A couple of years ago, my wife Anna came home from work and told me that she’d done something that day that made her entire day better and she couldn’t wait to tell me all about it.
She explained to me that she’d been inspired by something she’d been reading (Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, I believe), and had made it her personal goal that day to look for the opportunity to validate someone. She’d keep her eyes peeled for someone who seemed to be doing a thankless job, and make sure they know that someone saw their hard work or personal qualities and appreciated them. And so, at some point that day, Anna went out of her way to validate one of her co-workers on a job well done (the details of which are lost on me now), which led to hugs and bonding and both of them feeling like a million bucks.
I was so proud of her.
And I wanted to do it too.
Ask a dad who has spent even a small amount of time out alone in public with his kid (or kids), and he’ll probably have an anecdote about how somebody asked if he was “babysitting” that day.
It’s one of the more annoying little digs at the importance of fathers-as-equal-parents that probably happens unconsciously, but it happens a lot. I’ve learned to usually shrug it off, but it’s always the sort of comment that makes me shake my head.
The truth is, the vast majority of people know that such a question is, well . . . dumb.
Most, even those who are not parents, would say (or think) the same thing in such a situation: “When a dad is taking care of his own kids, it’s not called ‘baby-sitting.’ It’s called ‘parenting.'” That’s just common sense, it seems to me.
The U.S. Census Bureau apparently disagrees, according to a recent New York Times post:
When both parents are present in the household, the Census Bureau assumes for the purposes of its “Who’s Minding the Kids?” report, that the mother is the “designated parent.” And when the designated parent is working or at school, the bureau would like to know who’s providing child care.
If the answer is Daddy, as it was 26 percent of the time when these numbers were last released, in 2005, and 32 percent of the time in 2010, the Census Bureau calls that “care.” But if Mom is caring for a child while Dad’s at work, that’s not a “child care arrangement,” but something else. Parenting, presumably.
“Regardless of how much families have changed over the last 50 years women are still primarily responsible for work in the home,” said Lynda Laughlin of the Census Bureau’s Fertility and Family Statistics Branch. “We try to look at child care as more of a form of work support. “A mother, said Ms. Laughlin, is “not only caring for the child only while Dad works. She’s probably caring for the child 24 hours and so Dad is able to go to work regardless.”
It’s bad enough that, by their definition, I am not even a “stay-at-home dad” at all, because according to the U.S. Census Bureau you only count as one of those if you have gone 52 weeks of the previous year without making any income. In fact, just looking for job, even part-time or freelance work, means you’re no longer a “stay-at-home dad,” you’re just an unemployed member of the “work force” and acting as temporary “primary caregiver” in the meantime.
(If you ever wonder why the number of stay-at-home dads is seen as so low, this is why. By this self-reported definition, the Bureau reported only 174,000 stay-at-home fathers in the U.S., perpetuating the idea that dad-as-primary caregiver is a rare thing and making those who do it out to be some sort of aberration. Yet, by their own numbers, they also reported that fully one-third of fathers with working wives regularly acted as primary caregivers for their children. One third!)
So let me get this straight . . .
The fact that, in addition to caring for my two boys full-time, I do a little bit of freelance work on the side and have produced a couple of children’s books — that have netted me enough money to treat myself to a grande Java Chip Frappuccino (no whip) — I am not a “stay-at-home dad,” but simply acting as “primary caregiver” at times.
The fact that I have XY sex chromosomes means that when I am acting as primary caregiver for my own children, while my XX chromosome’d partner is at work, I am just one more available kind of “child care provider.” I am not “parenting,” but merely providing a service to the “designated parent” (my wife), not unlike a nanny, au pair, or daycare center.
I think the lesson here is that I need to ask for a raise.
Tucker and I recently started playing this little thing I call the “Sleep Game”.
Basically it amounts to one of us saying “sleeeeeeeepy” and feigning sleep. Then the other joins in the feigned sleep, usually with us both laying our heads down on each other. Then one of us will yell “Wake up!” (or the toddler version, which sounds more like “BA BAP!”) and we’ll both pop our heads up as if startled awake. He loves it, and will often giggle that infectious giggle of his, until tears are running down both of our cheeks.
At first it was just an excuse to have him cuddle up “asleep” on my shoulder when he was in a particular “I want to be held” kind of mood. I was the only one who called for wake up, but now he not only calls the commands too but we even play it in the car (not while I’m driving, I promise) as well as when goofing around the house together.
What can I say? I love to make him giggle. It’s the best.
Anyhow, the other day we were playing in his room together on the big bed that we set up in there for Grandma and Grandpa’s visit last week, and Tuck started up the game…
Last Monday, my wife and I decided that we were going to shut off the television for the week.
You can read my ruminations that brought us to the decision here, but I thought it appropriate to give a little update on how things went.
First of all, I really wish I could say that this was some sort of particularly eye-opening experience for our family…
…but I’m not sure that would be an honest appraisal.
Not that we are ignoring lessons learned or the value of doing this, but just that, for the most part, it simply wasn’t a big deal for any of us.
This morning I was lying in bed with my eyes closed, still awake from Anna’s goodbye as she left for work, when Tucker started to stir. And by “stir” I mean I could hear through the baby monitor that he had started that still-sleepy whine all parents come to know.
It was a little earlier than normal, so I thought I’d give him a few minutes and maybe he’d fall back to sleep and allow me to get a little bit more as well? Then the monitor went quiet, and I hoped for the best, but shortly after he started chatting.
It’s unusual for him to wake up and go so quickly to talking (I can only assume he was conversing with Pooh Bear), so I took the chance to just lay there and listen to what he was saying. I won’t recount everything, although I thought it particularly funny when I heard him say “Where Bunny? Oh… Bunny sleeeeeping.” Adorable.
A few minutes later the actual crying and pleas of “Up? Up?” started, so I went to rescue him and we started our day.
Anyhow, what struck me though were the very first words out of his mouth that morning:
“Elmo? Where Elmo?”
There are a handful of things during a pregnancy that one’s friends and family often wait with baited breath to hear about.
There’s the initial announcement, of course, commonly getting a lot of “I knew it!” responses from those who suspected. There is, assuming the parents wish to find out and/or share, the news of the baby’s gender (and much guessing and predicting about it beforehand). There’s the Big Day, when baby arrives.
And then, assuming there isn’t an assumed tradition involved (William Charles Kingston IV, at your service), there is the big revelation of baby’s name.
This week my wife is out of town in exotic Minneapolis for some business meetings, so it’s just Tucker and I for a few days.
It’s always a strange time, with her gone.
There is a guaranteed extra level of exhaustion, obviously, but time with just Tuck and I alone isn’t really anything new for me. Essentially, it amounts to 2-3 hours each evening where I don’t have my usual “tag team” reprieve, and some slight adjustments to the bedtime routine. No biggie.
The worst part is us both just missing her, frankly.
So this isn’t the situation you see often where a dad is frantic about having to go it alone with the kid(s) for a time while mom is out of town for a few days or even just out for the evening. But what it did do was make me reflect on how often you do see that: friends on Facebook or Twitter, posting about how they’ve “survived Day 1” or what-have-you.
I want to make clear I’m not saying I’m any better than those dads because this isn’t a big deal for me. I totally recognize that any change to your regular routine can be stressful, particularly if it means having to do things that are out of your comfort zone. But on the contrary what I really want to stress it that this frantic worrying is, in most cases, completely unneeded, because most dads are way more competent than they think…
…and sometimes way more they’d have you think, too.
Sometimes what I need most is a reminder that this special time with my son Tucker is going to be limited, and to make the most of every moment we have.
The other day he and I were playing like we often do with his favorite big green rubber ball (his “BAOW”) in the living room. Tuck loves it. I’ll kick it or throw it, then he’ll chase after it, giggling all the while, and bring it back for more. I’ll encourage him to try throwing it back to me, but his arm is pretty terrible right now so he usually just shoves it at me and then runs away, laughing and trying to anticipate where I’m going to send it flying. It’s a hoot, even if in some ways it’s not unlike playing “fetch” at this point.
We do a lot of running around, and as the old fat one in the game I tend to wear out a lot faster than he does. So this time I ended up eventually sitting down in the desk chair, but continued to toss the ball as he brought it to me. I’d just watch him joyfully chase after it from my comfy chair is all.
But inevitably, the siren song of the computer called to me, and I started turning away to read snippets of emails/blogs/tweets while he ran around…
Recently New York Magazine featured a cover story entitled All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting.
It’s an interesting look at the conclusion that many social-science researchers keep coming to recently that, contrary to popular belief, having children doesn’t bring happiness but actually makes adults less happy.
From the perspective of the species, it’s perfectly unmysterious why people have children. From the perspective of the individual, however, it’s more of a mystery than one might think. Most people assume that having children will make them happier. Yet a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so. This finding is surprisingly consistent, showing up across a range of disciplines. Perhaps the most oft-cited datum comes from a 2004 study by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize–winning behavioral economist, who surveyed 909 working Texas women and found that child care ranked sixteenth in pleasurability out of nineteen activities.
Honestly, I find the whole idea of asking whether having children “brings happiness” as any sort of a YES/NO thing to be kind of a silly, loaded question.
A couple of weeks ago I was asked to be a guest on the awesome new Band of SAHDs podcast. I had a great time chatting with some of my fellow SAHDs about what we do, about this blog and about my comic. It was a blast.
During the show, one of the listeners (pretty sure it was fellow daddy-blogger PapaRocks6) posted a question for me in the chat room, which was basically “What is your parenting philosophy or strategy?” and a further question asking “What impact do you want to have on your son?”
I think my off-the-top-of-my-head answers were pretty good (they seemed to like them, at least) but it really got me thinking about the questions after the show, since it’s something I’ve never really put down into words before. At least, not in a way that I can encapsulate in any sort of concise way like “attachment parenting,” or intentionally strategize it as authoritarian, permissive, or any other specific adjective. I know I want my impact to be more than just playing a role in helping him survive to adulthood.
So, please indulge me as I ponder the questions a little more, here…
The subject of “dad in the delivery room” has come up a lot lately and, surprisingly, it has often been by people saying they are against it.
They suggest a return to keeping dads out.
Some dads have written about witnessing the birth of their child having caused a loss in the spark of their marital intimacy with their wife. One “expert” claims that a man’s presence causes the mother to be more stressed out, prolonging labor and increasing the need for more drugs or c-sections. Another even suggests that if a man is there he can’t really do anything and ends up feeling like a failure of a father from the start — making him less likely to be involved later, his ego shattered.
For all of them, the answer is apparently to get men out of the room entirely, I guess to go sit with Don Draper in the waiting room.
To paraphrase Jane Austen:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a baby in possession of a good humor, must be in want of an audience.
It’s been said that you will never in your life meet anyone funnier than your own children, and I think whoever said that was totally right.
Now, I don’t know that this is necessarily a universal experience. There are exceptions. I’ve actually met some pretty dour parents and babies in my time. But it’s pretty standard that no one can crack a person up like their own kid can, and I know that in my case I sometimes feel like I have, in the person of my 20-month old son, the single most hilarious, entertaining kid in the history of kids.
Even with this blog being as new as it is, I sometimes feel like I write ad nauseum about how much tougher at-home dads have it compared to at-home moms.
Not difficulty with the job itself, necessarily — although I guess you could say women are still often “groomed” for it in a lot of ways from a young age, whereas men typically have a much steeper learning curve, initially. Rather, I mean in regards to what sorts of resources are available, and how much support and understanding one gets in choosing to stay home rather than put your kid(s) in daycare. We’ve come a long way, definitely, but we have much further to go.
However, today I’d like to talk about another of the Great Untold Perks of daddy-hood (the first Perk being naps), which is this:
Dads get far more praise for doing far less than your average mom.
I’ve mentioned previously the difficulty most at-home dads experience in finding playgroups, support, or just other at-home parents with which to socialize. It opened up a whole can of worms in my head on the issue of our relationship to at-home moms, and how they can be a huge blessing or an incredible frustration.
It’s no secret that when it comes to the world of parenting resources, 99% of them are geared towards women. There are certainly lots of books on fatherhood and how to be a good dad, but most of these are from the standpoint of how to be a good, involved father, when you’re out of the house at work 40+ hours a week and missing out on a lot of time with your kid. This is understandable, and I’m all for anything that helps equip a man to be a better dad, obviously.
Being an at-home parent can be incredibly isolating, but for at-home dads the isolation tends to magnify.
This isn’t news. Isolation is something every at-home parent experiences at some point, to some degree, particularly during the cold/wet winter months when going for a walk probably means looping around through the local mall. But if you’re an at-home mom, and you seek them out, there are tons of wonderful mommy groups, “moms and tots” activities, and even just general resources available to help you find fellow mommies for support, advice, or just to have an adult conversation with once in a while.
Not so for dads though, sadly. Not so at all.
Naturally, in the initial weeks after a child is born and he or she is still figuring out life outside the womb, most parents quickly find that baby’s nap-time is also their only chance to catch a little bit of sleep too. But what you may not know is that this can last well past infancy — so much so that parents of toddlers literally dread the day when their child’s nap-time comes to an end. When your baby’s naps start to become fewer, but longer, it becomes an indispensable time to get things done . . . laundry, meal prep, cleaning, dishes, paying bills, showering . . . but it also grants the opportunity to do something that most working parents can only dream about: take a nap of your own in the middle of the day.
This isn’t exactly news to most moms. In fact, ask any at-home mom, and if she’s honest, she’ll admit that the return of (usually) guilt-free daytime nap to the life of an adult is one of the Great Untold Perks of being home with your kids during the day. This is, however, something at-home parents don’t talk about a lot, lest we encourage the false image that being an at-home parent means a lot of sitting around doing nothing, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Naps are not just beneficial (according to both a 2005 NASA study and a 2002 National Institutes of Health study) but I submit they are necessary for the caregiver of even the most angelic toddler to function at their best. And hey, 46 million Spaniards can’t be wrong!
With a few rare exceptions, dad-as-primary-caregiver portrayals in the media (be it movies, television or commercials) fall into two basic categories:
- The bumbling dad who is forced into caring for the kid due to the loss of a job. This is always, always played for laughs.
- The bumbling dad who is suddenly thrust into a caregiver role through the sudden absence the kid’s mother, through death or abandonment. Here it will sometimes be played as a tragic circumstance, initially, but eventually for laughs as well as the poor guy struggles with diapers and how to feed and clothe a child without getting pee’d on.
“Sitcom Dad”, as he’s known, isn’t a new phenomenon by any means, nor is it limited to at-home dads. Working dads often receive the same bumbling, know-nothing portrayal as well when it comes to doing anything domestic or child-related — with the possible exception of discipline or playing video games. We’re all familiar with the exasperated wife character whose husband is little more than a large child.
I’d only been an at-home dad a month or so when I found myself telling my well-meaning and supportive parents not to call me “Mr. Mom.”
It wasn’t cute anymore and, frankly, was starting to bother me.
Way back in 1983 when John Hughes brought us the movie Mr. Mom, there is no doubt that the idea of a stay-at-home-dad was far, far less accepted and understood than it is today . . . though I guess that isn’t saying much. And to be completely fair, when all was said and done Michael Keaton’s bumbling dad character was able to get organized and find his feet (and his purpose) in caring for his kids, and the movie finishes on a positive note for at-home dads everywhere.
Unfortunately, what the movie mainly did was cement “Mr. Mom” into the mindset of millions of moviegoers as a cute thing to call any dad who takes on the primary caregiver role for his children, forever encapsulating such a role in an emasculating pink robe. Even today, 27 years later, you’re hard-pressed to find a news story about stay-at-home dads that doesn’t include a clip of Michael Keaton bumbling through changing a baby.