This summer I’ll be celebrating eight years of being a stay-at-home dad. It’s a role I’m good at. And within the confines of our home, I’m very confident in how I do it. I work with purpose and feel valued and appreciated at home. Content even. But as soon as I step outside the sacred boundaries of our family, I struggle with being “okay” with it. I receive signals from the outside world that makes me question my self-worth. Maybe this isn’t such noble work after all.
I dread the question, “what do you do for a living?”
This question can provoke such emotion within me. Do I lie and come up with some vague answer that doesn’t warrant anymore questions? Should I be honest and deal with whatever insensitive or misguided comments that might come back? I get such varied responses it feels like playing an involuntary game of emotional Russian roulette.
Most often, I avoid the subject or I belittle myself before someone else can. I try to say whatever I can to avoid the follow-up question “what do you do all day?” I’ll say things like, “My wife works. I stay home with the kids. I’m living the dream! I take a lot of naps.” I die inside a little bit every time I go down that road.
Sometimes I respond quietly, with a hint of shame in my voice, “I’m just a stay-at-home dad.” The word “just” implying it’s unremarkable, unimportant, and I’m really just unemployed. But, sometimes I feel confident and decide to own it and proudly take a leap.
Recently at a black-tie networking event with my wife, I was asked what I did for a living. I gathered all of my internal strength and confidence I had, (I was wearing a tuxedo after all so it wasn’t that difficult. Even if it was a JC Penny clearance score) and answered with a confident “I’m a stay-at-home dad.”
The guy laughed, and then when I didn’t laugh, he walked away after an awkward silence.
I’m not going to lie. No matter how confident I am, or grounded I think I am, a response like that stings.
Or the other day at the bar with a dad’s group (a group I thought was more open-minded and committed to being better men and better people) a guy asked what I did for a living. Again, I gathered my courage, this time with the help of some liquid confidence and answered, “I’m a stay-at-home dad.”
He responded, “How do I get a gig like that!?”
With a tone that implied it’s a non-job that provides me a cushy leisure life. I probably chauffer the kids back and forth to school and maybe I make a PB&J once in a while, but for sure it has to be the easiest job ever.
After I told him all he had to do was quit his job to get that gig, I got the follow up question.
“What does your wife do?” he asked wide-eyed with curiosity.
But what he was really asking was, “how much money does she make?”
She must be rich. At least rich enough to support my lazy ass.
These are the responses that I get when I decide to be vulnerable and “own it.”
When I get home those comments burrow into my brain and eat away at my soul and my self-worth. They have such power over me. I let some idiot from the bar or some socially unaware rude business guy take my power. And I let them do it with one comment. And I’ve been doing it for eight years! I’ve been questioning my self-worth and the value I have for almost a decade. No wonder I’m depressed!
And why do I do this? Just because I don’t bring home a pay-check I’m less than? Logically, I know it makes no sense.
Something clicked after that last encounter at the bar though. I’m sick of feeling minimized and ashamed for working for my family. I’m sick of giving away my energy. I want to hold on to my power. I think it’s time I flip the script. If someone doesn’t understand or appreciate the value of a stay-at-home parent, that’s on them, not me. I shouldn’t be the one to feel small.
Our family has found the groove and rhythm that works really well for us, and that should be the only thing that matters. Everyone has their own path, and this is mine. I live an intentional, purposeful and fulfilling life, and that’s one thing I can OWN.