What life is like as a stay-at-home dad
Feb 7, 2024
It's Sam here, editor of the Plenty blog. Five years after retiring from my job in finance in 2012, my wife and I had our first child. I've been a stay-at-home dad ever since. It's been both the most gratifying and most difficult experiences I've ever gone through.
For any current or future dads who are considering staying at home to raise their kids, this post will provide some perspective on how you might feel as a stay-at-home dad for the first three years.
I use the three-year mark because most families have the option of sending their kids to preschool by the third year. Although, sending your child to daycare is also a common childcare option.
For most daycare centers, infants can start as young as six weeks. However, many experts believe the longer you can wait, the better. More time allows for the establishment of a secure attachment with your child, complete healing of the umbilical cord, figuring out feeding and sleep patterns, developing a stronger immune system, and adjusting to a new life together.
What it's like being a stay at home dad
Amongst modern couples, more and more dads are opting to give up their careers to be stay-at-home fathers while their partners work. Given this growing trend, let me share with you five key takeaways worth mentioning.
1) You will feel uncomfortable in every which way
If you're a new dad, the challenges can be overwhelming. From bottle-feeding and diaper changes to burping, napping, and constant dishwashing, raising a baby keeps you busy. The initial six months to a year might also be sleep-deprived as your little one wakes up every two to four hours.
When you take your little one to the playground on weekdays, you might also find you’re the only dad amongst a majority of moms and nannies. Roughly 60% of the primary caregivers are moms and 40% are nannies. Despite being in the minority, embracing the situation could lead to building friendly relationships with many moms and nannies, who are generally welcoming and supportive.
If you attend any Dad's Night Out events, you may also feel vulnerable initially. While other dads discuss their careers and business trips, talking about your day in the park might feel awkward. Despite changing gender roles, discussing your life as a full-time caretaker can be uncomfortable when surrounded by dads who are working.
Luckily, after about a year of being a stay-at-home dad, your confidence will grow. Instead of feeling out of place, you'll embrace your role as a provider more strongly. As you wait for your confidence to grow, be proud of your status as a stay-at-home dad. Caring full-time for a vulnerable little one is a noble thing to do.
2) Being a stay at home dad is the hardest job
I had an intense finance career before I became a father. Yet, working 14 hours a day in banking where there's constant pressure to produce is almost a walk in the park in comparison to full-time fatherhood. And given banking is one of the most stressful jobs out there, I would say 98% of day jobs are easier than parenthood!
With full-time fatherhood, you are on duty 24/7 due to the risks of injury or even death. The first year of life is the most fragile because you're always on high alert for choking, suffocation, tumbles, bumping a corner, and so forth. Then, once your little one starts walking around the one year mark, that's when you've really got to keep a close eye. Toddlers lack depth perception and full awareness of their surroundings. It’s not really until around age three-and-a-half that little ones begin to have a better idea of safety. Before then, you've got to be on high alert all the time.
I also remember I kept reading stories about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) after my son was born, which were all so incredibly heartbreaking. For his first year, this paranoia wouldn't let me sleep uninterrupted for more than 3-4 hours. As doctors say, “on the back is best” with no loose blankets or pillows in the crib please.
I’ve also heard whines, screams, and crying 5-10X a day for 2,300+ days in a row because we birthed a daughter in 2019. In the beginning, this was quite a shock to my system.
3) You'll frequently second-guess your decision on giving up your career
Many men need to feel like providers of the household. As a result, you may constantly wonder whether giving up your career was an optimal move. With no direct income coming in for your labor as a childcare provider, you may feel more stressed at times.
This is where the importance of communication and having joint and separate accounts comes into play. To always feel like you have to ask permission from your partner to spend money may feel uncomfortable for some.
On the other hand, for families with one income, primarily using joint accounts is normal and can help couples feel like a team with different roles.
Of course, if your partner makes a healthy income, giving up your career will be easier. However, you may never stop wondering what your career could have been had you continued.
Thankfully, if you're only away from the workforce for one-to-three years, you still have a great chance of finding a similar job and similar pay. After the third year, the challenge of finding similar work gets more difficult.
4) You may never feel like you're doing enough as a stay-at-home dad
As a stay-at-home dad, I share a close connection with my son, but it doesn't match the bond he has with his mom. There were moments when he would cry out for her even when I was right there playing with him, and it used to make me a bit sad.
I'd wonder, am I like canned tuna or something? All I wanted was for my kids to show me the same affection they do to their mother. However, given the unique experiences of childbirth, breastfeeding, and the constant presence most mothers provide, it can be challenging for fathers to compete for that level of attachment.
Since I couldn't nurse our boy, I tried to compensate in other ways like cleaning, driving, grocery shopping, playing, bottle feeding, washing dishes, and handling other tasks. Yet, it often felt insufficient because the affection from my kids seemed imbalanced between my wife and me.
Thankfully, after our kids turned three-and-a-half, there was more of a balance of affection. So for stay-at-home parents out there who are feeling unloved, keep the faith that things will get better.
As our son grows older, I hope he'll remember to give his old man a call every now and then.
5) Witnessing All The Milestones Is Priceless
At this point, you might be thinking you no longer want to be a stay-at-home dad! The tradeoff doesn't seem to be worth it.
But there is a silver lining. Remember that incredible feeling when you got a raise or promotion? Multiply that by ten, and you'll have an idea of how amazing it is to see your child grow up.
In the first two years of our son's life, I was there for every milestone: his first smile, rollover, crawl, steps, and words. Each witnessed milestone made being a stay-at-home dad incredibly rewarding.
Now just picture yourself singing your little one to sleep, and suddenly he says, "I love you, Daddy. Thanks for spending the day with me." It's moments like these that make you feel like all your effort was truly worth it.
Being a stay-at-home dad is tough, but worth it
Embracing the role of a stay-at-home dad comes with its fair share of challenges, but you'll discover that it's a decision you will embrace. The profound satisfaction that comes from raise your child will likely overshadow any financial sacrifices you might perceive.
Yes, your family will probably have less money with one less working partner. I gave up a lot of income opportunities because I chose to stay at home.
But, rather than reflecting on missed financial opportunities, you'll cherish the invaluable moments spent with your little one. Remember, eventually they’ll go to school full-time, which will free up your time to return to work if you so choose.
The joy and fulfillment from being a stay-at-home parent will be the lasting reward. One day, as adults, your kids will look back and appreciate all that you did to provide them a happy and nurturing childhood. When that day comes, you'll realize that all the time spent with them was worthwhile.
Plenty can help you plan for parenthood and beyond
However you decide to care for your little one, a little planning can go a long way toward making your role as a parent easier.
At Plenty, we help modern couples create shared goals so you can build wealth faster.
Plenty has all the tools you need to plan, invest, and track your savings. We help you achieve your goals as quickly and easily as possible so you’ll be ready for life’s adventures.
– Sam, Content at Plenty
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