I have been a Stay At Home Dad (well, at least for the most part) ever since our son Benjamin was born back in July 2015. Today, almost three years in, I love every bit of it. However, that has not always been that way. Being a Stay At Home Dad can be intimidating and stressful, especially when you are just starting: So much stuff to manage, so much stuff to do, and no course in the world can prepare you for it! But, and that’s a HUUUGE “but”, at the end of the day it is downright the most rewarding “job” I’ve ever had.
If you want to get some inspiration on how to be a Stay At Home Dad and how to survive in this “business”, then this article is for you! In this blog post I want to share with you how I became a Stay At Home Dad and what this lifestyle feels like (the good and the bad!). I want to go briefly over some of the best practices that helped me not to go crazy with all that responsibility and why I deeply cherish ANY mom on this planet for what they do for our kids day in and day out (because now I REALLY now). And why I would give EVERY dad my strongest recommendations to at least give this lifestyle a try! I’m not going to say that it is for everyone. But if you let the chance slip you will never find out what you may be missing!
How I became a Stay At Home Dad
I want to start this post by letting you in on the circumstances how I got a Stay At Home Dad in the first place. When our son was on its way it was already clear that I wouldn’t have to leave the house and go to the office for the next two years. Without going into all the details, I can reveal that the contract I had with my previous employer was running out end of June 2015 and it had a clause in it that stated that my employer committed himself to continue paying a huge portion of my previous salary for another two years. In return, I had to commit myself to go to colleague again (it was a correspondence course) for those two years. It’s a bit weird, and I don’t want to get into the details, as this is not really important for the story.
The important facts are
- a) I knew I would be at home for two years,
- b) I would not have to think too much about making money
- c) I would be studying computer science and
- d) our son would be born sometime in July
With these facts in mind I saw the expiration date of my contract coming. My wife and I had been discussing this for quite a while and we agreed that it would be the smartest thing to do if she would go back to the office as soon as her maternity leave was over (which is about three months here in Germany) and I, financially supported by my previous employer and (probably a bit too) confident that I could *easily* handle a kid AND studying for another colleague degree, was pumped!
On June, 30th 2015 I left my employers premises and, man, was excited. It would be about two weeks until our son’s projected birth date. Two weeks to relax, get some work done in the backyard and so on. Stuff that has been lying around for quite a while now… Awesome!
Well – not exactly! I had ONE day! On July 2nd at four o’clock my wife woke me up and asked me, nay, told me to drive to the hospital. That’s the first time my son “interfered” with my plans. In a very, very good way, though! And with many, many more to come 🙂
About five hours later I was a dad. Actually, the coolest kind of dad. I! Was! A! Stay At Home Dad!!!
The three phases every Stay At Home Dad goes through
I’m gonna say that there are three phases *every* Stay At Home Dad goes through. Happiness, Fear and -finally- Sereneness. I’m even gonna say the same is true for moms. It’s just that they can somehow handle it better 🙂 Moms are awesome! Dads aren’t less awesome. We are just “different awesome”…
Well, maybe I am aiming a bit high here by saying that this is true for *every* Stay At Home Dad. But it is certainly true for me and for most of the other dads I talked to so far. So I’m cool with aiming a bit high on this one.
It all starts with happiness. We are dads! We are pumped! We are unstoppable!!! I remember how cool it was to take that baby boy for a first wild stroller ride into the woods next to the hospital where Benni was born. It was July 3rd, Benni was just about 24 hours old, his mom still exhausted. So I decided to take Benni for a ride. The weather was great and mom and the nurses gave me green lights. So we went out and it was so cool. It was the first time that I was alone with my son. It was an awesome feeling to connect with him like that… I felt like I was born for this! Sure thing, no doubt: I was the best dad in the entire world!
The days passed by. We went home and we were a real family. Mom, Dad and Benni. My wife was still on maternity leave, so we could share the work, the responsibility and the fun. It was great! I had enough time to deal with Benni, and I also had time to study for my colleague degree… All was good. However, as closer as we got to that end of my wife’s maternity leave, fear and doubt started to grow. Will I be able to handle ALL this on my own? Feedings this little baby, caring for him the same way we cared for him when we were both at home? Going to the doctor, changing diapers, rock him to sleep? All by myself? Without a teammate? – I was scared! Really!!! I remember how I talked to my wife if she wouldn’t want to extend her maternity leave and take parental leave as well. However, the positive person that she is, she convinced me that I would be able to handle all that. And I did! Not “like we did as a team”, but as good as a single person can. And looking back, I think I figured it out quite nicely.
That’s when sereneness kicks in. After a few days of being contantly stressed out, I started to realize that I could really do it. Maybe, just maybe, even without going all crazy! A few days later, besides being able to really care for my baby boy, I was even able to sneak in the occasional learning session for my colleague degree every now and then, preferably when Benni fell asleep for an hour or two. In the early days, when it was basically all about just being there for my son, allowing him to build that sense of trust, holding eye contact and building a relationship with him, I was even able to watch an NFL game in the background while doing all this. Things that freaked me out a few days ago were easy tasks all of a sudden. People grow with their duties and responsibilities. And so do dads!
Why YOU should be a Stay At Home Dad as well
This may sound a bit scary at first. And it really is! YOU will be scared as well. But that’s okay. It’s actually a good thing, as it makes you realize how important your job as a dad is! But from my own experience let me tell you: No matter how scared you are: Don’t let your fears scare you away from giving the Stay At Home Dad Lifestyle a chance. YOU are the BEST dad your child will ever have, and you should at least allow yourself to get an idea what being a Stay At Home Dad feels like.
Chances to do so are better than ever. When I was walking through the park with Benni in his stroller I remember and elderly gentlemen approaching me and telling me: “I envy you young people. Nowadays, you can spend so much time with your kids, if you want to. When I was in my 30s and being a young dad myself, it was somewhat socially disgraced to stay at home and care for my child as a dad. People expected me to work and earn the money! I never changed a diaper in my entire life. You young dads should feel blessed that you can do all that nowadays.” And we really should! It wasn’t always like that, and even today there are people who will look “down” on you for being a Stay At Home Dad.
But here’s the kicker: Do not let anyone judge you! Being a Stay At Home Dad is all about YOU and YOUR family. You will build a better relationship with your kid than any other 9-to-5-dad out there ever can. So who are they to judge you?
Indeed, most people, even most employers, will react very positive to your decision. And they will be curious. Being a Stay At Home Dad is still not the norm. I learned that firsthand in basically every playgroup I visited with Benni: There were only moms. But whenever I had the chance to talk to those other dads, I noticed that they were really interested in my story: How I became a Stay At Home Dad. Why I took this route. Why my wife went back to work. How I feel about this lifestyle. And how I survived… 🙂
How to survive
Being a Stay At Home Dad, first and foremost, is awesome. I am so happy that I had the chance to give this lifestyle a try. The circumstances were lucky and played a big role. But I was also curious how it would be to stay at home and first and foremost, be there for my kid. Being different than all the others out there. Don’t be all about career, but care more about my family!
But it’s also stressful. There are days were you envy all those other dads that *can* go to the office. You will feel like you are missing out, because people always want what they cannot get! I felt like that many times. Therefore, your top priority has to be to stay physically and mentally fit, so that you can be there for your kid.
Here are a few proven tips that have worked for me and that will allow you not only to survive the daily challenges you encounter as a Stay At Home Dad, but also to grow as a person and be a better man at the end of the day.
Get help and go part-time
This is key. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! As I said, besides being a Stay At Home Dad, I also had to tackle the challenges of a correspondence course at the colleague. This requires you to have at least one to two hours per day to learn and work without being interrupted. That’s hard to do with a baby at home. They don’t sleep for more than one (if you are licky, then two) hours at a stretch. And then, you also need some time for yourself to recover. I was stressed out and I realized that I would need help.
So we put three measures in place:
- My wife decided to go part-time: She would take every Wednesday off, which meant that I would have one entire day every week to recover and aim all my energy into working for my colleague degree. Obviously, that is an option that only works when you are okay in terms of money and cash-flow, so I cannot tell if that will work for you. For us, it did, and to this very day, it is a huge help for me.
- I guess we can call ourselves very lucky for having both of our parents living in cities nearby. Benni’s grandma has been such a huge help for me and I am so thankful for her support. Whenever I called her and told her that I am running into time constraints, she would do whatever it takes to make time on her side and look after Benni for a day or even two. Sometimes we as parents, no matter whether you’re a mom or a dad, need some time off. Either to deal with ourselves, or to deal with other issues that appear when live happens, right? And that’s okay! It’s so amazing when there is family around that can help you.
- Finally, Kindergarten. We were so lucky to get a place for Benni in one of our city’s kindergartens. Benni could go there when he just turned one, which was a huge help for me. Kindergarten started in August, and I had a contract with a startup company in Cologne where I would write my master thesis, so I was praying day in and day out that we would get the spot for Benni. When the letter finally came, it was such a relief. I have met many people who asked me if it wouldn’t be a bit too soon to let a 1-year old go to kindergarten. And I highly disagreed with them. Benni doesn’t have a brother or a sister. He had me, my wife, his grandparents (all adults) and the kids in the neighborhood as well as those in the play-groups that I visited with him. I think it is very important for a child’s socialization to not only be in touch with adults, but also (even more importantly) play with other kids as much as possible. At this degree, that’s something only kindergarten can do for your kid! Benni loves to go there, and I am convinced that it was the right decision.
With these measure in place, all of a sudden, I was somewhat of a Part-Time Stay At Home Dad, so to speak. That sounds a bit half-baked, but it really helps. You’re still as awesome as a Full-Time Stay At Home Dad! And no matter how awesome you are: It’s always okay to ask for help. I’d even go so far and say it makes you stronger, as you realize that there are things you cannot tackle all by yourself, well before it’s too late! Well done!
Keep Yourself Entertained
If you don’t want to go all crazy, make sure to keep yourself entertained. Especially in the early stages, when your kid still sleeps a lot, make sure to enjoy your spare time. It will get less and less as your kid grows up, and it is important to develop strategies that will help you to calm down and keep a positive mind set. Whatever it is that you enjoy: Playing video games, reading books, working out, blogging, meditation or just relaxing: Just do it when you have the chance to!
At some point your kid will be at an age where you can let him or her in to your hobby and enjoy it together. I have compiled a whole list of awesome activities that you can share and that will entertain you as well as your kid right here. And if you are the video game guy (like I am) I even have a special blog post about enjoying video games together with your kid here. The important thing is to realize that you are still an amazing dad, even if you put YOURSELF first every now and then. You’re just a human being and as such you’re not perfect. That’s no reason to be less awesome, though!
That one kind of combines the first two arguments: Make sure to find some dad friends. It is important to share your experience, your problems but also the fun with some people that totally understand what you are going through. A good address to find dad friends can be a swimming course (you won’t believe how many Dads are totally into going swimming with their little ones on the weekend) an online meetup group or a “family café”. If it is hard for you to meet other dads locally, see if you can join a group on social media or so. I’ll probably dedicate another blog post to this issue some time in the future. You’ll then find a link here.
Bottom line: Get dad friends! Talking to other moms (which you will meet many when you visit any local play-group with your kid) is fine, but it doesn’t really compare to talking to other Stay At Home Dads!
Don’t be a “Mom-Replacement”
That leads us to our next one: You’re a dad! Not a replacement-mom. Some may argue that this is sexist, but I am convinced that as a dad your priorities are different compared to those of a mom. And that is okay. It is important to realize that even though you are feeding your child, changing diapers, rocking your child to sleep and such you are still not a mom. So don’t try to be one!
A few months ago I listened to a podcast where a psychologist was talking about exactly that phenomenon. (The podcast was all in German, so it doesn’t make much sense to post a link here.) He talked about how important it is that we, as dads “emancipate” ourselves. He made statement that really resonated with me: We have this verb in the German language that is “bemuttern” (which can be translated with “to chaperone someone” or “to mother someone”), but there is no word such as “bevatern” (which would probably be “to father someone”, which has a very different meaning in english, though). So at the end of the day, there is a very strong word that describes the relationship of a caring mom with just ONE word, but there is no such word for us dads to describe what WE are doing for our kids. And it is our generation’s job to change that!
So go out there and “dad-chaperone” the hell out of your kid (or however you wanna call it, make a suggestion in the comments)! Don’t try to be a backup-mom, though. Be confident enough to do YOUR thing! Be the dad your kid deserves. Be a hero-dad! Your kid already has a hero-mom. It doesn’t need two!!!
Do your chores – Dad-style
When you are staying at home caring for your kid with your wife going to the office, she probably expects you to do the housework as well. Why wouldn’t she! Most dads who go to the office day in and day out are also happy if the house is clean and the dishwasher is empty when they come home, right? So do your chores. But do them dad-style 🙂
What I mean by that is get the right equipment. For example, get a robotic vacuum cleaner and/or robotic swab. See if there are things in your daily routine that you can improve in order to save time. Optimize whatever you can. Get good music and a good pair of headphones to listen to it while you mow the lawn. Stuff like that!
And do yourself a favor and outsource, if money allows for that. Have someone to come over to your place and wash and iron the laundry (or have that person pick it up and return it later). See if you can get someone to clean the house for you. Maybe hire a gardener.
Nowadays there are many outsourcing services were you can order people on demand to perform a task at your home, so you do not have to do it yourself. Without having to sign a long term contract and really “hire” someone for a long term commitment. The gig economy is constantly growing! I will probably write a review on some of those service providers as well and provide you with a link here once it is done.
Find a purpose
This one is crucial: Make sure to grow past being “just” a Stay At Home Dad in the long term. Being a Stay At Home Dad alone is challenging enough, sure thing! And this goal is probably one to keep in the back of your mind until you feel like you are ready for it. No reason to rush. But: Your kids will grow, and some distant day in the future they will move out. So make sure to find a purpose besides being a dad.
Maybe it is a hobby that you enjoy and that you can get more and more professional with. Maybe it is something completely new!
For me, this purpose was working on my colleague for the first two years of Benni’s life. After that my focus shifted and I started to wonder how I could make some money on the side while being at home. I tried freelancing, selling my own products on amazon and online marketing. By applying these techniques I was able to make a decent income on the side that allowed me to maintain my Stay At Home Dad Lifestyle way beyond the two years I received money from my previous employer and still do it to this very day!
I strongly believe that finding that purpose, that way of being helpful to others from home while caring for your kid is really the key to being a happy and fulfilled Stay At Home Dad. I will go into some of these concepts in later blog posts and I will link to these posts from here when they are done.
Now it’s up to you! What do you think about being a Stay At Home Dad? Is it an option for you? What is holding you back? What do you think about my “survival guide” above? Do you agree? What are your techniques?
If there is anything you would like to add to this story, or there is something you disagree on, please do not hesitate to reach out. Please leave a comment in the comment section below. I read and respond to every single comment! Pinky promise! You can, however, also reach out via email, if your story is more personal and you want to talk in private. My email address is chris@ThatToyDad.com.
If you want to dive a bit deeper into a real life Stay At Home Dad’s world, you are more than welcome to browse my blog or read my article Top 10 Toys For 3 Year Olds And Their Dads, my review of the Hubelino Marble Run System (which you will DEFINITELY enjoy; remember? stay entertained! 🙂 ) or my essay about The Best Video Games For Kids And Their Dads To Enjoy Together.
Just recently I ran across a great blog post by Lauren Kinghorn about taking care of yourselves as Moms and Dads. It’s, obviously, written from a Mom’s perspective, but most of the suggestions Lauren makes will work for us Dads just as well. If you haven’t, make sure to check it out here.
Looking forward to hearing from you!