This is now my second official Father’s Day, although this will be the first one where I feel I’ve spent enough time actually being a father to merit it. The first time around, my little girl was barely three months old, and much of that time, both her mother and I were around to watch her. This time, it’s been primarily me for the last year, and I have to say, it has given me a very different perspective on being the stay at home parent.
Growing up, I think we take for granted how much the parent who stays at home had to sacrifice in order to take care of us. We never grew up with the awareness that the parent who stayed home was just a person like anybody else, who wanted to do their own thing, and who was learning how to do the job of being a parent. No one is born with parenting skills, and no one hands you a manual once you have a child. You have to take the time to figure those things out, as well as figure out how to be the person your child needs you to be.
For anyone who tells you having a kid is easy, they’re either teasing you, lying to you, or they’re not very good parents. Nearly every minute of your day is spent making sure that your kid, especially when they’re little babies, is healthy, happy, learning, and not doing something that would be harmful to them or anything else. No, you don’t always have to watch them like a hawk and have them in your sight, but you do always have to be ready in case something goes wrong. You can cut down on some of this if you don’t care about stuff, which is ideal to some extent, since that means you’re not about material goods and whatnot, but I’m not really that much of a Zen Buddhist, so I want to be able to keep my things without having them destroyed at a moments notice.
With that alertness comes exhaustion, stress, and tough times in your relationship. Nothing will rankle a stay at home parent more than the parent who goes to work, coming home and saying “What have you been doing all day?” This has led to more fights than anything since the birth of our child. Not in those exact words, but no one likes to be questioned about how effective they are when their entire day has been nothing but stress. When someone comes home and sees a mess, and their spouse unmoving, while the child is happily playing? That means the spouse did their job of making sure the child is growing up well. It also means that you can only imagine what a worse mess it would be if the stay at home parent didn’t do what they could.
I’ll admit, I have found myself in that position more times than not. It takes me a lot of energy to keep up with my daughter, and at the end of the day, there’s not much left to do the daily chores that need to be done. I try my best, but it’s hard to focus on what you’re doing when you’re trying to make sure your child isn’t eating something they shouldn’t be, or tearing something down that is important, or just generally being destructive. They have to do all this while keeping in mind that the child is not doing this intentionally, and that they are just exploring and don’t have the physical capability to be more delicate with things. I know for myself, that was a hard lesson to learn. It took nearly everything I had just to make sure my daughter was clean, clothed, fed, and healthy.
Slowly, I’ve been able to add other things to the list of daily things that I can accomplish. It’s still a struggle, and I still slip from time to time, but I’m now more on the side of getting things done than not. Whenever I feel I have a handle on things, I try to add a little more, just to keep the burden off of my wife since she has her job to concentrate on. I still need her help, but I would like to be able to get it to the point where she can at least relax a little when she gets home from work, instead of having to figure out what’s for dinner and how to get past the giant mound of dirt, dishes, and laundry that used to be waiting.
As for my little girl, she is still the primary focus of all of this. She is the reason that I am here, and honestly, she is the greatest source of joy for me now. Whenever she hits a new milestone, or accomplishes some task that I've seen her working towards, it fills me with a kind of happiness I wasn’t aware I was capable of. I still remember the squeals of delight that emitted from my mouth when I witnessed her first unassisted steps. They probably heard me back in the US. There are still a lot of those kinds of things to look forward to in the future, and much of me being able to witness these moments first hand is because I get to be the stay at home dad.
There are so many things still ahead of us, but I’m going to enjoy the fact that as a dad, I grew a lot this past year. All the bumps along the way have just served to make me a better person, thankfully, and hopefully, I can pass that on to my little girl. So to all the dad’s out there who look forward to their kids’ future, happy Father’s Day to you, and regardless if you’re the one who leaves for work, or the one who stays at home, I hope the love that you show to your children is paid back in full all year round.