*photo byÂ Ksenija Savic Photography
This week I celebrate five years as a stay-at-home dad. FIVE! While five years might not be that big of a deal to some people, I found it worthy of a celebration. If I was at a professional job for five years, I’d want to acknowledge it. Just a simple lunch with a few coworkers is all I’d want.
I went into this job energetic, excited, and a bit naive. At the time, my paying job wasn’t very fulfilling. The economy had tanked and so did our industry. My company was handing out pay decreases instead of raises, and instead of doing my job I was archiving in the basement. I knew the inevitable was most likely going to happen and I nervously welcomed it. I wanted control of my every day, and of my life. I knew staying home to take care of Ellie and manage the house wasn’t going to be easy, but I was excited for the challenge and was ready to go all-in.
I had it all planned out. Monday was going to be grocery shopping day. Tuesday was going to be cleaning day. Wednesday was going to be my outside chores day. Thursday was going to be laundry day, and Friday was going to be our chill day. Like I said, I was a little naive, but at least I had aspirations. I also felt that being a guy, I needed to over achieve to battle the stereotypes. I couldn’t be “THAT guy.” People made comments at the grocery store that I was so nice for “giving mommy a break.” Or that I was doing a good job “babysitting.” Or, “nice job Mr. Mom.” I didn’t want to be a mom. I wanted to be the best I could be for my family, however that looked.
With the added pressure to prove that dads aren’tdumb, incompetent, or always taking the easy way out, I was ready to do this. For the most part, I did maintain my self-made schedule, but pretty quickly most days were spent just getting Ellie to take a nap. It was during this time that the mood of our household was established and I really grew into my role. Besides focusing on the specifics of parenting and raising children, I found there are a few key elements that guide and affect the overall decisions we make as a family.
I was no stranger to the kitchen before I stayed home, but I rarely used recipes. I’d just throw whatever together and call it a day. Dinner was more of a necessity than it was an event. Being home made me realize I needed a plan. I remember going through stacks and stacks of magazines and tagging recipe after recipe. Watermelon in a soup!? Why not? My world opened up! As cooking started to become a creative outlet for me, it also became a catalyst for other things. I thought, “I can do anything if I don’t limit myself.” Since then I’ve tackled baking, sewing, quilting, blogging, playdates, house renovations, building a playhouse, being the only dad at Japanese school, being the only non-Japanese speaking parent at Japanese school, making Japanese bento boxes for Ellie’s kindergarten, making a bazillion crafts, and volunteering at Ellie’s preschool. I don’t want to live within boundaries and I don’t want my kids to feel limits with anything they want to try. I owe this liberation to being a stay-at-home dad.
With Ellie in preschool now, my work load has been growing at an exponential rate. Between the morning routine, making three meals a day for the family, cleaning, etc., and two kids that don’t nap, my physical and mental stamina has been pushed. I’ve found in order to keep up with these ever increasing demands of parenthood I need to let some things go.
For the first year of Chloe’s life I was judging myself as a parent. I felt I wasn’t doing enough. The house wasn’t as clean, the laundry was always piled up, I rarely made grocery lists, and I wasn’t spending as much quality time with Chloe. I wasn’t reading to her, playing with her, and not even taking as many photos of her as I did with Ellie. I was judging myself against a standard I had set with Ellie. The game had changed though and I wasn’t acknowledging that. Once I started to let go of that paradigm and adopt a new one, things started to get a little easier. That constant feeling of being inadequate and perpetually behind had lessened. I can’t say it’s completely gone away, but I’m working on it. The game is always changing and I find it’s best if I let go, adjust to the changes, and follow the flow when necessary.
Knowing when to let go means you also need to know when to push ahead. When you’re running on four broken hours of sleep a night for months on end, you have no choice. You have to function. You have responsibilities. So you suck it up, sacrifice, and punch-in knowing (not really knowing, but hoping for dear life that it has to) that one day it’ll all even out. All of this can, and is, rewarding. However, being on call 24 hours a day every day for life can weigh you down. Sometimes I feel like I’m losing my identity as an individual, as me, to the identity of “dad.” I’ve realized how important it is for me to balance that. Being a dad, a cook, a janitor, a chauffeur, a teacher, a snot wiper and diaper changer is a huge part of me, but I have another side that needs to be nurtured.
I consider myself a creative person and I need to feed that. It’s food for my soul. And while cooking, sewing, blogging, and house renovations are all great outlets, they all involve my children or my family. Sometimes I crave something that is just for me. Something to call my very own. I meet with a few friends for coffee pretty regularly which has been great. Sometimes we vent about life, sometimes we talk about the pros and cons of Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth. It doesn’t matter what we talk about, but it’s my time and I return home feeling lighter and recharged.
The long hours and late nights, as exhausting as they are, definitely aren’twithout benefit. Ellie was never a good sleeper. From the very beginning up until she started preschool, bedtime was a lot of effort. The only thing you could count on was it being unpredictable. How long would it take for her to fall asleep? Would she wake up once or four times? Would she have an inconsolable dream? Or would she blissfully sleep through the night? I’ve clocked many hours figuring out that kid! You’d think I’d be bitter, but when I look back I smile with a warm heart. Ellie and I have a very unique understanding of each other and I attribute it to these late night sessions.
Those unexpected rewards are great, and even better are all the hugs, kisses, and random “I love you” cards. It’s great how children can love so unfiltered. Chloe is such a great hugger. She’ll wrap both of her arms completely around my neck and aggressively shmoosh her face against mine. The randomness at which she gives these hugs is what makes them even extra special.
Sometimes though, you need extra rewards. Different rewards. Sometimes after an extra hard day a cute smile or a hug just won’t cut it. These rewards you need to initiate yourself. You know, like a beer or two after a rough day. Or maybe a donut, or six. Maybe a box of Little Debbie snack cakes you hide under the driver seat of your car. These rewards are essential and go a long way. I’ve started to reevaluate these though. Donuts, beers, burgers, and ice cream are indeed delicious, but are they the rewards I need?
I would go out to have drinks with a friend to chat and relax. One beer lead to two, and then two lead to a plate of chili cheese fries. The next morning, that wasn’t feeling so much like a reward anymore. I wasn’t rejuvenated, recharged, or ready to go at it again. I was a few steps back and dragging all day. In an effort to redefine my rewards I dropped alcohol completely at the beginning of this year. The same goes for the donuts, chips, and other “prizes.” I’ve been very mindful of what and how much I indulge. These are great, but only momentarily. My goal is to reward myself with things that make me feel good and fuel me in a positive way. It’s a struggle sometimes, but I’ve noticed a positive shift in my mood when I do this.
These five years of being a parent, a stay-at-home parent, have taught me so much and challenged me to grow as a person more than I ever expected. I find it interesting that while my physical world, the radius in which I live my day-to-day has shrunk, my perspective on life has grown tremendously. My confidence has grown and I’ve started to own my position more. I don’t feel the need to prove anything to anyone anymore. The things I do, I do because I want to and find value in them. I couldn’t feel prouder of what I’ve done and am excited to keep going to see what’s next.
I realize this post may be a bit of a self-indulgent. If it sounds like I’m tooting my own horn, it’s because I am. If I can’t openly show pride for what I do, how can I expect anyone else to value the work I do as a stay-at-home parent? It’s by no means easy. It’s mentally and physically taxing and draining, it requires a tremendous amount of patience and organization, and you have to be intentional and mindful as much as possible. There is no “5 o’clock” (if anything, that’s the witching hour) when you can clock-out and go home. You have to be completely and utterly 100% responsible for your output, having no “boss,” or “coworker,” or “system” to blame for any short comings or frustrations. If I get into a bad pattern or unhealthy cycle, it’s really difficult to break out of it. Having no boss or paycheck or anything tangible to show for your work means I have to be my own cheerleader. That can feel minimizing and challenging at times especially when you get into the aforementioned cycle or pattern. IT’S HARD WORK and I’m proud of my efforts! So cheers to me and cheers to any other stay-at-home parents clocking-in each and every day. We’re worth it!