by Leslie Morgan Steiner
Would your husband quit his job if you earned more? Would you if he did?
In a 2005 Career Builder survey of fulltime working dads with children under 18, almost 50% answered yes.
This year, only 31% did.
Are dads less enthusiastic about staying home , because more men have tried it now, and know the drudgery involved? Or does today’s lower percentage reflect widespread financial insecurity? Perhaps both.
Like a lot of husbands, mine fantasizes about staying home. About once a year the subject comes up, usually because of a lull at work or some frustrating situation there. When I push and ask what he imagines his days would be like, his answer always goes something like this: well, I’d work out for two hours every day and play tennis 3-4 times a week. I’d see my friends all the time. I’d read more.
Hmmm…is my consistent answer. Because not once does he mention reality: doing laundry, fixing our three kids the delicious nutritious organic homemade meals he fantasizes about, teaching reading and math skills and helping with homework…driving them to endless playdates and basketball practices…settling 500 petty disputes a day.
In other words all the stuff actual stay-at-home parents actually do.
What my husband means (and perhaps some of those dads surveyed) is this: if I had more resources I’d quit my job. If we were more financially secure I’d pursue my dreams and hobbies. But that is not the same as staying home to care fulltime for children.
And to be fair, before actually doing so, no mother or father can understand the challenges (and rewards) of staying home fulltime with children day after day for years. If we did, I’m not sure any of us would take the plunge into parenthood. One of my favorite fantasy-destroying one-offs: “If you’re not yelling at your kids, you’re not spending enough time with them.” The only parents who laugh are ones currently home with kids fulltime. Working parents or households with 24/7 nannies look at me like I’m wacked (which arguably is true).
Said another way, stay-at-home parenthood is not designed to provide balance – it can deaden ambition and self image, turn our goals upside down, make us feel like aliens, drive us to do, say and crave things we never, ever in our wildest dreams imagined. Getting excited about buying a minivan. Shutting the windows so neighbors don’t hear you yelling. Hiding in a dark bathroom to get five minutes of peace. Sending children to their rooms for the rest of their lives. Asking a two year old, through gritted teeth, if she is trying to drive mommy crazy.
Staying home is a tough, low paying, dead-end job that the workplace, your family and sometimes even your kids do not value sufficiently. But I still suggest every parent try it. The silver lining to today’s unemployment woes: more of us are staying home fulltime, even if unintentionally, even if temporarily, even if we are busy networking, interviewing and plotting our next move. But fulltime, intense time with kids – even if it is not your ultimate choice – makes for invaluable experience for every parent’s resume.