Warning: Ninety percent of the stay-at-home-parents that read this will be publicly outraged. Seventy five percent of stay-at-home parents will secretly rejoice.
Hanging out with your kids all day every day… it’s supposed to be great, right? Teaching them to play ball, video games, wrestling, ice cream, whatever. It’s supposed to be a Hallmark moment, right?
We’re supposed to LOVE the opportunity to be a stay-at-home parent. In fact, the debate that rages between working parents and stay-at-home parents (almost always involving women… us dudes are never really given a voice in the debate) always seems to focus on:
- Materialism: “I need to work to provide my kids with iPods and trips to Disney World!”
- The needs of the parent to work: “I need to prove myself in the workplace/ be productive/ climb the corporate ladder!”
- The needs of the kid: “I don’t want my kid to be raised by strangers!”
Not too many people mention another issue… maybe we just can’t handle being around our kids 24/7. Some parents will joke about it under the guise of the “drunk mommy” shtick, but few are willing to admit a fundamental truth:
Some of us just aren’t well-suited to be stay-at-home parents.
Over the summer, I’ve been a stay-at-home-dad. Shelly took an administrative job with a local police department. My former close-to-full time job at a lumber yard didn’t pay enough to cover the cost of daycare, so we made a logical choice. I’d work one day a week and stay home the rest. It made financial sense.
I spent weeks planning all the cool adventures we’d tackle. We didn’t have a second vehicle, so we’d ride bikes and scooters. We’d get a healthy dose of culture, exercise, and excitement!
- We were going to make a weekly trip to the library to work on reading skills.
- We were going to travel to local markets to explore new foods for lunch each day.
- We were going to go to the park and learn a variety of sports.
- We were going to take occasional longer-range trips using public transportation.
- We were going to start a ‘home improvement” project to replace a fold-out couch in our RV.
- We were going to set up a “daily responsibility” list so each child could learn to contribute to the household operations.
I was going to be epic!
So what really happened?
Reality set in.
I failed to consider some of the obstacles… namely weather. San Diego is well-known for the temperate climate. Unfortunately we’re living east of San Diego where temperatures routinely hit 90-100 degrees. That, coupled with the intense sun, made travel on foot especially difficult after 9 a.m.
As ultrarunners, Shelly and were fully capable of traveling many miles in extremely hot conditions. Too bad my kids aren’t ultrarunners. Travel after about 10:00 a.m. became exceedingly difficult if not borderline dangerous. As such, the outings were close to impossible. That eliminated the library, trips to the local markets, and the parks.
That relegated our adventures to the 300 square foot trailer or the campground. It didn’t take long for boredom to set in. The older kids (nine and seven) would entertain themselves about half of the time, but four year old was perpetually bored. That required frequent attention. Having to continually interact with them made it impossible to do anything productive (like write books) or enjoy more than three minutes of silence.
Eventually we settled into a barely-tolerable routine where two of the kids would play together and I would entertain the third. On the rare occasional all three played together, I could be assured a fight would break out over which kid gets to lick the picnic table first.
Needless to say, I am exceedingly excited school starts today.
It’s difficult to admit we may not be well-suited to be stay-at-home parents. Society sends us a few messages, including:
- We should love spending time with our kids, even if we’re ALWAYS with them. They will only be this age once, and we should enjoy every second. People are fond of saying things like “When they’re older, you’ll wish they were still this age.” No, I won’t. People said that about their baby years. There’s never a time I wish I could repeat that time. People only say this because they forget the shitty diapers, lack of sleep, or constant crying.
- If we have negative feelings, we should become a martyr and bury them. After all, our kids are our most precious resource. Sidebar- I’ve written extensively about the martyr complex, including how it poisons relationships. Bad stuff.
- Keeping kids occupied is easy. I get this claim from people that have boring kids. “When my kids are bored, I just <insert something I’ve tried repeatedly> and the problem is solved. You’re just not doing it right.” This is the one that I find especially annoying. I’m well-versed in kid psychology. There’s an excellent chance I tried your suggestion. Just because it works for your lame-ass kids doesn’t mean it’s going to work for mine.
Bottom line- we’re led to feel guilty if we admit we’re not cut out for the stay-at-home parent gig. That’s bullshit. Instead of making each other feel bad about our perceived shortcomings as parents, let’s discuss ideas so we can figure out what parenting strategies work best for our kids, our environment, and ourselves.
I’m a bit of an introvert in that I need down time. I need a little bit of silence on a regular basis. Without it, I tend to go a little crazy. As a stay-at-home-dad, I rarely if ever got that silence.
Some of us just don’t have what it takes. And that’s okay.
With my current schedule, the older kids go to school for about seven hours during the week. Ty, the youngest, goes to daycare three days during the week. That gives me about 21 hours per week of alone time, and another 14 with only one kid (infinitely easier than three kids.) That’s more than enough to be able to recharge, get some writing done, and even allow me to do nothing on occasion.
I’m curious to hear from other current or former stay-at-home parents that may have or have had the same issue. Specifically, what is it about the experience that was most difficult?
Share your thoughts in the comments!
Also, if you know of other stay-at-home parents that may find this interesting, share with them. I want to solicit as many opinions as I can to start a good discussion.