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Their reactions are nearly always ones of surprise: when people ask me about my family and what my husband does for a living, I tell them he stays home to take care of our daughter and I work to support our family financially. He’s a stay-at-home dad. Whether verbal or nonverbal, most people’s responses are tinged with bewilderment. You’d think I told them my dogs stay home and care for my toddler while I’m at work (though in all honesty, they’re damn good dogs and I’d trust them with the job more than a stranger). For whatever reason, the very idea just seems unnatural to most folks.
Currently, in the United States, only about 16 percent of the parents who stay home with children are male. Luckily for me, one of them is mine.
I’m not entirely sure what people think stay-at-home moms do all day, but a lot of folks apparently think it boils down to pretty much nothing — maybe with some intermittent TV watching or elaborate Pinterest crafting. I can only assume, then, because public support for moms who stay home is so much higher than for dads, that uninformed people presume my husband is at home watching sports and counting his pubes.
When our daughter was born, my husband and I decided that I would work to support our family and he would stay home to care for her. We decided against putting her in daycare because we knew we couldn’t afford it. In comparison to my husband’s high school diploma, I have a BA and very nearly an MA. Although it’s taken me many moons to get going, I’ve finally started finding and getting reasonably decent jobs over the last few years — things like office jobs, jobs with paid time off, salaried jobs. That’s something neither of us nor our parents had ever had. Simply put: I can earn more money more easily than he can.
There’s also the issue of temperament. My husband is better suited for the job of being a stay-at-home parent than me, especially considering the crippling postpartum depression and anxiety I battled for the first year of our daughter’s life and work to manage even now. He is better able to handle the boredom, loneliness, and general stress of it all. His tall, tattooed, and beefy stature belies how gentle and patient he is — especially with our daughter.
We save a ton of money on childcare, but of course there are costs. None of this is free — except for the labor my husband performs daily. Both of us are chronically exhausted because we don’t get breaks. I work full time job and do as much freelance work as I can while he doles out the relentless care and supervision a toddler requires. We have very little expendable income, and we both experience our own senses of parenting sadness: he misses pursuing his own ambitions, I miss witnessing my daughter’s accomplishments, minor and major. Despite all this, our current arrangement is the best one for us.
While he doesn’t contribute anything financially, he absolutely supports our family in other, just as fundamental, ways. I say this as honestly and earnestly as I can — not in a, “Hey, look, here’s a dude who’s being a parent. He should be rewarded for doing his job,” kind of way, but in a “Hey, this is the reality of my life that is not at all related to this bullshit narrative we have about fathers in our society and I want to add my 2 cents,” way. When I hear tales of women whose husbands or baby daddies can’t be counted on for much, or for anything, I am reminded of what a wonderful man I married.
He trudges through the mind-numbing tedium of maintaining a house and keeping 2 dogs and a toddler alive with no days off. He’s not perfect by any means, and he doesn’t always do everything to suit me, but he does nearly all the laundry, dishes, and cooking. He makes the budget, does the grocery shopping, and pays the bills on time. He kisses bumps and bruises, sings to her, reads her stories, changes her diapers, wades through veritable pools of urine to potty train her, and uses the living room as a preschool to teach her everything from basic counting and spelling to obscure dinosaurs and the names of all 44 presidents.
He makes it through Mariah Carey-esque shrieking toddler meltdowns that leave windows rattling and lesser parents (read: me) at their wit’s end. And while he certainly loses his temper, gets burnt out, and sometimes runs out the door for beer before I’ve even set down my bags, our daughter is happy, healthy, stimulated, and secure in the love her parents give her. The peace of mind of knowing he’s there taking such good care of her is utterly priceless.
Stay-at-home parenting is a thankless job, no matter which parent does it, but it’s one I can’t thank my husband enough for doing. I think I’ll save him a trip and pick him up a 12-pack on the way home tonight.
A bonafide country girl, Brook Bolen is a reluctant urban transplant living with her husband, daughter, and pitbulls in the heart of the Dirty South. Her claims to fame include once being named Khia’s #wcw and having Larry Gaitlin as a follower on Instagram.