How Does a Stay-At-Home Dad Do It All on His Own?
Short Answer: He doesn’t. At least, not in my case.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. That might be a slight exaggeration, but only slightly.
Spending 9-10 hours a day with him by myself gets to be pretty stressful some days, so when my wife comes home between 6-7pm, she usually sort of takes over as captain. I usually take an hour or two to unwind and relax a little bit while my wife handles poopy diapers, feeding, and entertainment.
I usually join up with her again later in the evening to help out, because those evening hours are the worst for him, and it’s hard to handle on your own. He’s tired (because he barely naps), he’s grumpy, he’s hungry, he’s stressed. He’s a two-person job.
Single Parents Are Heroes
That’s no hyperbole. My mom was a single parent for me and my two sisters. She was married for a few years in there, but she was still basically the only parent in the household. For a lot of it, she had help from my grandma, but that’s still basically a one-woman show.
I may be a stay-at-home dad, but I am by no means a “single parent.” My wife wakes up at 4 AM to feed the baby and then again around 7 AM. She gets him back to sleep (if he’s cooperative), and heads to work for 8-9 hours before she comes home to take care of a sometimes very grumpy baby. Actually, let’s add my wife to the list of heroes.
On top of that, about once a week, Dear Son goes to grandma’s house so I can have some solid time to work and clean around the house. I also have my parents, my brothers, my sisters, my grandma, and my friends that have given us tons of support, love, advice, and experience.
So yeah, it takes a village.
Marriage is a Partnership
I’m lucky enough to have a partner in this crazy parenthood adventure. My wife and I typically have a great balance. We do a lot of the baby entertainment together, but most of the time, we pass the baby back and forth, one taking over when the other needs a break.
We also split up the housework pretty well. We’re both lazy and messy, but we never let the other do all the work if one of us gets into a cleaning frenzy.
Honestly, my wife is the biggest factor in keeping my sanity while trying to take care of this kid. She understands that my days tend to be pretty stressful and it’s difficult to actually get any work done. So if I’m behind on my writing, or need to update the blog, I’m free to lock myself in my office so I can focus for a while.
Don’t Put Your Kids Before Your Marriage
I’d heard this little piece of advice for years before I actually had a kid or a marriage. To be clear, that doesn’t mean you don’t care about your kids, or even that your significant other should get more attention than your baby. A baby naturally requires tons of attention. A normal functioning adult shouldn’t even want as much attention as a newborn gets.
And I’m an introvert, so I want even less.
It just means that you can’t put 100% of your time into giving your child attention or de-stressing from the process. You can’t put your marriage on hold for 18 years (or more)
I think I had actually heard it so often that I took it for granted that it would be super easy. All I have to do is remember that advice, right?
Well, as it turns out, it’s not that easy.
It tends to happen slowly, without you even noticing. I know that because I’ve let myself fall into that trap this whole week.
Babies tend to go through these huge leaps in mental development every few weeks where they learn new skills and discover more about the world around them. It also tends to make them inconsolable crying machines for a week or more at a time. That means a lot of stress for Mr. Baby Manager.
My Father’s Day Failure
For us, that meant that when my wife came home from work, she would take the baby and I’d go incommunicado for the rest of the night. My wife and I would talk a little bit, but I was mostly wrapped up in working on a blog post, or just trying to do nothing at all, so I could unwind for a little while.
But this is exactly the trap I was warned about. I was taking care of the baby, then disappearing so I could do my own thing, basically just putting my marriage on the back-burner.
A few days ago, Sam was having one of his trademark inconsolable days, and when my wife got home, all I wanted to do was hand off the baby and relax.
Unfortunately, this was also the day that my Father’s Day gift happened to arrive.
I can’t explain how awesome this actually is to me. I love my nerdy t-shirts, and I love dressing my baby in nerdy diapers and onesies. But when my wife cut open the package to show me, my reaction was a weak, “Oh. Nice,” or something to that effect. I was still holding the baby at this point, and my mind just wasn’t open to excitement at that point.
I was quiet for most of the rest of the night.
My wife asked me at one point if I liked the shirts or if I thought they were too cheesy. I didn’t realize until hours later that I probably should have shown some enthusiasm, or at least picked up the shirt to look at it.
Marriage is About Communication
So I wrote my wife a letter. I apologized for being so distant and told her what had been on my mind.
We talked throughout most of the next day about the stress and how we were balancing things. My letter helped things, but there’s no quick-and-easy solution to things like this. You have to keep working hard every day, and keep making an effort.
As my wife put it, “We didn’t get together to take care of a baby. We have a baby because we got together.“