So, given recent events on our website and some recent questions regarding how to deal with filling a non-stereotypical role on various stay-at-home-dad (SAHD) groups I’m a part of, I thought it appropriate to write about those topics. My hope is that this will help raise awareness and increase consideration when dealing with those dads who are taking a more supportive role in the household, but the reality of it is that those that read this are probably already aware and considerate.
First things first, there will always be ‘haters’ and the decisions you will make will more than likely upset someone. Knowing that helps increase the level of resolve in making some choices particularly where your family is concerned, but sometimes even that level of resolute awareness isn’t enough. Especially with choices that are emotionally charged and/or deeply rooted in a sense of self.
Choices that revolve around becoming a SAHD and not being the person who provides the paycheck for the family may seem easy to deal with on the surface (like hearing someone in the line at the grocery store say, “Man, I’d love to not have to go to work”) but they’re not.
We’ve been raised in a patriarchal society where the man is the person who brings home the money (and even then is judged on how much he brings in and his position at where he goes to bring that money in) and the woman is the person who stays at home with the kid(s) and is the caretaker of the house. We’ve seen just how our society reacts to those that break from those stereotypes. While times are changing and considerate awareness is growing (in aspects of more than just SAHDs), there are still those situations of intolerance and ignorance.
We’ve all, by now, heard the statement that when dads are alone with their children, they’re ‘babysitting’. While it may have been said in a joking manner, it’s not. It’s derogatory and demeaning. It’s a thought process that belittles and invalidates the efforts those fathers spend with their child.
We are all people, encountering other people in a single moment, and placing assumptions on motivations of actions in that moment is just plain ignorant. Most people I meet are not Sherlock Holmes, so they should stop acting the part. We do not know what led that person to that moment, we do not know their motivations for doing what they are doing and certainly can’t read their thoughts to discover who they are. Even friends and family we’ve spent significant time with aren’t open books or 100% predictable.
There is an easy way to help curb this behavior, that, unfortunately requires a level of awareness that people tend to ignore: Ask yourself, before you speak, what it is you expect to receive by saying what you are about to say. We may not be able to read the thoughts of others, but our own thoughts are right there. Listen to them. Talk to them. Have a conversation with them about this situation. In other words, think before you speak. Sometimes this is an epiphany to some, particularly when a father, who was the ‘bread-winner’ is now the one at home. For me, it opened up a whole new level of respect for those parents who stayed at home.
Given the new path being forged by the SAHD, it can be difficult to be resolute in the face of confrontation with what has always been viewed before as inadequacy. Especially when it’s new to the particular SAHD or when there are issues of self-worth being worked through in accepting the new role. To those who are, new and veteran alike, I have some things to say (and I’ll keep saying them):
You are awesome! You are doing what’s right for your family, your child(ren) and yourself. You are setting an example of the wonderful diversity inherent in humankind. You are courageous enough to face the potential societal slings and arrows. You are showing your love to your partner and to your children. They see you being present and they see how you deal with those obstacles that breaking from the normal parameters can bring. You are not only their parent, but also their teacher. You are their window into how to cope with a world who doesn’t always accept things that break from stereotypes. They also see that you are human, imperfect and emotional. What they see, they become.
Show your children what it means to be human. What it means to be a parent. What it means to put forth that effort in a way you’re not used to and a way that breaks from the norm.
Show others respect, for we don’t know what brought them to this moment or why they would say hurtful things (whether intentional or not) but have the courage to call them out on it, with the faith that your child will see you, and will follow suit when they’re older and able.
You are their example of what they can become. Be you, so that they can be them.
So, if you see a stay-at-home parent, whatever role, be considerate and understanding. They work hard on more than just physical chores.