When I was a kid, my dad worked long, hard hours at a job he didn’t particularly love because … because that’s what dads do. Or at least that’s what I was taught. As the youngest of three kids, I didn’t get a lot of time with Dad. Even though our mom worked, she was around more often, and she changed jobs whenever she needed so it could accommodate our growing — and ever-changing — schedules. It was clear that, to her, career came second.
As I grew up, I always just assumed that my family pattern would be more or less the same. Regardless of whether I loved my job, I’d work as hard as I needed in order to make enough money to make sure my family was well cared for.
But, as corny as it sounds, life never goes the way you plan. And I couldn’t be happier.
When my wife, Liz, and I had our first child, I endured a punishing schedule in a tech company. I was expected to work long hours, weekends, and holidays so we would meet targets and keep the company in the black. As a consequence, Liz spent a lot of those early days alone and, she told me later, lonely.
Eventually, she decided to go back into the work force, which meant we had to seriously look at daycare options for our then-10-month-old baby. Let me just say: The options were bleak. The city we live in is very expensive, and daycare for an infant was topping out at around $1,700 a month. That was more than my monthly take-home salary at the time, so it was clear that a tough decision needed to be made. Do we restructure our budget — and possibly lose some of the comforts we are used to — to accommodate the cost of daycare? Or does one of us stay at home with our kid?
After a lot (a lot) of discussion, it was clear that Liz’s career was more lucrative. So rather than spend more than I was making, we decided I would leave my high-pressure job and become a stay-at-home dad.
The first few weeks were harrowing. The baby was still breastfeeding, and he had a hard time adjusting to Daddy being around all the time. Honestly, so did I. It took some time for me to get used to the drop-in centers, the coffee dates, and being the only man on the stroller stroll. After a life of flying solo at the office, being constantly around a drooling, snotty baby was an adjustment. I didn’t even really understand how often I needed to feed or change him until I was with him day in and day out.
Eventually though, wearing the title of “stay-at-home dad” became a source of pride for me. I liked being able to teach my son his first words, and how to use a spoon. And I loved being there for milestone moments, like helping him take his first steps. Witnessing that — all while watching Liz’s career flourish — made me proud of the decision the two of us had made, gender norms be damned.
That was five years ago, and since then, we’ve had two more kids. Before our second son was born, I decided I wanted to go back to work for a bit so my wife could take some much-needed time off. Rather than another high-pressure tech job, though, I worked in a hotel — a job I’d had many years ago. Because my boss was accommodating and the days were less stressful, what started as a short-term solution eventually became a great, part-time job for me.
Plus, being a SAHD — and then partially returning to the work force — made me realize just how strong my relationship with Liz was (and still is). Regardless of what society expects us to do, the two of us have always taken the time to check in and see what the other needed. Our decision to make me a full-time SAHD made sense for our family at the time, as did the decision for me to pick up a part-time job. But Liz and I made those choices together, and rather than force one of us to do something that they may not really want, we do our best to find balance. I’m not saying we’re perfect but, if anything, this experience has taught me that we’re a team.
These days, I still hold that part-time job, which means I still get to always be around for my kids. I love that I’m the one who gets to put them to bed every night and spend time on the weekends with them. I think if I had stayed at that tech job, I would have regretted missing those moments. Sure, things can get hairy with our brood of three, but I never would have truly understood what it takes to be a full-time parent, with all the schedules and meal prep and planning.
I’m not saying being a stay-at-home dad is for everyone. It’s hard to be the only dad at circle time, and figuring out what your baby needs can be a challenge. But for me, it’s always been worth the ride.