By: Revanche

Stay at home dads: logical choices

May 21, 2012

Recent discussions about money, higher-earners and expectations, external and internal to the relevant family members, has conveniently coincided with the point in time where we start talking about trajectories for the future.

I was fascinated, and disturbed to see, value judgments still being passed on choices like whether dads should stay at home with the kids. I completely understand having a strong personal preference one way or the other, but I’m not a fan of declaring one way right or wrong when harm isn’t being done in the pursuit of building and rearing a family.

I wandered into a parenting forum that disgusted and outraged me on the subject. One woman was stomping all over the thread (population: single dads/stay at home dads/dads being the primary caretakers for other reasons) telling all the posters that they were second class citizens, the second but worst choice, that they were harming their children by choosing to be home with them instead of leaving them with the women in their lives, because “women are naturally better at caring for children”. Her claim was that at childbirth, women are gifted with the skills and a level of cognition that men can never achieve, so men are bumbling incompetents apt to do more harm than good interfering with the women’s right to raise the children.

In this day and age, that was difficult to see.

When people are constantly decrying the deadbeat dad, the detached dad, the long-gone dad, how on earth does someone have the gall to decry those men who are choosing their children over their career or choosing to make their career work with their children as the first priority? And what about those situations where the mothers/females are not in the children’s lives because they simply cannot be or choose not to be?

I can tell you this much: giving birth to a child means you are capable of giving birth. I have never in my anecdotal experience of seeing dozens of cousins, first, second and third degree, and coworkers, have children, seen it confer any level of parenting expertise that outmatched anyone else’s if that person didn’t have a brain to begin with and resources to coach them. I say this from having learnt how to care for three children alone, a toddler and two infants, while their idiot mother swanned off for several hours to hang out. Because she figured a seven year old was appropriate childcare for her 3 kids under the age of three. And from watching more than one coworker smoke and drink her way through pregnancy and then wonder why her kid was on a respirator at birth.

So what makes the “choice” more or less “ok”? If it’s not a choice and one has to be forced into the situation due to unemployment, disability, or other circumstances beyond one’s control?

That was the situation my relatives found themselves in: the husband was becoming obsolete in his field due to rapid technology changes and the cost of staying up to date was beyond their means. With the kids, it made sense for the dad to stay home with them. Yes, they were poor but they weren’t latchkey kids. And for all I know, that could have been the choice that saved our family from eventual meltdown.

Good friends of ours consciously made that choice. Dad could have kept a horrible commute to make more money but his wife made good enough money for their household and it was better for their peace of mind to always have Dad with the young ones rather than babysitting with family (which meant no rules!) when mom wasn’t home so that’s what they did.

Let this pessimist declare that judgment system flawed.

I’d much rather try to make as conscious a choice as possible and plan ahead. I know what it’s like to be raised with not much in the till or on the table, and I saw how much my parents struggled with not having anything at the end of their lives. In the middle here, I’d like to attempt some informed choices that include all possibilities.

I like to think I’d choose to be a mother who stays in the workplace because I don’t think I’d be stellar at caretaking while I know I’m awesome at professional work. I know this because I’ve spent over 20 years caring for family and children, related or not. I love them dearly but it’s exhausting and I simply didn’t have the instinctive biological yearning that my mother did to want to continue to care for children. I’m not bad at it, in fact, I am a great sitter in a pinch, but I’m no Child Whisperer. In contrast, love or hate my job at the time, I’ve always been good at it. And even if I’m in pain, I can do my job. And when it’s really bad, I can work from home or take a sick day. You cannot take a sick day from your kid!

PiC, on the other hand, may not have 20+ years under his belt but he is goooood with kids. They love him. They love uncle to distraction. At any age, at any time of day or night, Uncle is awesome. And he has so much more energy than I do. And to him, a job is a job is a job. It’s there to make a living, he’d rather be (fill in the blank). He understands how to live life – which is what grounds me when I’m willing to be grounded away from work.

He’s never loved his work to the degree that I do. My theory is that he would be way better at home with kids than I would. I have no real idea if he’d survive nap times and setting structure but he’s so good at ignoring a clingy Doggle that I’m certain he’d set boundaries after a while. Men parent differently and I know he’d make it work.

Financially, it could be a little tricky. Frankly, at the moment, he has far superior benefits. Mine are mediocre. If we had a family, I’d want his coverage. I make more now but I need to make way more if we were to lose his salary. In part, because we’re still covering my dad. But things could definitely change. I could find a better gig with better benefits, or at least different benefits, and then it could work.

At the end of all this, this is only the Right Now.

My health hasn’t improved appreciably over the last ten years and has in some ways, declined. This is a reminder that we cannot take our health and capabilities for granted.

There are so many unknowns:

What’s my actual health and earning life span? (No idea.)
What if he takes a break and has to go back to work? How does that work? (we could sort of plan for that)
What if I have to be the one to take a break?
How does that affect earnings and savings?
And what about cultivating alternative income?

And honestly, we could just change our minds and want something totally different from what we thought we wanted. I not only want, I need and expect that to be ok. That’s why any of this: choice.

5 Responses to “Stay at home dads: logical choices”

  1. Heh, yes there are a lot of crazy people on parenting forums.

    Neither of us could stay home full-time with our kids (well, we could but we wouldn’t be happy about it). Our first one was so crazy active (and slept so little) that he needs multiple adults just to keep up, and I’m guessing the second will be even more so given how she is in the womb. Even if we didn’t have to work we’d need additional childcare.

  2. oilandgarlic says:

    In general, I would stay away from parenting forums. I can only take them in small doses.

    With kids, the best thing to do is plan /think ahead and save so that you do have choices when the time comes. I really didn’t have the choice to stay home since my husband freelances (and I have medical insurance) and I sometimes still get upset about that. I did think he would be better at home but lack of sleep affects him way more. I have more patience for the kids in general. However, I did get more sleep since I have to get up early for work so that might account for my patience!

  3. Allison says:

    I’m still shocked by all the people out there who think that there is only one way to make a family work. Different people with different financial situations and different desires, will have different priorities and plans.

    I don’t know if we’ll have kids, but if we do, we’re the ones with all of the information, so we’ll be the ones deciding who stays home, for how long, and what we’ll do for childcare! And if people don’t like our decision, too bad for them! (of course this attitude is much easier “said” than “done”…)

  4. LOL! Parenting is all about judgmentalism. And believe me: everything is always the mother’s fault. If it’s not her fault, it’s the mother’s AND the father’s fault.

    Children thrive on attention and love. Doesn’t matter whose attention and love it is. For cryin’ out loud.

    The big consideration on who (and in these lovely days, “if” there’s a who) stays at home is financial. Secondarily, it’s who hates his or her job the most.

    When you’re not working, you’re not paying into the Social Security system. A lacuna in your earnings record will cut the amount that you’ll be eligible for when you reach so-called “full retirement age.” Thus, because child care and homemaking are not valued in our culture, the parent who stays at home will find her- or himself at a great disadvantage when old age arrives.

    On the other hand, for your generation that may be moot. By the time you reach 68 or 70, Social Security as we know it may no longer exist. Sooo….might as well do what suits you.

  5. Katie C. says:

    Totally agree with this! We’ve been having lots of conversations at work lately about men as caretakers and doting fathers. New Guy is all about children. He loved his nieces, nephews, and godchildren as if they were his own. I wish all men felt comfortable putting their children before their work. Maybe it’s a societal expectation thing, maybe it’s a lazy thing… Whatever it is, I wish we could get to the place as a nation where things like childcare were no longer considered a “women’s issue.” How is this a women’s issue? Are there not two people raising the children who need childcare? It’s a HUMAN issue. Women do not have any more ability to care and nurture a child than a man does, and I’d love for that excuse to just go somewhere and die.

    This is off topic, but your introduction reminded me of a post I read recently on whether or not a couple should combine finances. The post was written neutrally. It was totally fine. Until you get to the comments where people (including the post author) call people with separate finances “not all in” their marriage. Or say they, with their combined finances, trust their partners more than people with separate finances. And I just want to scream. How does a couple having separate finances threaten you or hurt you in any way? It doesn’t? Then STFU. It’s none of your business, and it’s definitely not your place to tear them apart. /rant

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