Dear Mr. Dad: My employer recently went out of business because of COVID, but my wife, who was staying at home with our toddler, was able to get a job. That means that I'm going to be the at-home parent. What am I in for?
A: You're in for a lot of fun — and a lot of challenges.
There are more than 2 million stay-at-home dads in the U.S. today — an increase of 20% from the mid-1990s. And even if the world gets back to a post-COVID normal, with more women out-earning their husband, that number is going to keep on growing. Becoming a stay-at-home dad, whether by choice or by necessity, can be tough. It often means giving up an important piece of your identity, stepping off the career track, and taking on a job that most people don't see as particularly manly (a lot of folks still have trouble with the idea of male nurses).
There are other issues as well. For example, a lot of at-home dads feel that they need to entertain their children all the time and worry that if they don't, their kids will be bored to tears. Well, you can try to come up with new lists of activities every day, but you'll never be able to keep up the pace. Instead, you'll have to change the way you think about things. You are not a walking game console and you do not have to be "on" during your child's every waking moment. Like adults, kids need down time. They're taking in a lot of new information and need some quiet periods every day to process it. If you and your child are together and she wants to spend some time playing by herself, consider yourself lucky rather than boring. In fact, at least once a day set your child up with some Duplo or a puzzle or some other favorite toy and step back.
It's also important to consider expanding your definition of "entertainment." As an adult you're well aware of the difference between work and play, but to your child everything is play. And being with you, even if you're doing things you think are boring, can be tons of fun — and educational too. That trip to the grocery store, for example, provides a great opportunity for your child to learn about shapes and weights and textures; so let her rub a coconut and squeeze the Charmin and ask her what she thinks of the difference.
Also keep in mind that your child wants to be like you and do the things you do. So let her help you wash the dishes after dinner or buff the car or pull weeds in the garden. Whatever you do, be sure to talk to her about every little detail of what's happening. While doing errands and chores together may not be "fun" in the traditional sense it's a wonderful way for you and your child to get to know each other better and to strengthen your relationship with each other. That shows her that you love her and that's one of the most important things a father can ever do.
Some guys find the whole prospect of being an at-home dad somewhat depressing. Most men see themselves as the family's provider/protector, and for many of us, a great deal of our identity is tied up with our careers and how much money we make. It can be hard to get past this kind of socialization — even when logic, finances or a global pandemic say that having dad stay home with the children is the right thing for the whole family.
Because we're often reluctant to ask for help, a lot of men find being a stay-at-home dad very isolating. And to some extent, they're right. While there's a lot of social support out there for stay-at-home moms, stay-at-home dads are pretty much on their own — especially now. We'll talk about how at-home dads can connect with other guys in a future column.
(Read Armin Brott's blog at www.DadSoup.com, follow him on Twitter, @mrdad, or send email to email@example.com.)(c)2020 Armin Brott Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC