When I made the transition from being a gainfully-employed husband and dad to a stay-at-home father, I had no idea of the depth of the situation I was walking into. I’ve heard plenty of war stories from my own mother and grandmother about the challenges of raising kids, but it’s kind of like when someone tries to explain how good or bad a particular food tastes...you never really “get it” until you taste it for yourself.
After being unceremoniously relieved of my duties at work, I found myself in a brand new reality. My wife had a two-year-plan for me to stay at home with our girls instead of rushing out looking for the first job paying. In hindsight, I’m wondering if she knew what she was doing by enlisting me for this duty as some kind of punishment for some past misdeed or offense. But there I was being offered the opportunity to not have to commute or spend sixty dollars a week on gas, another sixty on lunch, bow down to an incompetent boss or tolerate annoying co-workers. I’d be crazy to turn that down.
So here I am, almost two years into the gig and like they say in the Navy, “it’s not just a job, it’s an adventure!” I’ve been doing hard time with our three-year-old, Zari and our twenty-month-old Morgan, never really certain of who’s who in the inmate/guard dynamic. But I do know that no 9-to-5 could ever offer rewards to match that of watching your children grow and learn or the daily surprises they bring to your life. I’ve learned a lot about my family and myself during this valuable time and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Here are just a few of my favorite situations and lessons learned from a new stay-at-home-dad:
-I'll never forget the day Zari discovered her shadow. First she ran from it, then she tried to fight it and eventually she danced with it. All I wanted was for both of them to sit down somewhere.
-They told me that babies shouldn’t sleep on their stomachs but Morgan wouldn’t sleep any other way. So there I was at 3am: paranoid and watching her sleep when I realized, whether I was awake watching her sleep on her stomach or awake trying to get her to sleep on her back, either way…I was awake.
-I knew I was a good daddy when I could watch a great football game in silence so as not to awaken the sleeping baby in the room.
-There came a time when I knew I had to apologize to many of my friends who were parents before me whom I may have offended with unfair comments and comparisons between their living room and romper room. I may have also wondered out loud “Who runs this house, you or your kids?” They’ve all forgiven me and recognize that I spoke out of ignorance.
-Ownership of the girls changes between me and my wife depending on what that child has done. For instance, she’s “your” daughter when there’s something nasty in a diaper but she’s “my” baby when she says something polite or sweet.
-I stopped the big song and dance celebrations we used to have for Zari when she used the potty when I realized that everyone else would sing and dance right out of the room leaving me behind to clean up the “accomplishment”.
-As much as Zari loves our dog, it hurt me to have to tell her that she’s the reason he never comes out of his doghouse when we’re outside.
-Every once and a while, you may want to stay up all night like the old days. Your spouse may want to stay up all night like the old days. But you AND your spouse better not stay up all night like the old days because kids will want their breakfast bright and early regardless.
-It may be hard to believe but Sesame Street does not always send the right message to our children. One day I heard Bert tell Ernie, “what’s wrong with a little dirt as long as you’re having fun.” Who wrote that?
-A dad can only take so much. There was no way four of us could continue to sleep in the same bed every night so I put my foot down...and now I sleep on the couch. But at least I get the big TV!