04 January 2017
For any stay-at-home dads out there, are you ready for the most fulfilling but maybe the hardest job you’ve ever had? Along with all the giggles, hugs and finger painting, we at Westchester Health Pediatrics know that raising kids can also feel lonely, frustrating and thankless. Every child is different, and every stage of a child’s development has pros and cons when it comes to the demands on their caregiver. But no matter how you slice it, raising kids is hard work, and to be happy and successful at it, you need clear expectations and preparation.
That’s why we’ve put together these 10 survival tips for any man who is going to be a stay-at-home dad, is thinking about being a stay-at-home dad, or maybe already is one but is finding himself floundering. Let us know if they help!
Our 10 essential tips for stay-at-home dads
1. Embrace the role
Many men who take on the role of primary caregiver resist calling themselves “stay-at-home dads,” preferring to answer the “So, what do you do?” question by naming old jobs, future jobs or jobs they do on the side. The sad truth is that saying you are a stay-at-home dad can still generate unwanted responses ranging from rude comments to misplaced sympathy to uncomfortable silence (thankfully, this is getting better).
On the other hand, if you wear your title as full-time dad proudly and unapologetically, most people will respect that. When you communicate that this is something you choose to do, you will tend to get better responses. (And what do you care about people’s negative, narrow opinions anyway?)
2. Don’t stay home
Being a “stay-at-home” parent doesn’t mean you should stay at home. As part of your daily schedule, incorporate out-of-the-home activities, which could include library time, musical munchkins, nature walks, etc.
3. Find a Dad Group and get connected
Many men have a tendency to push back against the idea that they need outside support, but isolation is one of the biggest hurdles that stay-at-home dads battle—particularly when kids are very young. Next to having the support of your partner, having a community of fellow stay-at-home dads around you is probably the key factor in success and happiness as a stay-at-home parent. Moms are much more likely to have a network of resources and support available to them, so dads have to be more proactive in seeking them out or even starting them. You may feel like the only stay-at-home dad in your area, but trust us, you’re not.
Resources: Check out the Find a Dad Group page on the National At-Home Dad Network‘s site. Go on Facebook and join the conversation at their online discussion group. If possible, attend the annual At-Home Dad Convention. You may find it a watershed moment in your role as a stay-at-home parent, enabling you to return home with new friends, skills and a renewed sense of purpose and affirmation that what you have chosen to do is good and important.
4. Discuss your duties with your partner
From the beginning, you and your partner need to decide what your duties and responsibilities are going to be. Exactly what does “taking care of the kids” include? Cooking dinner every night, cleaning the house, doing laundry, running errands, time off on weekends…all these need to be discussed up-front to reduce conflict and resentment later on.
5. Schedule mental breaks
Life with small children can easily leave you feeling on edge all the time, primarily due to the high level of exhaustion built in. To counteract this, make sure you take breaks, whether it’s an hour in the morning before the chaos starts, time in the evening after everyone is settled down for the night, a half hour by yourself in a coffee shop, or any regular opportunity you can grab to talk to adults. It will do wonders.
6. Do what works, until it doesn’t
Despite what “parenting experts” often suggest, there are few absolutely right or wrong ways to parent, especially when it gets down to the nitty-gritty that makes up 90% of parenting. There are many different ways to bring up an infant, child, adolescent and teenager. Having a set routine and structured environment helps, and all caregivers should be on the same page. This is one of the areas for guidance your Westchester Health Pediatrics pediatrician will discuss with you at your child’s office visits.
7. Remember: this is not forever
Being an at-home dad may not be your job forever, which is helpful to keep in mind during the seemingly endless diaper changes, ear infections and crying jags. Also, we advise you to keep an eye on the future when your child will enter school and stay abreast of ongoing developments within your area of expertise.
8. Be an example that can change attitudes
At-home dads rarely get the respect and recognition they deserve. Your example that fathers can be nurturing, competent and caring parents can go a long way to bringing society at large up to speed.
9. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
As much as you think you can) raise kids all on your own, this can lead to unhealthy levels of stress. For your own sanity and the safety and happiness of your kids, ask for help when you need it. Maybe hire a cleaning person to help with housework or a sitter so you can get to the gym. Call other dads—they’ll know what you’re going through. If you’re really feeling overwhelmed, please seek professional help to help you get through particularly tough times.
10. Soak up every moment
Though the numbers of stay-at-home dads is increasing all the time, you are still fairly different (and some would say, fortunate) from most men throughout history to be able to have this extended opportunity to spend time with your child(ren). So try to enjoy it! Spend at least as much time down on the floor playing with them as you do trying to accomplish tasks while they are distracted or napping. It sounds incredibly cliché, but this time does go by so fast. You’ll blink and your newborn will be walking. Blink again and he’ll be off to school. Blink again and he’s all grown up and out of the house. It’s tough but try to value these precious days (and nights) and cherish every fleeting experience.
Questions? Freak outs? Please come see us
Whether you’ve got this whole stay-at-home dad thing under control or are completely overwhelmed, at Westchester Health Pediatrics we’re here for you with expert advice and guidance to help you raise happy, healthy kids. Make an appointment to come see us. We’ll take as long as you need to get your questions answered and to help you in any way we can.