Antiquated stigmas dictate that a man’s value is not measured in how well he can care for an infant throughout the day, it’s measured in how much money he can bring into the house to support his family.
Which is why it can be such a gut punch to the system for men to admit that their full-time job is to stay at home with the kids in a role reversal of societal norms. For fear of being labeled everything from Mr. Mom to Daddy Daycare is enough for most fathers to feel a bit emasculated.
But the fact of the matter is that being a Stay-at-Home Dad (SAHD) is becoming less of a punchline and more of a reality for many families. The National At-Home Dad Network says almost 1.4 Million dads are the ones changing the diapers and feeding the babies in the middle of the day as the primary daytime caregiver for their children.
As a work-from-home writer who happens to have a kid hanging around my general vicinity throughout the day, you could probably slap me with the label of 1) hypocrite – for not stepping up to the plate and calling this what it is and 2) an actual real life SAHD.
I get it. I’ve been there, too. Even the acronym for SAHD reads like a long drawn out version of the word “sad.”
It can be overwhelming and sometimes even a bit lonely without opportunities for conversations other than the usual “toss daddy the ball” or updates into the well being of your child’s favorite pup from “Paw Patrol.”
Wearing a baby backpack to the store in the middle of the day attracts stares and looks of confusion from the people not used to seeing a male stepping into the role as the primary caregiver for a baby.
But there’s nothing to be down in the dumps about over being a rockstar dude that takes care of the kids.
Many stay-at-home moms have plenty of online resources or just anecdotal evidence from friends and family members that can help them succeed in the daily grind. But even though the trend is building for more involvement from dads who stay home, it’s still pretty barren out there for advice on how to win the battle of baby care.
It’s important to put some systems in place to create the right habits to succeed.
Here are 10 habits of successful stay-at-home dads:
1. Figure out your ideal schedule.
Humans are creatures of habit, no matter how big or small, young or old we are. To keep your sanity, and keep the kids from dominating the day, find some normalcy by getting a routine and keeping to a fairly regular schedule. Plan some activities for the day, build in some quiet time and work out a few ways to get the kids involved and outside so they can get some vitamin D and (bonus) even tire themselves out from all the outdoor activities.
2. Roll with the punches.
While you have your own schedule all mapped and strategized harder than a football coach before kickoff, the kids ain’t got no time for that. Temper tantrums, diaper blowouts and insert randomness come at you harder than a fastball from an ace closer (yes, I just mixed up my sports metaphors, deal with it). It’s your job to find creative ways to get around these situations, keep the kids in line and keep your sanity in check. Be ready for the obstacles and understand that they are all just short-lived blips in the radar, you’ll be back to that game plan in no time.
3. Define the role.
Once you’ve taken the plunge to being the dude that handles the rigors of the day-to-day duties of cleaning up the doody, the first step isn’t rolling up the sleeves and diving into the diapers, it’s to negotiate. Chat with your partner about the expectations regarding the role of being the stay-at-home parent. Will you be responsible for dinner every night? Who’s doing the laundry? What about the regular housecleaning? If you don’t figure out the right balance and division of labor from the outset, it can lead to a bigger battle down the road.
4. Embrace the role.
Too many dads are embarrassed to be the ones staying at home while the better half is the one bringing home the bacon. When prompted to detail their jobs or careers, most SAHDs will quickly launch into some incoherent ramble, or jump into a prepared talking point about working from home on [insert whatever side project]. GTFOH. It’s time to buck this fear of being emasculated. Staying at home with your son(s) or daughter(s) is a huge responsibility and it is not for the faint of heart. Be comfortable knowing that you’ve stepped up to the plate to take on the job of a lifetime.
5. Find some personal time.
It can seem like an endless game of Groundhog Day when you are the dude in charge of the house during the daytime hours, with only a small person to keep you company throughout the day. It can be lonely – even though you have another human being around to talk to. But without another adult to have real life conversations with, you can find yourself going a little nuts with all the work it takes to keep a youngling fully functioning day in and day out. Take at least a few minutes every day to try and get some “me” time – go for a walk in the morning/evening, meditate, workout, play a videogame. Do something, anything to get away from the diaper drama and recharge.
6. Take care of yourself.
Too much constant attention to the little ones of the group can leave dads forgetting one of the most important things – taking care of themselves. Taking on the task of the day to day care of kids is physically and mentally draining. Find the time ensure you are able to bring your A-game to the playing field. Eat well, exercise get as much sleep as possible (easier said than done with babies around the house) and avoid the trap of the dreaded DadBod. It’ll go a long way toward keeping you fresh for the challenge.
7. Don’t be afraid of the Mean Girls.
We’ve come a long way from the days when men considered the stay-at-home duties to be solely for the females of the group. But, we still have some progress to make in terms of co-mingling in the department of dads and moms all hanging out at the play yard. Most stay-at-home dads find it hard sometimes to break into the mom groups, because of the fear of coming off like a douche, or just because they feel intimidated by the idea of approaching a gaggle of SAHMs. Understand that we all have a lot more in common than we’d perhaps even like to admit. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation. It’s important to have some adult conversations with other real life adults throughout the day. Listening to your favorite podcast does not count.
8. Get connected.
You don’t have to be all lonely dude in the park listening to your podcasts and hoping that a mom will come over and talk to you for a few minutes about growth spurts and learning development. Find some male companionship – as corny as that may sound on the surface. But, dad groups like City Dads Group and the National At Home Dad Network and dad blogs like DaddyMindTricks.com (shameless plug) are terrific resources and places to find common ground with other dudes who’ve made the transition to dads and stay-at-home dads. They offer classes and bootcamps on how to manage some of the day to day rigors of childcare, like diaper changes, and provide opportunities for like-minded dads that just want to bond with other dads.
9. Ask for help.
Super dads are not a thing. Too often, the stay-at-home parent of the duo gets this burst of ego that says they are the only ones that can perform the task of leaping tall buildings and changing diapers in public restrooms. We don’t realize that it truly take a team to tackle this task head on. Just because you’ve got some super-awesome system for managing 15 things at once and handing it off to your partner may mean sacrificing the specific order of events that you envisioned, don’t let your ego block the way. Ask for help if you need and prevent potential burn out.
10. Don’t settle for the lowered bar of expectations.
According to the ridiculous lowered standards portrayed by most sitcoms and advertisements, all dads have to do to win the fatherhood game is show up, try not to fart too much and make sure the onesie is buttoned at least somewhat properly. That’s absurd.
Again, we don’t have to be Captain America level of excellence, but we can certainly be better than pre-Super Serum Steve Rogers. Understand that every day isn’t going to be awesome – some days will downright suck – but as long as you are striving to be a pretty decent dad, strong role model for your kids and proud teammate and support system to your partner, you’ll end up having more of those awesome days than the poopy ones.
For the fellow fathers that may feel similar emotions of defeat, embarrassment and total envy of others that managed to make career or business decisions work, there’s only one way to approach this and that is with gratitude and positivity.
Flip the script on its head and understand the fortunate opportunity that you’ve been granted. Not many dads have the chance to stay at home and send actual quality time with their kids. Embrace it. Enjoy it. But by all means, find some positive systems and habits so you can also survive it.
Pete Cataldo is co-Mastermind of the fatherhood-focused men’s lifestyle blog DaddyMindTricks.com, and co-host of The Parental Advisory Podcast where he shares his take on the zany trials of being a first-time dad committed to cultivating a world of more devoted and involved fathers. A former TV Sports Anchor, Pete now spends his time writing, blogging, podcasting and lending his voice to commercials as a professional voice over actor. An accomplished journalist and writer, Pete’s work has been featured in EarlytoRise.com, the GoodMenProject.com, CityDadsGroup.com and RomanFitnessSystems.com.