I was a stay-at-home dad once, for almost two years. I wasn’t a fan. But that wasn’t my wife’s fault.
It was boring. It was isolating. It was exhausting. Yes, I bonded with my son, and we had plenty of good times, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t prefer going to work to being home all day. It’s partly because I remember those days that now that my wife is home with a new baby I’m determined to help her out as much as I can.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a mom or a dad, a man or a woman, staying at home with the kids is hard work and deserves appreciation, respect, and the occasional helping hand. Because no matter how much you enjoy staying home with the kids, when your spouse walks in the door at 5/6/7 p.m., it’s his/her turn. No one gives less fucks than a parent whose shift is over. My son could be covered in Vaseline and Sriracha and the minute I enter the house she’ll hand him to me and make a beeline for the wine.
Which is fine. When I walk in, it’s my turn. As a working husband, taking over for a few hours is one of the things I can do to ease my wife’s load.
First things first, whenever she has a chance to go out for a girls’ night? I tell her I’ll handle the kids—both that night and the next morning—and to go have fun. This gives her a chance to play with grown-ups for a bit, which can be a luxury when you’re a SAHM who spends all day inside with children, and blow off some steam. But I’m no saint. Once the kids are in bed, I have the house to myself, which means I can watch that Netflix movie she has no interest in or the playoffs with no griping. Besides, every night she gets out of jail is one in the bank for me!
Another hot tip? When you get home, don’t add to the mess (because there will be a mess). And you’d better not mention the fucking mess goddammit; you try herding a 5-year-old and a baby without some Lego, laundry, and leftover yogurt littering the living room (alliteration!). Don’t drop your work bag and your jacket on the floor, don’t kick off your shoes in the middle of the bedroom, don’t head straight for the fridge and leave bottle caps on the kitchen counter. Handle yo shit.
My wife literally just texted me that the baby had a blowout, put his hands in it, and started painting the wall. I think the least I can do after she’s had a day like that is not throw my own shit around when I get home.
If you are going to drop something when you walk in, maybe make it some take-out, so she doesn’t have to cook, or a bottle of wine so she doesn’t mind cooking, or a bouquet of flowers. Doing something thoughtful to lighten her load is always welcome, but so is letting her know you appreciate her and what she does for your family every day.
Let her know that you know how difficult staying at home with the kids can be, because in its own way, it’s as stressful and exhausting and as psychologically taxing as hitting deadlines at the office, and answering client calls, and dealing with a micromanaging boss. Don’t belittle what she does. No, she doesn’t have a commute, she doesn’t clock in and out, she doesn’t get a paycheck. But that doesn’t make what she’s doing is any less valuable or challenging. Sure, if you screw up, you’ll get fired, but if she screws up, one of your kids dies. No pressure!
On the weekends, when you’re both at home, get up first and make the coffee. Take the kids to the playground so she can sleep in. When you work in an office five days a week, weekends are a respite. When you work at home seven days a week, weekends hardly register. When you’re there, make sure you’re actually there. You both have full-time jobs; just because your spouse’s isn’t in an office doesn’t make it any less legitimate. Weekends certainly aren’t a vacation for the stay-at-home parent, and the working parent shouldn’t treat them like one either. Besides, parenting is a full-time job for both of you, even if you have different roles and contribute in different ways.
And remember, you don’t have to be a mom to stay at home with the kids, so all of this goes for the working wives too. Except maybe the bouquet of flowers part (guys don’t care about flowers.)