14 Things to Know About Being a Stay at Home Dad, According to Men Who Have Done It

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·8 mins read

The idea that breadwinner status only belongs to the dad is a thing of the past, thank God. According to the National At-Home Dad Network, there are currently around 1.75 million stay-at-home dads and that number is on the rise. This might be due to advances for women in the workplace, but it’s also indicative of a much more modern approach to parenting. The Atlantic even credits stay-at-home dads for reshaping American masculinity—in other words, they’re abstaining from the traditional narrative that manhood is made up of two things: being strong-bodied and the primary money maker in a family. 

But what is the day-to-day role really like? Here, 14 things to know about being a stay-at-home dad, according to five dads who have done it.

1. You May Feel Like the Odd Man Out

Times are changing, that’s for sure, but one New Jersey stay-at-home dad of two with 16 years of experience under his belt says that when he first took on the role, it was a different world at the park. “Being the only man was definitely a bit awkward,” he says. “Moms would certainly look at me suspiciously from the corner of their eye.”

2. You’ll Need to Work to Build a Network of Dad Friends

“I definitely experienced occasional loneliness,” says a Brooklyn father of two who’s been a stay-at-home dad for a little over five years. “I mostly liked doing stuff on our own, but it all adds up to a lot of time where it’s just you and a baby and/or toddler. I found people to chat with at playgrounds and music classes, but found friend-making hard. We live in a neighborhood with a lot of at-home dads, too, but in my experience, as a group, we’re not as naturally social about it as moms are. If I were to do it all over again, I’d probably make more of an effort to use the neighborhood dad groups to meet more guys who were also doing the stay-at-home parenting thing.”

3. You Get to Witness and Cherish Your Kids’ Biggest Milestones

A New York dad of two, who’s been a stay-at-home dad since March after losing his job due to COVID explains: “It’s the biggest high simply to be present so often, both physically and in the more spiritual sense of the word. “Sometimes at night, before I fall asleep, I imagine myself and my kids many years older, looking back at photos and videos of them at this age and I just know that I’ll wish then that I could transport myself back to this moment in their lives. To see their faces and hear their little voices and sayings and witness their quirks—like how my curly-haired son dances around in circles when he’s happy or how my daughter makes up really useful words like ‘conversate,’ as in ‘what shall we converse about, Papa?’ I try to keep all that in mind when things get challenging or when I catch myself looking at my phone a bit too much.”

4. You Have to Own the Role and Embrace It

The New Jersey father explains that he is “Mr. Mom” in every traditional sense of the word. “Besides shuttling the kids to and from school, taking them on playdates during the week and more, I’m responsible for the domestic duties: cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry, etc. I’m the planner of our date nights and I really keep the schedule for the kids and family,” he explains. The upshot? “My wife’s agency has really grown into a leader in the industry and I’ve been able to support her by combining some of the family chores with the business needs. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I wasn’t a stay-at-home dad. It’s not for everyone, but it works for us.”

5. The Nap Is Everything

“For our family, establishing sleep routines was a priority and it worked out pretty well,” says the Brooklyn dad of two. “I have no regrets about being pretty rigid with how I blocked out nap time. The greatest joy was when both kids took three-hour naps at the same time.”

6. Routine is Everything

“The importance of creating schedules cannot be overstated,” says the New York dad. “You have to leave room for spontaneity, of course, but being sort of anal and well-prepared just makes things move more smoothly.” The Brooklyn dad adds: “There’s a specific happy feeling I remember having in those hours/days when everything clicked and we all got into a flow. We were all in sync and we moved easily from place to place, activity to activity. My advice would be to work on finding a balance between routine and flexibility. I liked being prepared with options and ideas—not to mention snacks and wipes—for each day and then doing the things that fit well within it.”

7. But Try to Break Up the Monotony

A Massachusetts dad of one says one of his biggest goals was to find consistent activities he could do together with his daughter—like TV shows to watch together or summer activities like going to the pool—but one of the hardest challenges was keeping things fresh. “I had to really push myself to get creative and find new things for us to do together every week.”

8. Multi-Tasking is Necessary, but Stressful

Every parent feels this, but a stay-at-home parent feels it really acutely. “Having my hands full with the kids at the same time that I tried to deal with time-sensitive work things for my part-time job was a major stressor,” says the Brooklyn dad. “In fact, it still is. It’s hard to do two jobs at the same time. Working at night and during those naps was always manageable, but having a work thing that needed attention right away at a moment when I was already stretched real thin gave me a lot of agita.”

9. You’ll Probably Worry That Your Partner Is Missing Out

A dad of one who lives in the UK says he often wishes he could switch places with his fiancé for one reason: “It’s not because I am unfulfilled or dislike being a stay-at-home dad. It’s because I feel lots of guilt for not being able to give her the chance to experience what I’m experiencing daily with our daughter.”

10. You’ll Get to See the Impact of Your Presence and Influence

“It is a gift to be able to help navigate certain social situations with them—at the playground, at school, in the park—and then seeing them go it alone and behave with such decency and compassion and understanding in their own dealings with other kids and adults,” says the New York father. “I also love populating their lives with good music: classic rock, 1970s pop, classic soul and funk, punk and new wave. Some might call it indoctrination. I wouldn’t get to do that as much if I wasn’t at home with them all the time.”

11. The 3 p.m. Slump Is Real

The New York dad says morning prep and organization is critical because in the afternoon, fatigue sets in. “By 3 p.m., I am so spent, I could probably fall asleep atop a pile of Legos. I’ve discovered that afternoon departures with my young kids seem to go much more smoothly when all the stuff I’ll need for the journey—outerwear, a change of clothes, diapers, water, snacks—is packed in the morning.”

12. You’re Going to Spend a Lot of the Day Just Cleaning Up

The New York dad adds: “Cleaning up after young children is truly one of parenthood’s most annoying demands. My advice is to make children’s participation in cleanup a priority at the earliest possible age. Get it to be a habit that’s just normal, expected and no big deal. Otherwise, you’re going to encounter endless work slowdowns and outright strikes as they get older.”

13. You’ll Also Get Better at Prioritizing (and Appreciating) Kid-Free Time

“I didn’t realize it until I was a stay-at-home dad, but it is so important to me now to make every effort to socialize with my partner, close friends and family,” says the UK dad. “We schedule our date nights now, for example, and it has become an essential outlet for the trials and tribulations of being a parent.”

14. You Just Might Become a Better Co-Parent

“My partner and I have had to get together and hash out strategies as a team—for example, how to discipline a naughty one-year-old or to meal prep for the week ahead,” the UK stay-at-home dad explains. “Being in this together has without a doubt improved our relationship as a couple and, in turn, allowed us to create a very loving and cohesive family.” The Brooklyn father had a similar experience: “One thing about me being home with the kids so much on weekdays is that my wife is a much better organizer and scheduler than I am.  So, while I end up doing a lot of the execution, she makes it possible by creating a lot of the ideas and plans and appointments that provide structure. That’s consistent with how we operate in a lot of ways (she’s big-picture, I’m execution) and we end up feeling like, overall, we have a 50/50 balance as a parenting team.”

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