I went back to work from maternity leave one week after the COVID-19 pandemic had forced schools to operate virtually, companies to close office buildings, and much of Indianapolis shut down. My husband and I had already decided months before this that with his flexible work schedule and grandparents close by, we would be able to keep our baby girl out of daycare 7 more months to save money and hold off on “school” for her until she was one year and old enough to benefit from it. Due to the quarantine and other pandemic-caused changes to society, we made the decision that my husband would take time away from work to help with e-learning and then summer break for our preschooler and watch our baby at home for the foreseeable future to keep everyone safe. He would become a stay-at-home dad. Honestly, I had been trying to talk him into this for a while and the coronavirus was what finally got him to give in.
You see, I’m the breadwinner in our household. I absolutely love being a mom and really enjoyed my extended (almost 6 month) maternity leave with baby girl, but I also have high career aspirations and truly love my job. My husband has never *loved* his jobs and he is the biggest supporter I’ve had through college and my career progression because he sees that I’m passionate and driven in that way. Even so, he’s a male with an ego (like just about each one of them) and he has always struggled with envisioning himself as a stay-at-home dad (aka “Mr. Mom”).
My husband is an amazing father! Yes, he has a very different parenting style than I do and doesn’t run the day like I would, but it is amazing and exactly what my children need from him. He loves his kids and he loves playing with and caring for them. He’s embarrassed being a stay-at-home dad, and I don’t believe that he would ever introduce himself to a new group (don’t even get me started on the fact that we in America always ask people “what do you do?” – ugh!) in that way. But why?! He should be so proud! He shouldn’t feel looked down on or less-than because he’s the primary caretaker during the day!
As I’ve shared our new normal with friends and family throughout this experience, I have learned of many families who are currently or who have in the past ran their households in this same way – and these span over the past 30 years! My best friend’s father stayed home with her in the 90’s, a leader in my company’s husband stayed home with their children 15 years ago, and a friend in our neighborhood just this summer made the same choice that we did to have her husband take time away from work and stay home with their girls while schools were still unstable/unhealthy. Three amazing examples of families that made this same choice for the fathers to become a stay-at-home dad over the last 30 years for their own and different reasons. It worked for them and there’s nothing shameful in that. It doesn’t matter who is caring for the children, as long as they are cared for!
I’ve talked with my husband about his feelings. He feels like he isn’t contributing to the household because he has no income. I try to tell him that his help with the children and around the house ARE contributions and I am so grateful! Even if you consider the money we are saving by keeping our daughter home, that is essentially an income. On top of that, though, is the health of our daughter and the stability she has now that she’s home rather than with multiple caretakers or daycare during the day (not to mention, I’m working from home so I get to see her throughout the day). He agrees that if the roles were reversed, there would be nothing for me to feel embarrassed about for staying home with the kids. Why, then, is it an issue for the father to be a stay-at-home dad?
I don’t have any magical answers or really great advice to give any other families struggling with accepting the non-traditional role of stay-at-home dad in their homes like this. But, hopefully, in putting this out there we can all realize that we are not alone. And, if enough of us raise our hands and say that our household actually thrives in this same way, maybe we can stop feeling shameful about sharing it publicly and proudly!