Before my wife and I had kids we had briefly discussed my wife staying home to care for our kids. She was the obvious choice because she had experience with small children and also we knew that she would be better at it. It just so happened a few months after my wife got pregnant that she also got laid off from her job.
Poof! Just like that the decision was made for her, something that would come back to haunt her later on. Although she wanted to stay home with our kids, it probably would have felt better if she had left her job on her own terms. I would like to say that this transition was easy, but it definitely wasn’t. I continued to work and along the way we ran into some financial trouble like so many other people do. Fortunately with some timely help from our families we landed back on our feet.
Fast forward to the present, four years and two kids later, things are very different. I am different, my wife is different and WE are different. There is nothing that can prepare you for this type of life change nor can you be given any warning of what is truly about to come. One of the questions that kept replaying in my mind during sleepless nights, falling short with money and the incredible amount of stress was, “why didn’t anyone warn us that things would be this way?”
Having lived it I now know the answer to this question. There is absolutely nothing anyone could have told me to accurately depict the way things would be. Having kids was the best decision I’ve ever made, but it is also the most challenging thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.
Although I cannot fully prepare you for what is to come, I can at least try to give you some advice based upon some of the mistakes that I have made as a husband and a dad.
For the record, I am using the word “wife” for myself but the words husband and wife can be replaced with spouse to fit anyone’s family dynamic. It was just easier for me since these are personal to my experiences.
- My wife can’t possibly understand how stressful it is to work in MY office. First of all, this is a load of crap and an instant argument. I dare not venture here although the thought has crossed my mind from time to time. At this point I know my wife would trade with me for a day a week and deal with the unpleasant things that go on in offices such as, office politics, pettiness and mindless small talk just to feel human again. Being a SAHM is alienating and completely one sided. There aren’t any adults to bounce ideas off of, to have meaningful conversations with and to complete projects with. There’s no one to tell you “good job” when you’ve finished a project ahead of schedule or even just a simple thanks for helping someone. Instead, it’s your 3-year old repeating “I NEED A SNACK, I NEED A SNACK, I NEED A SNACK” two seconds after walking in from the grocery store while you’re carrying a baby and 50 lbs of groceries through the front door. And no, making a tower out of DUPLOs for the 100thtime does not count as completing a project before schedule.
- My wife is here all day doing this anyway so why can’t she just help me with the kids when I’m home. Of all of my points I would say this is the most important and the one I am the worst at, which has been terrible for my poor wife. When I am home with the kids she needs a break from the action because she never gets a break, ever. No, she does not have to go to my office and edit an excel spreadsheet, but I also don’t have to get vomited on at 3:00 o’clock in the morning, so there’s that. Husbands, be independent and understand that when your wife is in the bathroom that it is probably the first time she got to pee without pulling a baby down off of the sink while wondering where her toddler is because he’s quiet and out of sight. Most days you get to go to the bathroom and take your time. You get a coffee break and a lunch break too. There is no such thing as a break when you’re a SAHM. There just isn’t. It’s a 24/7, 365-day job. There’s also no beginning and no end. For the most part, people arrive at their office and they “start their day”. There is no starting or ending a day when you’re a SAHM. Imagine the stress that can put on someone. Appreciate your time alone and understand that even when you’re caring for both kids for an hour she’s most likely doing something that pertains to the kids like laundry, cooking or maybe even for a second getting to change her food smeared clothes. As I said, I am terrible at acknowledging this. I never do it intentionally, but it is something that I have to be aware of. I have to remind myself that the next time I change my 14-month old and there is poop from the middle of her back to her knees, I shouldn’t call my wife over to help me. I should just handle it because she has probably been in the same predicament 2-3 times already this week and where was I? On a line at a Starbucks waiting to order coffee, while reading a news article on my phone.
- Your wife has it easier because she doesn’t have to get dressed up and walk out of the door every day. I have stayed home and worn the SAHM uniform, which consists of sweats and a t-shirt. If you’re any more dressed up than this, then either you’re not really doing much or you can add that nice button down shirt you’re wearing to the “yard work shirt” collection. I’ve tried to wear a nice shirt and jeans and was instantly made a fool of by my kids. When you have spit, food, trace amounts of poop and boogers on you all day you would kill for a day to be dressed in a suit and a freshly pressed shirt and to be on your way out the door with other adults.
- I am responsible for bringing home the bacon so I carry all the stress of money, debt and of course wanting more money. First, if your wife is like my wife and she worked before she decided to stay home then this is excruciating for her. A true stay at home mom at some point admits to herself that this is not temporary and she can’t pick up where she left off once she re-enters the labor force. Please let me clarify. My wife intends to work but she can’t call the last place she worked and ask for her old job back after having been absent for 8 years. If you were an attorney before you were a SAHM there is a point where you realize that when you start working again you most likely will not be made partner within six months of joining a firm, even if you have 10 years of experience. The clock resets for you and the world keeps turning. I witnessed my wife go through this first hand and I saw her heart break. Second, why would she worry about money any less than you do? In our house I make the money but my wife does all of the budgeting. Although I deal with the stresses of work, I do not miss the days of being worried about paying bills on time and balancing the checkbook to make sure we have enough money to buy groceries on Sundays. Is the passenger in a car not as concerned about safety as the person driving the car, especially considering they have no control of the car?
- The more I work the better it will be for my family and isn’t this what everybody wants?
After a number of pitfalls and inserting my foot in my mouth many times, I can now say that I think these are the things a SAHM wants most:
- To be loved
- To be appreciated and to be reminded that they are a person
- Sleep (although that will just never happen)
The point of this post is neither to bash myself nor to criticize other people who may have had the same experiences as I did and continue to. It is about accepting that I am a work in progress and acknowledging that becoming a good dad is not something that happens overnight. It is also something that cannot be perfected by just reading a book. It is something that constantly has to be worked on and approached with an open mind. I know I still have a lot of work to do and I am happy that I am able to share my experiences with you. I hope my experiences can help you and I am always eager to hear what other dads and moms have to say. I encourage everyone to share their experiences and add some of their own insight because I know that knowledge is key and the harder I work at it I can only get better.