Stay-at-Home Maverick

Monday, July 08, 2013

Facebook employee Tom Stocky, whose paternity leave is ending, reports on his experiences as a stay-at-home dad. Overall, his experiences pretty much resemble mine. Anyone contemplating such an endeavor for whatever reason, would do well to do the quick read. This is because Stocky is really writing about doing two difficult things at once: (1) starting life as a parent, and (2) assuming a very non-traditional role. While we were in Boston, I took care of our daughter full time, except for a part day off on Friday and whenever I had consulting work to do. There, I had to use babysitters. Daycare was not an option because it was even more expensive than our outrageous rent. In St. Louis, we can use daycare part time.

I think that it is fair to say that parenting is both unexpectedly difficult on a day-to-day basis and very rewarding in the long haul, and that Tom Stocky might agree with me:

For the first few weeks, I missed my old job. The new one was more physically exhausting and less mentally stimulating. Each day was almost identical to the last: wake, change, feed, play, feed, change, nap, change, feed, play, feed, change, nap, change, feed, play, feed, sleep. The fact that my day was interlaced with palindromes didn't make it any more exciting.

A switch flipped sometime just after the 2nd month, when I could more easily imagine myself being happy doing this full time. Maybe it was because she was 2 months older and had learned new and cooler tricks or maybe it was because I was really starting to reap the benefits of my work. It was nice to have her like me so much, to come to me for comfort when she fell, to come and cuddle with me when she got sleepy, to run toward me screaming with excitement after I'd been away for awhile. I realized that's just because I spent so much time with her, but I didn't care, it felt really good. Maybe it was also because I got better at childcare. It feels nice to be good at something, and I got much better at the work I was doing at home.
Now that I am caring for a two-year-old and a newborn, I can say that the improvement in Stocky's outlook was for both reasons: Past a certain point, one can only be so well prepared. One has to "learn" the individual child and there are too many unexpected challenges to adjust to. One almost can't help but improve over the first couple of months. At the same time, very young children, simply by becoming more capable, become easier to care for. You wouldn't believe, for example, what a treat it's going to be for me when my son starts being able to hold his own head up. (Just holding him will become a lot easier.)

But Stocky isn't just assuming a difficult role. He is also bucking tradition.
I didn't like being the only dad at the playground, getting cautiously eyed as moms pulled their kids a bit closer. It probably didn't help that I tried to lighten the mood the first time by saying, "Don't worry, I'm not going to nab your kid, I already got this one." I felt awkward at the mid-day baby music class, like I was impinging on an established mom circle, so I switched to the 5pm one that had more dads.

But honestly, I got used to most of that, and I understand that websites, classes, and organizations are targeting their primary demographic. If I remember correctly, something like 96% of full-time parents in the US are women.
While I never made the mistake of joking about the obvious apprehension that many people have about men at the playground, I have had my share of awkward moments. (These are by no means due only to stereotypes about men as caregivers.) Stocky goes on to discuss other common prejudices about full-time dads and his observations are spot-on.

Stocky notes that his return to work will come with mixed emotions. I am in the midst of a difficult career change made harder by the economic depression and the fact that I have had to move twice over the past few years due to my wife's career. I am sure that, as happy as I will be to see my career progress upon my eventual return to full time work, I will miss full time parenthood very much.

-- CAV

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