My Life As A Stay-At-Home Dad
Bellevue WA USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25, No. 2, 2008, pp. 36-37
"So, what do you do when you work?"
I hate that question. It's as if being a stay-at-home father of a preschooler isn't hard work. It's hard to negotiate life with a precocious, strong-willed, wonderful child, though it's gotten easier. At first, when Elijah was a baby, I was terrified of him. Not only was I terrified of somehow breaking him, but as a high-need, breastfed baby, he would have screaming fits if he couldn't nurse when and where he wanted. And this was when my wife was around. Thankfully, she didn't have to leave us alone for long during those first few months. But, when she did leave, I was in terror that my son would start screaming. I'm not exaggerating. Elijah always seemed to think that a whimper or a warning cry was a waste of time. Why warm up when you can start at full blast?
I was so jealous of my wife, Sheila. If he started screaming when she was around, she could just pull up a chair and nurse him. I realize that many mothers reading this may disagree that "just nursing him" is as easy as it sounds, but you need to realize that you have a superpower for calming nurslings that fathers can only dream about. When Elijah would notice that Mama was not around, he would start in on his wail, and I had to rush into action. I would sing, walk, rock, pat him on the back, and try anything that I could think of to get him calmed down. It would often take me 15 to 20 minutes, although it seemed like hours. I was sure that our neighbors were calling authorities to report me for abuse. I was trying, but Elijah knew precisely what he wanted and was not about to take any substitutes.
My wife started working outside our home shortly after Elijah turned one. We were relocating, so I was quitting my job. We discussed our options: I could stay at home, or we could put Elijah in child care and I could get another job. But, we were committed to raising Elijah without child care. There was only one logical conclusion: I would have to face my fears and become a stay-at-home dad. The terror and anxiety that gripped me around the chest was balanced by my excitement and joy at being a father. Elijah is my joy and life, second only to my wife.
The first months of being a stay-at-home dad were a bit rough. I was exhausted when Sheila came home, as if I had just accomplished the labors of Hercules. Most of the day was spent trying to have fun, but naptime was often horrible. Elijah has always lived by the motto: "Naps are a waste of time!" He feels that life is much too interesting to waste it on sleep. But, force of will (no matter how forceful the will) didn't stop him from getting cranky. Since he was only willing to go to sleep when nursing, which I can't help him with, it usually took me somewhere between one to three hours to get him down for his nap. It was not our favorite part of the day. When he decided to give up his nap entirely at age two, I didn't argue. Let's see, that would mean less fighting during the day and my wife and I had the evening to ourselves. Now that's a tough one!
Little by little things got better. It was amazing to me that when Elijah first started talking, I sometimes had to act as the interpreter for my wife! It was a joy to see him grow and change and to be able to see the world from his perspective. I would try to get us outside whenever possible to kick a ball, play on the slide, crunch through the leaves, or play in the snow. My major weapon against crankiness (his or mine) has always been to make him laugh, whether by acting silly or by tickling his belly button (a favorite of mine). The best is when he says, "Stop, stop...tickle me again!" I have found that this is the quickest way to relieve stress and frustration; there are few sounds as wonderful as a child's laughter.
All in all, working as a stay-at-home dad has been the most rewarding career choice that I've made. I love it so much that I have even renewed my contract! Soon, there will be a new baby in our house and big brother Elijah and I will have the challenge and adventure of a lifetime. Screaming and diapers and nursing, oh my!
So, what do you do when you work?