, you will have to learn to live without them. You have to first understand and come to grips with why you’re there in the first place.
Change your mindset by fully accepting your role as a stay-at-home dad. You can’t become a stay-at-home dad part-time or when you feel like it. You’re either in or you’re not.
If you want to go back to work, you may have difficulty getting hired at your same job because you have been out of the workforce. But all of that can be explained. You don’t need to hide that if you decide to return to the workforce. Be upfront that you consciously choose to spend some years caring for your children. Do you know how many stay-at-home moms have had to do this? The point is that you have to be intentional in a different way when you return to the workforce. You’re not going to apply in the same way you did when you were single or when you weren’t taking care of your child.
Also, just because you are a stay-at-home dad doesn’t mean you are a prisoner, although, at times, it certainly feels that way. Take the time to expand your career skills through, for example, online courses, volunteering (with your child if possible), and networking.
Networking? Don’t you have to go to cocktail parties to network?
You do know that there are stay-at-home parents who had high-powered jobs before they left the workforce, right? The network is already there for you, the most powerful network in the world — the parent network.
The entrance to the parent network? Your child.
The easiest way to network with your child? It’s called playdates.
Get on your local listserv. Go to the playground, circle times at the library, and museums. You literally have a network of people in the same situation you are in at your fingertips. Tap them for advice.
Help each other out and learn to lean on one another. You’ll be surprised how much people are willing to help you once they trust you as a parent. There’s nothing that reveals a person’s character more than how they interact with their child.
Being a stay-at-home dad is the most rewarding job you can ever perform. But if you think it’s easy and everything goes to plan, you live in a fantasy world. It’s a full-time job with no annual performance review, no 401k, and pays zero dollars. So you need to be prepared to handle the challenges.
That starts with a mindset that fully accepts your role as the stay-at-home dad. You need to be ready to face the social criticism that exists in your mind and sometimes with ignorant people. You need to thicken your skin and remind yourself each day that you’re there for your children and no one else.
Being a stay-at-home dad is one of the most selfless, honorable things a man can do, and it’s an experience you’ll never forget. If you’re considering becoming a stay-at-home dad, ensure you’re prepared mentally. You must be ready to put your kid’s needs ahead of your own and be prepared to take on the challenging role.